Thursday, April 11, 2024
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Ex-Gang Member Interview (Johnny Chang Testimony)

Johnny Chang ex-gang member testimony interview.
“When I look at my life, I thought it was a curse, 12 years old in YA [juvenile prison]. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be dead. I’m supposed to be on the streets here with these people, strung out.”

Today, I transcribed the inspiring testimony of a former gang member named Johnny Chang. At age 10, Johnny was jumped and beaten by a street gang and had his belongings stolen. When Johnny told his alcoholic father what happened, he was beaten again for allegedly lying, which betrayal accelerated him down a path of emotional isolation and extreme self-reliance. At age 12, Johnny joined Wah Ching, a California street gang, because he idolized their members and believed that being a gang member would make him happy. That same year, Johnny was convicted of dissuading a witness in support of a gang. After serving 4 “really, really traumatic” years in the California Youth Authority, Johnny was convicted again just 67 days after being released — this time for 2 counts of assault with a deadly weapon in an attempted robbery. Johnny was sentenced to 10 years in prison, 8+ of which he was required to serve.

In prison, Johnny eventually got his GED, received anger management, and read the Koran and the Bible multiple times, but “couldn’t get rid of this emptiness and void I felt inside my heart.” After being paroled and unable to find work due to being a 2-strike felon with a violent crime, Johnny went back to selling drugs. Johnny describes an incident where he and a friend attempted to rob a drug dealer — and his friend was shot 3 times and died — as a turning point in his life.

In a fortunate turn of events, which Johnny attributes to divine intervention, Johnny met the pastor of his mom’s church, who opened his eyes to a new perspective in life. The pastor taught Johnny that “Trusting in yourself is the root of all evil,” a revelation that transformed his worldview and enabled him to understand the error in his ways. With the support of this pastor, whom Johnny describes as his “brake system,” Johnny was able to find faith in Christ and reconcile with his abusive father, whom he loathed.

Today, Johnny and his father have a good relationship. His brother is out of prison and “really happy.” And Johnny himself is a prison minister and teaches inmates to address the heart of their issues, which Johnny believes is key to personal transformation. Johnny tells people, “When we stop trusting and believing in ourselves, then truly God can work ‘cause then we start to lean on him.”

Check out the original video and my transcript of Johnny’s testimony below! I believe it is well worth your time.

The pastor said, “You have a choice to make, Johnny. Are you going to trust what you think and you feel, which is constantly changing? It’s like the ocean, high-tide, low-tide. One minute I love this woman, the next minute we argue and fight. I hate her and tell her to get out of my house. Am I going to trust this heart that constantly changes? One minute, I make a determination. I throw all of my pipes away. I’m not going to do drugs. The next minute, I’m rummaging through the trash again, picking it all up. Am I going to trust something that constantly changes? And he told me, “If something is constantly changing — if a person says one thing and does another, he’s a liar. So do you trust this heart that lies to you, or are you going to trust the Word of God that never changes?”

Johnny Chang

The pastor said, “Why do people argue? Why do people fight? Why is there no peace? Because two people are right. ‘You’re wrong, I’m right.’ The other person thinks, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ And then they start to fight, and then there’s no peace. But when one person becomes wrong,” he said, “then everything drops, and they can start to heal. Peace starts to come in, and they’re able to grow.” So he said, “Even though you don’t understand it, I ask that you accept what I’m saying, and just move forward.”

Johnny Chang

Transcript of Ex-Gang Member Johnny Chang’s Testimony

Interviewer: Alright, Johnny.

Johnny: How are you doing?

Interviewer: Johnny, where did you grow up? Where are you from originally?

Johnny: I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, on the border of East LA, Monterrey Park, Alhambra area.

Interviewer: Which is a predominantly…

Johnny: Asian community.

Interviewer: Even the street signs are in Chinese there.

Johnny: [Laughs] Exactly… So I had both of my parents. I would say my childhood was kind of miserable, filled with distrust. My father was a drunk, an alcoholic. My mom was Taoist Buddhist, so it was kind of ran like a dictatorship. When we were really young, my dad would actually beat us – me and my brother and my mom. Sent my mom to the ICU a lot of times, bunch of times. So it was very, very chaotic as a kid. And I think, you know, I grew up around that type of environment where there was gangs, drugs, violence. We were low-income, not stereotypically Asian. We didn’t really have much money. I grew up around a lot of Hispanics. There was a lot of culture shock, as well. Our parents were immigrants, so they didn’t really know how to fit in, so we kind of had to learn everything from the streets.

