Ray Olvera: Today I have peace of mind
by Glen Doss, Major –
As he stepped down from the prison bus, the man’s heart sank. Surveying his surroundings, a pall settled over him. This was nothing new to him—being released from prison—but this time it was different: there was no one to go home to.
“All the other times,” remarks Ray Olvera, 44, “I knew that no matter what, my mother and daughter would be there for me. But this time they made it clear that they wanted nothing more to do with me! It didn’t really hit me until I got out—then I could feel that void.
“In prison one of the other natives told me how The Salvation Army helped him. (Ray’s ethnicity, he says, is Native American and Mexican.) So I decided, ‘I’ll give the place a chance before I start running amuck again’.”
Ray’s torturous journey to the Anaheim ARC that day in 1998 began, he says, in “some of the worst barrios” of Santa Ana, Calif. He recalls family members, after gangland shootings, being led away to the flash of cameras. “I looked up to those people with the tattoos and bandannas and thought, ‘Wow! That’s really cool!’ ”
At home where he was raised attending church, “it was just me and mom,” he says. As young as eight, Ray was using marijuana and Seconals. “Today, when I see an eight-year-old, it hits me how very young that is. It makes me feel sad because I realize I didn’t even have a chance.”
Using LSD by age 11 and heroin by 14, when he became involved with gangs, Ray, by 16, was addicted to speed. He joined the navy at 17, and sold drugs aboard ship—which led to incarceration and a Bad Conduct Discharge. Returning home, the criminal lifestyle continued. Married briefly, Ray was left with a daughter to raise until, when she was five, his mother took her in. These two beautiful people were to become his sole link to sanity.
Why the self-described “live fast, die young” lifestyle? “Escape—I liked the effect.” Then, his tone growing somber, Ray confesses, “When I was eight I was abused—physically and mentally—for some years. So that’s really why I used drugs so much; it was to keep from thinking about it.”
But in his thirties he began to be haunted, he says, by “the faces of persons who had been my friends but were now only people I had infected with this disease (of drug addiction). It began driving me nuts!”
In 1997 Ray went to prison one last time. “I had lost my family! That was the biggest wake-up call I had in my life!” So, when one of the inmates told him, “If you really want to change, you’ve got to try The Salvation Army,” Ray listened.
He had begun praying in prison, he observes, “in the style of (his) native heritage.” But, learning about the Lord at the ARC, “everything started kicking in. I developed a personal relationship with God.”
And Ray began to understand why he kept getting high. “For years it was like there was a video camera that these little demons kept putting on rewind, saying, ‘Hey! Remember this! Remember this!’ to the point that I couldn’t live with myself. My counselors helped me to realize that in using drugs I was hurting myself just to escape from having to deal with the past abuse.
“But today I am no longer troubled by it because I feel God. Each morning I go outside, look up, and speak to God, thanking him for another day. Every night before I go to bed, I drop to my knees and pray.
“I had that spiritual awakening that people talk about—I never knew what it was until now; and there can be no better feeling! Today I have been reconciled with my family, and I have a calm feeling in my heart; today I have peace of mind.”