Torrance Wilson considered himself a normal kid. His life seemed great from the outside. He was born to a middle-class family in Houston, Texas, and spent his time attending summer camp, gaming, and making the honor roll at school.
One day, while he was searching for coins in his mother’s purse to use at the arcade, his world flipped. Stashed inside was a crack pipe. He confronted his mother about the paraphernalia. She told him not to worry—she was just holding it for a friend. Even at the age of 9, he knew it was a lie.
Four years later, Torrance’s father left because of his mother’s addiction. But he didn’t just leave his mother; he left Torrance, too. Torrance never forgot the day he overheard his father suggest he would not claim Torrance in order to avoid paying child support. His heart broke.
A FINANCIAL OPPORTUNITY
Torrance and his mother moved from their middle-class neighborhood to an impoverished one. His mother continued to abuse cocaine, and Torrance began skipping school. In his new neighborhood, he was surrounded by drug users and drug dealers.
He watched as the users on his street fell further into poverty and the drug dealers made thousands of dollars a day. He knew which side of the equation he wanted to be on. A man offered him $20 to deliver a rock of cocaine, and from that day on, he was on the side of the dealers.
He was eventually caught selling drugs and sent to an incarcerated youth boot camp. While there, Torrance evaluated his life: His mother was addicted to cocaine, and his father, an alcoholic, left when he was young. On top of that, he now had a young daughter, Marlana, to care for. He felt hardened by life.
Torrance left the boot camp with a heart unchanged. However, he came out in his best physical condition yet. Torrance felt he had been training to go back into his life of crime: Now he could outrun the police.
He continued to deal drugs and evaded serious convictions—until he assaulted a Houston Police Department officer. The judge sentenced him to four years behind bars.
In those four years, Torrance continued to develop a relationship with his daughter. At Christmas he sent her gifts through Angel Tree® Christmas, a Prison Fellowship® program that partners with local churches to provide gifts for children with parents behind bars.
A BROKEN CYCLE
Torrance wanted to get his life back on track upon release. He longed to be there for his daughter in ways he felt his own father had not been for him. He married Marlana's mother and tried his best to be a good father, but things didn’t go according to plan. Soon he turned back to drug dealing. Around the same time, his marriage to his daughter's mother fell apart.
Torrance got a call one day that there was a detective waiting for him at home. His now ex-wife had accused Torrance of a robbery. He went on the run but was soon arrested. No one believed he was innocent, and he was sentenced to two years for robbery by threat.
Torrance recalls that this was his most difficult experience behind bars. Every day, he woke up knowing he wasn’t guilty of this crime. But over time, Torrance’s heart softened. He realized that while he was innocent of the robbery, he was not innocent. He was a career criminal.
“When I started confessing that, it was like the Lord gave me a way to actually see the daylight again,” Torrance says.
Torrance served his full two years and came out with the determination do things differently. Outside prison, he joined a church and built a life for himself. He avoided encounters with law enforcement—until he was caught with a gun in his car. Though he was not actively using it, having a gun had become second nature to him. He was arrested for a third time and was now considered a habitual criminal. In addition to Marlana, he had a son J'Vonni, another daughter, A'Lana, and a new baby gift, Sariya, on the way.
The facility chaplain visited Torrance in Harris County Jail while he awaited his trial for gun possession. A voluntary visit from the chaplain had one meaning to Torrance: Someone was dying.
He prepared himself to hear that something had happened to his mother but was shocked to find out that instead it was his grandmother: She had lung cancer.
Torrance’s grandmother was the only person in his life who lived out her faith. Whenever he would get into trouble with the law, he would ring her up and ask her to get on the “main line” for him, believing God would hear her prayers before his own.
Everyone was in the ICU hospital room with her—everyone except Torrance. Instead, he was allowed a phone call.
“Mama, all the times that you’ve got on the main line for me, now I have to get on the main line for you,” he told her.
'Lord, I’m facing 25 years to life in prison. I don’t care what happens with that. I just want to trust you with the rest of my life.' —Torrance Wilson
Torrance prayed for her over the phone knowing even then that her healing would be in heaven. Unable to speak, Torrance’s grandmother wrote on a piece of paper that she loved him.
He came back to his cell and cried. The corrections officers tried to move him, fearing that other prisoners might bother him, but he refused. Instead, he began to pray, this time for himself.