And when I was young, I had a very peculiar mindset. I trusted in myself a lot because I felt like I couldn’t trust my parents. One time I was 10 years old and I got jumped for the first time. I had my backpack stolen. I had my shoes taken. I went home and my father asked me, “Where’s your backpack? Where’s your stuff?” I said “I got jumped by four Hispanics.” And he didn’t believe me. He thought that I threw away my backpack. He thought that I wasn’t trying to do good in school, so he beat me after that.

So yeah, I kind of went through a lot with the beatings and a lot of trauma. And so at the age of 12 years old I actually joined a gang. I joined the Wah Chings, the Chinese-Triad type of gang out of that area, a very big, big gang.

Interviewer: So these are Asian gangs?

Johnny: Yes. A lot of Asian gangs out there. We are very incognito, hush, hush tight lip. But they do exist. So I joined that at 12 years old. And a lot of people ask me, “Why would you join that?” You know, “Why would you join a gang at the age of 12?” A lot of people will say that it’s probably due to their broken home or broken family or drugs or violence — just the environment. For me, particularly, in my opinion, I noticed that it stemmed from trusting and believing myself. When I was young, I thought that if I did everything I wanted to do, I would be happy. So having fun, going out with gang members — stuff like that I thought was really fun. And the things that I didn’t want to do, such as exercising, studying, doing homework, I didn’t do, because I thought if I did everything I wanted to do, and didn’t do the things I didn’t want to do, I’d be happy.  

So I looked at the gang life and it started at the core of my heart. I really wanted to be a gang member. I looked up to those people, and so I joined that type of lifestyle. Three months into it at the age of 12, I caught my first case, and that was originally a kidnapping/robbery, but they dropped the charges down.

Interviewer: At 12 years old.

Johnny: At 12, yeah. It was with a group of people, of course, but I ended up catching a charge for dissuading a witness for the benefit of a gang. I ended up going to YA, the California Youth Authority. I was at SRCC first and then caught a couple fights in there and got written up. They call it level Bs. And then I ended up going to Fred C. Nelles, Nelles YA. I was 12 years old — they gave me 4 years. When I was in YA, it cultivated the mindset to believe in myself even more. I really trusted myself because I had seen rapes. I had seen murders. I had seen stabbings, fightings – I learned how to fight there. They call it gladiator school for a reason, you know – fight a lot.

I learned the 2-second takeoff rule, meaning if you feel disrespected, within 2 seconds you have to handle it, whether it’s stabbing them, fighting them, beating them. Otherwise, you’ll be labeled a punk. Excuse my language, a bitch, a leva [Spanish pejorative] — stuff like that. I did 4 years there, and it was really, really traumatic. When I get out, 67 days later — 2 months and a week — I catch my 2nd case. This time they try me as an adult. It’s two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Again, it was supposed to be a robbery, but they dropped the charge down. I plead out. They gave me 10 years, 85%, so 8 and some change.

So yeah, I get to prison and it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. First off, I’m Chinese, so being there we were outnumbered. It really was a racial thing, whereas in YA it was more of gang-banging. It was a little bit of race, but you had to represent your colors. Represent your flag. Represent your people. But when you go to prison, you have to drop your flag, you have to drop everything, and you have to represent your race. In there, I had to calm down because I was a YA baby. I didn’t know how to program. After about a year, I learned how to program the rules and regulations and everything. I was able to really start to kind of function in prison. And I went through a lot of depression, so I saw some counselors in there. I’m just being honest. I was able to get my GED. I was able to get anger management counseling.

And everything looked on the up, but there was one thing that I really couldn’t get rid of, and it was this emptiness and this void I had felt inside of my heart. No matter what I did, I really couldn’t overcome this emptiness and this void. It didn’t matter what I did. I just always felt this sadness and feeling inadequate as a human being. Some of the older homies, the people in there, the people who kind of represent us — we usually look to them for advice. So one of the older guys — an old Chinese dude, he’s like “Bro, you should start reading and working out, and kind of get your mind off of things,” ‘cause he noticed that I was kind of an overthinker. So I started reading. I read the Koran in there, front to back, three times. I read the Bible in there, front to back, two times. And it didn’t really do anything for me, honestly.

