Ryan’s life flashed before his eyes. He had sustained three gunshot wounds while intruding into a residence and committing armed robbery. Scrambling to leave the premises, he made his way to a friend who was waiting for him outside. Ryan stumbled into the vehicle they had used earlier to drive to the residence, and the two friends sped to the hospital where Ryan was immediately taken into surgery.
“Amazingly, I lived,” Ryan said. “I went from the surgery room at the hospital, to county jail, and off to prison for the first time.” He was 19 years old.
Growing up, Ryan knew his single mother did the best she could to raise him and his older brother. When things got tough, she’d take her sons to a stable location: their grandparents’ home or their aunt and uncle’s place.
While she gave them all she could, Ryan’s mom could never be the father her boys wanted and needed. Ryan’s own dad wasn’t present, and different men cycled through the boys’ lives. Because of some of these men’s negative influences, Ryan formed a general distrust of men. His behavior worsened.
When his older brother got into some trouble and spent time in a juvenile detention center, Ryan missed him. To fill the void, he began hanging out with the older neighborhood guys who he thought were “cool.”
Alongside this crowd, Ryan experimented with drugs and broke the law frequently. Then, at 15 years old, his crimes caught up with him. He ended up at a juvenile detention center too.
SURRENDERING TO THE LORD
During his teenage and young adult years, Ryan was incarcerated frequently. He said, “I used to live with the mentality—in my mind and in my heart—that prison was home and out here was a vacation.”
During one of his “vacations,” he attended church with his mother. Although seeds were planted, they didn’t take root. When new struggles surfaced, Ryan trekked down the familiar, dark paths that led to his addiction and incarceration.
Again, Ryan landed himself a spot in the county jail. This time, he was facing a charge that carried a life sentence: assault with a firearm. For Ryan, more was at stake than ever before. Months before his arrest, he got engaged to his longtime girlfriend Jet’aime. And now, she was pregnant—with his twin girls, Kallie and Kambria. (She gave birth before Ryan could be moved from the county jail to a long-term facility.)
Although Ryan’s thoughts about his daughters were a source of joy, sadness was on the heels of the birth announcement. His mother suddenly died while he was still dealing with the court proceedings for his crime.
Ryan said, “I understand what it feels like to have no hope, to have to see your life shattered and the ones you love the most suffer and hurt by the bad choices you make in life.” Ryan realized he needed Christ. He fell to his knees in his cell one morning and, at 36 years old, surrendered his life to the Lord.
"Everywhere I turn, it seems like God is opening another door.”
Slowly, Ryan’s situation began to turn around. When his county’s highest-paid attorney took on his case for free, he knew God’s presence was with him. Then instead of a life sentence, Ryan got five years. Jet’aime stuck by his side and brought Kallie and Kambria to visit frequently—behind a glass partition.
Eventually, he was transferred to Shafter Modified Community Correctional Facility, a small private prison that was about 25 minutes away from Jet’aime and his baby girls, so they continued to visit him at least once a month.
Most importantly, Ryan was growing in his faith. He began attending Celebrate Recovery, a yearlong 12-step program that helps incarcerated people in recovery from a variety of “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” experience fellowship through Christ’s healing power. He said, the Lord “has become the Father I never had in my upbringing and has renewed my heart from being hardened to a gentleness that’s not explainable by any words.”
When Ryan found out about Prison Fellowship Angel Tree®, a program that would provide his girls with Christmas gifts on his behalf, the Gospel, and a personal message from him, he signed them up. They were 2 years old.
"[The Lord] has become the Father I never had in my upbringing."
TRUSTING STRANGERS WITH GIFTS
Ryan was skeptical and admits he didn’t know what to expect after filling out the application. The process required that he trust strangers to help his family. For Ryan, demonstrating trust was challenging—something he had battled since childhood.
But at a time when his fiancee and children needed him most, the Lord showed up. Volunteers came to his home bearing gifts. They prayed with his family and spent time with them—making the day a memorable one they cherish and still talk about five years later. Family bonds were getting stronger. Trust issues were getting weaker.
Although Ryan doesn’t remember the gifts Kallie and Kambria received, he remembers how the volunteers’ kindness made him—and his family—feel. “What surprised me is I thought, man, they're just going to go to the door, drop the gifts at the door … and see you later,” Ryan said. “But they actually stopped and had time out of their life and made time for my family.”
That was the only year Ryan signed up his girls for Angel Tree Christmas. He was released the following year before the holiday season.
However, he was thrilled to know that formerly incarcerated people are always encouraged to serve in the ministry. He considers it a calling.
Ryan fulfilled three years of his five-year sentence in prison before being paroled. Two days after his release, he married Jet’aime. Today, they serve as the inaugural Angel Tree coordinators for the church they attend, Bakersfield First Assembly of God in Bakersfield, California.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE, THE RIGHT PLACES
In the free world, Ryan continues to pair his faith with good works. He does that, in part, through his role as a ministry leader for Celebrate Recovery (CR). Through a CR contact, Ryan was reintroduced to Dennis, then, a Prison Fellowship® field director, who had also worked at the same juvenile detention center where Ryan resided 20 years prior!
Dennis encouraged Ryan to volunteer with Prison Fellowship. Since then, Ryan has led a small group through the Outrageous Justice® curriculum which helps Christians gain a clear understanding of criminal justice issues and take action to promote peace and restoration.
And Ryan said it was an honor to share the hope of Jesus Christ with prisoners in a 2023 Prison Fellowship Hope Event®. Typically held on the yard, these in-prison events feature inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions. Ryan recruited three of his small-group members to attend a Hope Event with him.
Eventually, Ryan plans to volunteer in the Prison Fellowship Academy®, an intensive in-prison program where participants learn biblical Values of Good Citizenship like community, responsibility, and others. In March 2024, Ryan will celebrate five years post-incarceration—one of the criteria he cited for teaching Academy classes. Soon, he’ll be one step closer to volunteering as an instructor. Ryan said, “Everywhere I turn, it seems like God is opening another door.”
A NEW MISSION
Ryan provides for his family financially through his career as a professional truck driver. Spiritually, he’s maturing and is studying to receive his pastoral credentials through Global University. He’s committed to leading a Joshua 24:15 home—one that serves the Lord.
Ryan’s family has served the homeless together. And his daughters, now 7, attend a Christian school. Ryan is grateful “they never had to see me in my old life and who I was,” he said. “Now they know Daddy goes and helps others have hope. They know that that's Daddy's mission. Mom fully supports.”
Ryan said he serves from a stance of humility. When he considers why he keeps coming back to serve with Prison Fellowship, he said, “I want to give back freely what’s been given to me.”