They called him Chamuco. Devil. Demon. As the leader of a prison gang, Rick was notorious around the yard. Anyone who encountered him also encountered his anger.
Rick’s fury had early roots. Growing up, Rick watched his mother suffer a string of bad relationships, leading him to believe that all men were liars. This planted seeds of rage in his heart, and he began to act out, beginning with theft at the age of 12. When Rick was 16, he had a child, a daughter named Ahlexses, and he was arrested for a serious criminal offense a few months later. Though he was a juvenile, because of his history and the nature of his offense, Texas law allowed him to be tried and sentenced as an adult.
Once in prison, Rick was so violent that he was sent to solitary confinement. Everything seemed to set him off—but he found enjoyment in the heavy metal band Metallica.
His headphones blasted the song Nothing Else Matters, the lyrics expressing a trust in someone so deep that nothing mattered in comparison. It led Rick to wonder, Who do I trust in that nothing else would matter?
The response was alarming: no one. Then, to his surprise, Rick says he heard a voice call out, “Trust and follow me, and nothing else matters.”
Only it didn’t come from the song.
Rick felt unworthy, and yet here was this voice, calling to him. He didn’t want to be touched by the words.
WAKING FROM A DREAM
Rick found little relief in sleep. In his dream, he was walking down a dirt path that forked, and he heard the same voice call out, “Choose life or death.”
I’m not a religious guy, he thought to himself when he woke up. But even as he considered this, a steady knowledge that God existed was growing inside him. He found himself getting down on his knees to pray, but the words didn’t come to him—until something hard hit him on the top of his head.
His Bible, which he had only used for rolling paper, had fallen off the shelf in his room. A prayer suddenly materialized: “God, I’m going to follow you. What do I do now?”
LIVING UNDER OLD WAYS
While Rick was now a follower of Jesus, he was still stuck in old ways of thinking.
“At first, I was still a little ruthless. I was a Christian, but my mindset hadn’t changed, so I was still aggressive,” he recalls.
It took time for Rick to unlearn the habits he had formed during his time in the prison gang. He tried to use intimidation as a means of bringing men to Christ, not realizing it had the opposite effect.
One day, Rick was listening to an interview that discussed Billy Graham and his approach to evangelizing. The interview spoke of Graham’s heart for others, so great that he was brought to tears when he saw crowds of people.
Rick prayed to have a heart like that—one like Jesus, who wept over Jerusalem. From that moment on, Rick felt the inner desire to see people come to know Christ.
One person weighed on him more than others.
"Who do I trust in that nothing else would matter?"
HOLDING SMALL HANDS
Rick had never prayed much before that solitary night in his cell, but in his own way, he had asked God to take care of his daughter. Just days after she was born, Rick brought her outside and held her up to the sky.
“I knew that with my lifestyle I was going to wind up dead or in prison,” he recalls.
He ended up in prison—but little did he know that it would ultimately lead him to life.
Rick wanted to make Ahlexses proud and to show her love. That was why he signed her up for Prison Fellowship Angel Tree®, a program dedicated to serving the children of the incarcerated, even before he was a believer. At Christmas, Angel Tree volunteers delivered gifts to Ahlexses on Rick’s behalf.
After Rick found Christ, things changed. He requested a Bible to be delivered alongside the gift every year, recognizing the importance of the volunteers who delivered the gifts to Ahlexses. He couldn’t be there to share the Good News with her every day, so he could only ask that others would step in for him.
Rick and Ahlexses had a good relationship, even with the barrier of the prison. When writing her letters, Rick would trace the outline of his hand so she could fit her tiny hand over the image, as if holding her dad’s hand. Her return letters always included a tracing of her own hand for him to hold in return.
"I knew that with my lifestyle I was going to wind up dead or in prison."
A VISIBLE CHANGE
One year, when Ahlexses was 12, she left her birthday party early so she could make the journey with her grandmother to visit Rick.
“Is there questions you might have that I can answer about God, the Bible, or anything?” he asked.
Her response floored him—he felt as though even the Bible hadn’t prepared him to answer it.
“If you really loved me, how come you’ve never been there for me?” she asked.
But this moment was a turning point for the two of them. Rick told Ahlexses he did love her—that he didn’t know how to before but was learning now. He explained that he was beginning to understand that love took commitment, sacrifice, and responsibility.
And then he asked for her forgiveness. She gave it willingly, and this time her words uplifted him.
“I know you’re different now,” she said.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“Because you smile,” she said.
"I know you're different now. Because you smile."
- Rick's daughter, Ahlexses
A NEW NAME
It would be another six years before Rick was released to see his daughter outside of prison. He didn’t waste that time.
His nickname in prison soon changed. No longer was he called “Demon”—now he was called “Pastor.” Rick continued to lead, but in a different way. Now he was gentle, loving, and thoughtful.
While Rick met with men inside prison, creating prison churches and taking theology courses to gain biblical knowledge, Angel Tree volunteers connected with his daughter. Many different Angel Tree volunteers visited Ahlexses to drop off gifts, including a group of bikers who showed up on Harleys wearing Santa hats. But one volunteer was different—she stayed connected. She befriended Ahlexses, taking her out to dinner and the movies.
Soon Ahlexses had given her life to Christ, too.
FINDING NEW ROLES IN FREEDOM
Rick was released at age 34. Ahlexses was now 18 and starting a life of her own.
Rick never forgot the impact of Angel Tree Christmas. In his first year after release, he became a volunteer. He began recruiting churches to partner in the ministry, was hired by Prison Fellowship®, and later became a field director for Prison Fellowship in Texas.
Eventually, Rick’s work with Prison Fellowship ended, and he moved to Houston. He planted a church and became a full-time campus pastor at Iglesia Crosspoint-Bellaire Church. He got certified as a coach for the John Maxwell team and now works to help equip under-resourced leaders.
Yet his work with Angel Tree was not finished. Rick’s heart for those in prison remained—and he knew that Angel Tree was a powerful way to reach them.
“The most ruthless, angry person that I’ve ever met still has a heart for their kids,” he recalls.
He reached out to churches and advocated for them to partner with Angel Tree. It felt personal for him, as he remembered the days Angel Tree volunteers stepped in for his daughter.
THE WORK CONTINUES
Rick founded Texas Evangelist, a nonprofit ministry that sponsors Angel Tree children. Each year, Rick’s growing ministry sponsors 200 kids. His nonprofit’s slogan is “giving hope by doing good.”
“I know it’s more than a gift. It starts with the gift, but it doesn’t end there. Maybe it could be a long-term relationship with that body of believers. Or it could be a long-term relationship with Jesus Christ to break the cycle, like it did with my daughter,” he says.
Ahlexses has also stayed involved and works as the Angel Tree coordinator at her own church.
Out of all the titles he has held, one of Rick’s favorites is “grandfather.” He retains a close relationship with his daughter and her family, constantly longing to make them proud.
“Before I came to Christ, they called me ‘Demon,’” Rick says. “I lived and I thought like one, and I thought my value was like one. When I came to Christ, and He called me and I accepted that call, I’m no longer called ‘Demon.’ Eventually, now I’m called ‘Pastor.’ And I realize that my value is in Christ and my worth was demonstrated on the cross.”
"I realize that my value is in Christ and my worth was demonstrated on the cross."