It started as an angry prayer. He was mad that God would take his grandmother instead of his mom. His mother was still addicted to cocaine, and his wasn't around for his adolescent years. His grandmother was the only one who had ever really been there for him, and now she was about to be gone too. He felt alone in his family.
Yet as the prayer continued, he realized that he could also thank God that he had 33 years with his grandmother. Soon that gratitude turned to surrender.
He prayed, “Lord, I’m facing 25 years to life in prison. I don’t care what happens with that. I just want to trust You with the rest of my life.”
LEFT BEHIND BY HIS FATHER, FOUND BY THE FATHER
Torrance was sent to a facility in East Texas nine hours away from his home to serve a five-year sentence. He walked in determined to be a model prisoner. Every Sunday, Torrance was in church. He had committed his life to Christ at 10, but now he was really starting to walk with the Lord. And those around him noticed.
The chaplain approached him and recommended he attend the Prison Fellowship Academy®, a program that seeks to instill values and build community among participants in order to break the cycle of criminal thinking and create leaders within prison walls.
“Before you say yes, just know it’s not a cake walk,” the chaplain warned. “It’s an intense discipleship program. It starts at 6 a.m. and goes until 9 p.m.”
“That’s exactly what I need. I need discipleship in my life,” Torrance responded.
Torrance transferred to the Carol Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas to participate in the Academy. That’s where he first met Darryl Brooks, who would become his mentor in the program. Darryl had a history of incarceration too, which meant Torrance could relate to him.
As promised, the program was extensive. Torrance soon felt himself healing from old wounds. He took courses on criminal addictive behavior and embracing the heavenly Father.
He remembers the day he read Psalm 27:10: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Unlike his earthly father, God would never abandoned Torrance.
Above all, the Academy taught Torrance to keep Christ at the center of his life. He began to see his prison term as more than time to be served; it became his mission field. And even though he was behind bars, Torrance says he felt free.
He maintained his relationship with his family by writing letters, and while he had a few chances to see his children, in-person visits with his family were limited. His sentence would have been a lonely time had it not been for the Academy volunteers. Torrance watched as the volunteers took time out of their weekends to spend a whole day in prison. He felt his own self-pity evaporate in the face of such love.
A NEW ROLE
Upon release, he went to a nonprofit called C.H.A.R.M. Prison Ministry where he continued to grow in his faith. He stayed connected with participants in the Academy program, including Darryl, the volunteers, and other former prisoners. These connections helped keep him accountable.
Torrance married a woman named Alisha, and together they have a blended family with six children. Alisha and Torrance had known each other before he was first incarcerated, and she had been trying to point him to Christ all along.
Torrance joined a local church, where he would eventually be welcomed as a staff member. In 2017, he was ordained as a pastor there and was able to welcome more returning citizens to the church through this position.
Torrance also volunteered at Frontier Camp, an Angel Tree partner camp that serves many children whose parents are incarcerated. He knew some of the parents of children in attendance from when he had served time and was able to connect to them on a deeper level because of this. He shared the very same message he wanted his own children to know: It’s not your fault, and your parent still loves you.
BUILDING SOMETHING NEW
In 2020, he left his position at the church to open a construction company with his wife called We Build Construction. In his first year of work at the construction company, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His business was able to survive with help from his church. The congregation had a large population of widows who needed assistance with home maintenance, and Torrance and his wife stepped in to fill the gap.
Along with working at We Build Construction, Torrance and Alisha founded a nonprofit for homeless women and children called The Palace Housing Inc., where they provide counseling, money management courses, and assistance to help women get back on their feet.
He returned to his studies and began working toward a double major in biblical studies and pastoral ministries. Torrance intends to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in order to become a professor of theology. He loves the opportunity teaching offers to equip others to serve God more fully.
Torrance says he will be in school longer than he was in prison in order to earn all the degrees necessary.
Torrance and Alisha are committed members of their community. They began hosting Redemption Wash, a carwash where formerly incarcerated people clean vehicles for police officers. He no longer wants to run from the police but embraces them with a heart of gratitude.
When reflecting on his life—from his early feelings of abandonment to the tears he cried in a prison cell—Torrance says, “By God's grace, I've risen above every circumstance.”
'By God's grace, I've risen above every circumstance.'