Ray Vielma: “I was a monster”
by Glen Doss, Major –
Kneeling upon the floor of the shower stall, he struggled to free his hands from the thick cord that bound them. Certain he was going to die, he prayed, “God, forgive me for all the wrong I’ve done!”
Freeing his hands, Ray Vielma swung with all his might at the man nearest him. When he spotted the gun, his heart seemed to skip a beat; yet he continued swinging. The gunman fired, and a red-hot burning sensation in Ray’s gut almost overwhelmed him. Nevertheless, fighting his way to the front door, he eventually reached the street. As the darkness closed around him, he dropped.
Humbly sharing his story, Ray, 44, interjects: “I don’t want anyone to get the impression I’m glorifying my life. When I was doing drugs I was nothing nice. Because of the ugly things I did I was a monster.”
Ray’s story begins in San Bernardino, Calif., where his mother worked multiple jobs to support herself and her son, an only child. Though separated from his wife, when Ray’s father visited, he abused her both verbally and physically. “I can remember hating my dad,” Ray notes sadly.
Quitting school in his senior year to help support his family, Ray began hanging out after hours with a street gang and using speed. “Using drugs was a casual thing. Back then the streets of San Bernardino were hard—a lot of people were killed in street wars,” he recalls.
Ray struck up a partnership dealing drugs with another gang member. “We’d deliver drugs in vehicles outfitted with machine guns and handguns, take the people’s money and go,” he explains. The arrangement ended abruptly when his friend was jailed.
In his 20s Ray married and had a son whom he has not seen since the boy was two years old. “As my addiction worsened, the nice cars, the money, the drugs meant more to me than even my own family,” he notes regretfully. “Eventually my wife didn’t want anything to do with me.”
When his mother moved across town and left the house to him, Ray went into partnership with another friend, dealing drugs out of the home. Entering his 30s, he was jailed more and more often. During one stint behind bars he completed his GED. Attempting to start anew, he moved in with his grandmother and got a legitimate job. After just a few months, however, he relapsed.
One day some armed young gangbangers demanding either drugs or money approached Ray. When he couldn’t accommodate them, they took him to an abandoned house, beat him severely, then bound and secured him within a shower stall under guard.
Tugging at the cord that bound him, Ray eventually freed himself. As he fought his way out of the building, a red-hot burning sensation penetrated his gut. He made it as far as the street before the darkness closed around him.
As he slipped in and out of consciousness, he recalls: “A lady was sponging my mouth. Then I saw the police helicopter. As I was being rolled into the hospital operating room, the last thing I remember was a man with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen who was assuring me, ‘I’m not going to let you die.’ I’ve often wondered if he was an angel.”
Despite the near death experience, he returned to selling drugs even before he was fully healed. His life again became an endless sequence of excursions to and from jail. Eventually, his mother confronted him: “Ray, if you continue in this lifestyle I don’t want anything more to do with you. Your grandmother feels the same way.” This got his attention.
Court-ordered in 1997 to The Salvation Army Riverside County Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), Ray worked the program, and for the first time in his life he began feeling good about himself. Still, upon graduation, he reverted to his former lifestyle, because it was all he knew. It was not long before he was jailed again.
Aboard the county bus one day, he prayed as it passed the ARC: “God, if I get through this without going to prison, I would really like to go back to The Salvation Army.”
In June 1998, Ray checked back into the program and surrendered finally to Christ. Employed by the ARC upon graduation, Ray now holds the position of director of production for the 125-bed men’s facility. Married, he is dad to three stepchildren as well as three-year-old Allison who is his pride and joy. His grandmother recently went to be with the Lord. “I was honored to be one of the pallbearers, and I spoke at her wake,” he says. “Thanks be to God, all my mother’s prayers and hers finally paid off.”