Irvin Byrd: “I give God all the glory”
by Glen Doss, Major –
The elderly gentleman paused as he spied the man in the cell that he shared with several other county jail inmates. “Would you like a Bible, son?”
“Sure,” replied Irvin Byrd, 39, accepting it through the bars. It was 1995, and Irvin was feeling very low. Arrested on a possession-to-sell charge of fifteen $20 cocaine rocks, he knew he was going back to prison.
A moment later another Gideon appeared. Irvin was beginning to suspect the two were in cahoots.
“Son, are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”
“No, I haven’t,” he replied, glancing nervously around at his fellow inmates.
A moment later the first man reappeared: “In the Bible Jesus says: ‘If you are ashamed of me in front of men, I’ll be ashamed of you when you come into the presence of my Father in heaven.’”
“Yeah, I heard that,” replied Irvin.
At that moment he felt desperate for a relationship with God and was willing to do anything, even pray in front of hardened criminals.
“Yeah, I’d like to accept Jesus Christ.”
As Irvin got down on his knees, the man led him in the sinner’s prayer, and he felt the weight of the world slip from his shoulders. God forgave his sins, and none of his worries seemed to matter anymore.
Irvin’s journey to God began in a small town in North Carolina.
“Children, wake up,” his grandmother called urgently one morning. She had sad news for eleven-year-old Irvin and his six brothers and sisters. Their mother, only 29-years-old, had developed pneumonia and died.
“Your mother passed away, children. She has gone to heaven.”
As Irvin grasped this reality, anger arose within him. The obedient little boy, who had loved his mother with all his heart, became someone very different.
His anger launched him on a life of rebellion and crime, beginning with shoplifting, smoking marijuana and breaking and entering. After graduating from high school at 17, Irvin and a friend entered the two-year Nashville Auto Diesel College in Nashville, Tenn., where he worked days and went to school nights. However, he was fired from his job for theft and dropped out near the end of the program.
On a whim in 1979, he and a buddy joined the U.S. Army. At the first opportunity following basic training, he attempted to purchase a dime bag of marijuana and was confronted by MPs. This led to non-judicial punishment. Although he continued to drink and use, Irvin performed well at his job in the signal corps, rising to the rank of Specialist 4. Eventually, however, he turned to selling marijuana and, just prior to the end of his enlistment, became hooked on crack cocaine. He received an honorable discharge, but was ejected from his apartment in Seaside, Calif. after his money was exhausted, and lived in his car for two years.
When he moved to Los Angeles in 1983, his criminal activity intensified, leading to arrests on charges of drug possession, sales, robbery and conspiracy. Following seven prison terms, he began to realize that his life was wasting away.
Although Irvin had prayed the sinner’s prayer with the Gideons in 1995, he struggled for four more years with his addiction. “I loved the Lord,” he confesses, “but the obsessions were still there.”
In prison in Tracy, Calif., he was labeled a flight risk and subsequently placed on lockdown—he was not permitted to leave his bunk. There was nothing to do but stare into space and reflect on his life. Irvin was 43 years old. Now he reached for the only book in his cell, a Bible, and, once he began reading it, he couldn’t stop.
“I fell in love with reading the Bible. My body was in prison, but my mind was free.”
Released in February 2000, he asked to be referred to a recovery program. When he checked into the Riverside County Adult Rehabilitation Center in Perris, Calif., Irvin was determined to change.
“I humbled myself and asked God to relieve me of drugs and alcohol, the street life, the night clubs.”
Aware of the 17 felonies on his record, Irvin wondered how he would ever get a job. However, the private mechanic who maintained the ARC’s vehicles had been watching him at his work therapy. When he graduated in August 2000, the mechanic sought him out. “You’re a good, capable worker,” he said. “Would you like to work for me?”
His new boss assisted him to get his driver’s license restored and set him up as a mobile mechanic with his own truck. Six years later, Irvin started up his own mobile mechanic business, and today The Salvation Army is one of his best customers. Meanwhile he continues to attend church and serves as a Cocaine Anonymous sponsor for many of the beneficiaries at the ARC.
“I tell them that the first thing you must do is get on your knees, humble yourself and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. I know that as long as I keep God close—going to church—and being of service, I will be all right. And I give God all the glory.”