Ruben Sanchez: “Check this out, God is real!”
by Glen Doss, Major –
Tears in his eyes, the tattooed, menacing-looking man shuffled back to his cell. Echoing in his mind were his mother’s words over the phone: “I’m sick, son, real sick, but the tests revealed I have diabetes; therefore, the doctors are reluctant to operate. Your boys keep getting into trouble. When are you coming home to see us?”
His mind in turmoil as the cell door clanged shut behind him, Ruben Sanchez, 35, sat on the edge of his cot and reviewed his life. Fifteen years of prison time lay behind him. “What a waste!” he murmured to himself. Suddenly, he fell to his knees, and prayed with all his heart: “God, if you’re real, change me.”
Ruben’s journey toward this pivotal point had been a difficult one. As a teen growing up in Riverside, Calif., he gravitated toward the wrong people, who smoked weed, because they seemed more accepting of him. He became a bully. “I wanted to hurt others before they hurt me.”
When Ruben was 15, his girlfriend’s parents insisted he attend their Baptist church services, where seeds were planted. He married at 17, dropped out of school and joined the job corps. Shortly, he was terminated from the program for bullying. Ruben took a job loading trucks and there began associating with older men, who were using PCP. Soon he took up the habit, which rapidly spiraled out of control. Eventually he was fired for not showing up to work, though by now he had a son and another on the way.
In time he took to “chipping” heroin because it took away the pain of letting everybody down. In his 20s he moved on to methamphetamines. In desperation, Ruben began stealing in order to pay for the drugs and was repeatedly arrested, serving several jail and prison terms.
As he had in high school, Ruben gravitated toward men who intimidated others. “Because of my inner fears I felt a need to be associated with someone,” he says, “so I became a gang member. Each time I went to prison I became a smarter criminal—I learned new tricks.” He stole, sold drugs, and “did favors” for drugs and money. “Because others were intimidated by me, people hired me to help collect money that was due them,” he said.
In 2000, while in prison, Ruben ran into an old friend, Raoul, who had been out of control when he had known him on the streets.
“Out in the yard Raoul told me, ‘I’m serving the Lord now,’ and I could see there was something distinctly different about him. Sometimes when I was troubled I visited him in his cell, and he prayed for me.”
After learning of his mother’s illness, Ruben fell to his knees in his cell and prayed: “God, if you’re real, change me; let me see my mom; watch over my kids. And I will serve you until I die.” At that moment, he recalls, “I felt the true presence of God, and a feeling of deepest peace came over me that has never really left me. I knew I wasn’t alone.”
Released not long afterwards, Ruben checked directly into the Riverside County Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Perris, Calif. He encountered problems, however, because he still bore his tough guy persona.
“The men complained that I was bullying them. I was called into the office and told: ‘Look, guy, you’re not in prison anymore; you have to stop this.’ Yet I couldn’t change overnight the way I had lived for 15 years,” Ruben said. “It took a while for the ‘old man’ in me to die. But I wanted to change, so I accepted the correction, and I didn’t give up.”
In January 2002, Ruben graduated and accepted a job at the center as a driver. Three years later he was enrolled as a soldier of the Riverside Corps and continued to attend the ARC chapel services.
“The ARC is my home,” he explains. “God kept his end of the bargain; now I have to keep mine. I serve him by being an example to the men in the program. I’m like one of Christ’s original disciples—in the beginning none of them were any good, really, so he changed them and sent them out. Christ told them: ‘You men need to do what I do so you will also draw men unto you.’ I do the same; I tell the guys: ‘Check this out: God is real!’ My job is to drive a truck; yet it’s also to be an example. And I love my job.
“Through all my errors my mom has stood by me; therefore, I wish to dedicate this story to her,” Ruben said. Finally her patience and prayers paid off.”