As Brandon stood with his older brother and cousins on a Florida corner asking passers-by for spare change, he blamed God for his circumstances.
How did we get to this place where we’re panhandling on the street? he asked himself.
Brandon had faulted God through most of his life when things didn’t work out—even as a child, when the weather wasn’t windy enough to fly his kite. He also blamed God for his family’s choices that had claimed his parents’ marriage as well as the lives of beloved family members.
Ultimately, Brandon would realize God hadn’t been his enemy at all. In fact, he would learn God had been for him all along, orchestrating the second chance that would open doors to a new life.
IN DAD'S FOOTSTEPS
Brandon was the baby of his family, which consisted of his parents and a brother who was 10 years older. There was seemingly nothing Brandon wished for that his father wouldn’t give him.
“It was an adventure when I was a kid,” Brandon remembers. “I was kind of spoiled. My parents bought me the first Nintendo when it came out. I had a go-kart. I had a pool in the backyard. All my friends would come over and we would play football and baseball.”
Brandon idolized his father, a construction company owner and kickboxing state champion. He longed to be just like him.
At the age of 9, though, Brandon discovered another side to his dad. He realized his father was operating a side business selling drugs to all his employees. By his early teens, Brandon had experienced drugs firsthand.
“I remember the very day that I started to smoke pot with my dad,” Brandon says. “He was soft-spoken and said, ‘I’d rather you smoke with me than go out and do it.’ My dad and I were friends in that and started using together.”
Soon, Brandon and his father were joined by his brother and his father’s two younger brothers, who lived with them from time to time.
Marijuana wasn’t the only drug being misused by the family, as Brandon eventually grasped when both of his uncles died of overdoses.
The dark side of the habit that had drawn his family together had reared its head. Not only had it taken his uncles’ lives, but it also prompted Brandon’s mother, who did not use drugs, to seek a divorce from his father.
Brandon, his brother, and their father were on their own. They lived and worked together—and eventually, ended up homeless together.
HEARING THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
Brandon had completed community service as a teen for possession of marijuana, but it wasn’t until his twenties that he began to face longer prison sentences.
“I began stealing to support my habit,” Brandon says. “I ended up going to prison for a year and a day.”
After serving his sentence, Brandon was reunited with his father and brother.
“There was no other place to go, and we just took our things and we lived in the woods,” he recalls. “That was two years of being on the streets.”
It was during this period that Brandon first heard the Gospel message. A local church welcomed those without a home to come refresh themselves with a shower, a bed, and the news of God’s love for them.
“I would attend this church and I hated it because everybody was singing and dancing and they were happy,” Brandon remembers. “I was miserable because I was homeless, and I was a drug addict.”
Brandon continued stealing, this time resulting in a five-year sentence. Though he would read the scriptures from time to time, he was still using drugs behind bars.
'I just had to trust that God was good.'
SURRENDER BEHIND BARS
While smoking marijuana in a prison community room with his headphones on and Bible open, Brandon says that God reached out to him through the haze of smoke—specifically as a song, White Flag, by Christian artist Chris Tomlin, played on the radio.
“It talked about this battle that rages in our rebel heart, this fight that we cannot win. We wave our white flag. We surrender all,” Brandon says of the lyrics. “I felt it was God’s way of telling me I need to surrender.”
Brandon obeyed this call, realizing that if he stayed on his current path, he’d likely end up dead or serving more prison sentences.
Shortly after Brandon decided to follow God, volunteers began coming into the prison—one of whom was from Prison Fellowship®. Pastor Doug Ryan led Bible studies at the prison. As he saw Brandon grow in his faith and desire to serve, Doug asked him to lead a study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
During this season of new beginnings, Brandon received a call from his mother. His brother had overdosed and died. Earlier in life, Brandon would have blamed God for this devastating news. But he wasn’t the same man.
“I just had to trust that God was good,” he says. “At that time, because of my relationship with God, I knew God was good.”
Doug was there to pray with Brandon through his grief. “I’ll never forget that moment, because I realized that it was God reaching out to me through him,” Brandon recalls.
Brandon was learning about community, a gift he hadn’t experienced in his life. Soon after Brandon’s loss, Doug’s twin brother died. Doug had been there for Brandon, and now Brandon comforted his friend through his pain.
'It was God’s way of telling me I need to surrender.'
PERSEVERING TO A SECOND CHANCE
After his release, Brandon found work at a Benjamin Moore paint franchise. The owner had been a prison volunteer and gave Brandon the opportunity he needed.
He began working part time, and thanks to his hard work, eventually earned a promotion to warehouse manager. Although he had to bike his way to and from work and saw much of his income go to repay $10,000 in restitution, Brandon gives thanks for the faith placed in him by the store owner.
“Finding a job as a convicted felon is next to impossible,” he says. “But I had that community, that person to give me an opportunity, a second chance.”
Brandon was grateful for his work, but his heart couldn’t forget those he left behind bars. He was eager to return, this time as a minister of the Gospel.
Another prison volunteer, Lazaro “Laz” Lopez, played an important role both in the growth of Brandon’s faith and in his post-prison ministry.
Laz was manager over the transitional home Brandon moved into following his release and became a good friend and mentor to him. The men visited prisons together as volunteers—and now they both work full time for Prison Fellowship, Laz as a regional director and Brandon as a field director.
In his role, Brandon guides prisoners through the Prison Fellowship Academy®, a program incorporating an intensive, biblically based curriculum that helps incarcerated men and women lead lives of purpose and productivity inside and outside of prison.
Reflecting on the opportunities he has received, Brandon says, “God placed people in my life to provide that second chance. I would encourage somebody who is going through trials, that if you would trust in God and push forward and persevere, you can trust that God has an outcome for that, and He has a plan.”
BREAKING GENERATIONAL CYCLES
Brandon has started his own family and is intentional about raising his children with life-affirming values.
He met his wife in church where he had been serving as an usher and she as a children’s ministry coordinator. They have been married over four years and have two young children.
“I look at my son and I want nothing but the best for him,” Brandon shares. “I want to provide for him, I want to protect him, and I want to lead him on the right path.”
Brandon is close to his mother and prays with her regularly.
He’s also close with his father, who suffered a stroke but is now free from the drugs he once used.
“He’s a part of my son’s life,” Brandon says. “So my sons get to meet their grandfather. Our relationship is really good.”
Brandon gives thanks for God’s mercy and the second chances that made his new life possible.
“Now the joy that I have is helping somebody else in the position I was in to overcome the same circumstances and trials."
'I look at my son and I want nothing but the best for him.'