in process_God waits on his kids to come home
By Glen Doss, Major
Ashamed, the young man entered The Salvation Army Murrieta Corps sanctuary with his head down. The day before he had been terminated from the Riverside County Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) program for drinking. He was half-expecting to be rejected at the corps as well, when suddenly a beaming gentleman in full Salvation Army uniform grabbed him up in his arms. Tears of joy streaming down his face, Walter stressed to the young man, “This is how we do it!”
Recalling that moment, Walter observes: “That’s what God did for me. After all those years that I turned my back on him, he accepted and loved me anyway. God just waits on his kids to come home.”
Walter, 50, has good reason to rejoice today, for there was a time when he was perhaps one of the most wanted men in Riverside County, Calif.
As the police cars maneuvered them off Interstate 215 in Temecula, Walter and his two partners-in-crime nervously followed instructions. “Everybody stay in the car! Keep your hands up where we can see them!”
Another officer pulled in alongside. “Is that them, the Riverside Bandits? When I heard you guys caught ‘em, I had to come see for myself, all the way up from Corona.”
Hearing this, Walter, 37, shook in his boots.
The seeds of the criminal lifestyle were planted at an early age. Walter was just 5 when his mother moved her five young children with her from Portland, Ore., to a rough neighborhood in Watts, Calif. “I used to stare out the window of our house for hours telling myself I wanted to be like the older gang guys,” he recalls.
His mother raised him and his sisters in the Southern Baptist church. But to earn the respect of others on the street, Walter learned quickly to fight back. When at 7 he swung a bat at a boy who had taken a jab at him, onlookers expressed approval: “We’ll call you ‘Batman!’” The nickname stuck. The following year, he struck a child so hard he put him in the hospital. This led to a six-month stint in juvenile hall. By age 10 he was breaking into gun shops.
When he turned 12, the leader of the Crips pressured him to join. After that, Walter says, “things got real bad.” One day his mother spotted him and another gang member robbing a man at gunpoint. That was the last straw for her. Walter spent the remainder of his boyhood with his biological father in Mount Hood, Ore. It wasn’t long, though, before he was using and selling marijuana in school, eventually progressing to become one of the top dope dealers in the community.
By age 24, he says, “I was at the top of my game, making $10,000 a week selling cocaine, when I made the worst decision of my life.” Watching his girlfriend smoking cocaine one day, he said to her, “Let me try that. I want to see what makes all of you do everything you can to get it.” Then, dogged by the addiction, he soon lost everything he had.
A daughter was born in 1992, but two years later he walked in on her mother in bed with another man. In a rage Walter beat them both badly with a pistol, leaving his girlfriend unconscious. He immediately fled for California. There, desperate to keep feeding his drug habit, he reverted to stealing, soon picking up jail terms.
He and his partners had been ripping off department stores throughout Riverside County for a couple of years before the police caught up with them on the freeway. A 16-month prison term followed. Just three months after he was released he was back in prison again for robbery.
By 2009 Walter was married and attending church with his wife and children. But when on Nov. 12 his wife found out he was using drugs, she promptly expelled him from home. Moving in with a cocaine “smoking buddy,” Walter spent each day in a repetitive drama of stealing in order to use cocaine.
Everything changed, however, with a single telephone call. On Christmas Day, 2009, his daughter from Oregon called. Walter had last heard from her when she was 6. She was now 17. It struck him that he had nothing to show her, and for the first time he began to think about quitting drugs. In July 2010, Walter says, “I broke down and cried out to God, ‘Help me!’”
Checking into the Riverside County ARC in Perris, he plunged with full abandon into all program components. He eventually fell in love with the Murrieta Corps because, he says with confidence, “they accept you as you are.” Today, Walter remains greatly involved in service to the ARC. “I don’t know what God has in mind for my future,” he confesses. “But I want to be at his service, no matter what. I owe him my life.”