I get out after doing my stretch. I parole out of CRC Norco. And I meet my mom, and she didn’t really visit me much. She’s an older lady. She didn’t know how to navigate the correctional facilities and stuff like that, so she didn’t really visit me. But I noticed a difference in my mom. She had this inner peace about her that I really didn’t understand because – mind you, she has not just me, but my brother, two kids in prison, who are incarcerated. My brother also did 12 years. And she was still married to my father, her husband, who was still an abusive, alcoholic person. She lived in section 8. She still had, you know, all that trauma and stuff like that. She had no circumstances to be happy, but I realized she was happier than I was. So I asked my mom, “Mom, why are you so happy? What changed?”

And then she mentioned church. And at that time, honestly, it’s like I rolled up the windows of my car. I was like, “I’m not trying to hear about that mom. I don’t believe in God. We were raised Buddhist. I’m good.” And she said, “Fair enough.” She didn’t push. She didn’t say anything. She just let me be. As I got out, I had that heart that I wanted to still do better and do good. I had lived my whole life doing bad things, following myself, trusting myself, so I wanted to get a job. I wanted to help my parents out. And I tried to look for a job, but as a two-strike felon with a violent crime, that wasn’t happening. I applied for even like McDonalds, Fedex, UPS – all the places that say they hire convicted felons. And I wasn’t shown any love, honestly.

Immediately, I went back to the streets. I started to sell drugs again. And at that time, I was still on parole. So it was very risky, looking over my shoulder, and I just felt like this was not something I could make a career out of. So I devised this plan to actually rob a drug dealer. My thinking at the time, “If I’m selling all these drugs, it’s risky. But if I just rob someone who sells all the drugs, then I would inherit — gain a lot of money.” It was me and a friend of mine who was like my roll dawg. And I told him, “Hey bro, let’s rob this dude. He’s a well-known drug dealer in our area.”

Anyway, I told him I was going to go to the right of the car, he was going to go to the left of the car. When I stepped to go to the right of the car, my friend stepped in front of me, so naturally I went to the left of the car. As I’m walking up on the driver’s side of the car, I hear three gunshots. When it rang out, I actually assumed initially that it was my friend who shot the dude. I was like, “Damn, you didn’t even give him a chance? Well, whatever. It is what it is. We’ll roll with the punches.” We were very cold like that. But actually, the car sped off and I realized it was my friend who got shot. He was just lying there. I remember vividly the sounds, the noise that he was making. He was dying. And there I’m holding him, and he died in my arms.

Every time I think about that, I get a little emotional. That moment was very pivotal in my life because I had thought about it. “That was supposed to be me.” Actually, if I went to the right of the car, I probably wouldn’t be here today. As I saw that image, I started to really think about my life. I could feel death around the corner. It didn’t matter what I would do. I felt like I was on borrowed time. I felt like I was going to die soon. And 3 days after that, I received a letter from one of my friends. Just a childhood friend – he grew up with us in the projects, section 8. He gave me a letter that was really eerie. He was like, “Think about me when I’m gone” — just saying these types of things. And three days after that I found out he had committed suicide in jail. So there was death all around me. I was feeling that, it was creeping up on me.

Miraculously, my mom – a couple days after these incidents had happened, her car had broken down. And she was like “Hey Johnny, I need you to take me to church.” She was a translator and very involved at the time. So I said, “Yeah, there’s no harm in that. I want to help mom out.” I had spent all my life being bad to her, so I wanted to treat her well. So I took her to church. But I told her specifically, “I don’t want to be evangelized. I don’t want to talk to the pastor.”

When I get there, I remember this pastor runs out, and he’s like, “Hey Johnny, good to see you. Why don’t you come on in for some food?” And they had made some black bean noodles, and that’s actually my favorite dish for those Asian people out there who know what I’m talking about. It’s like a delicacy for us. I grew up eating that stuff. I was like, “What’s the harm in eating?” But I told the pastor, “I don’t want to hear about God. I don’t believe in God. I’m Buddhist, etc. etc.”

We get there, and I remember he sits down, and after we finished eating, he asks me two questions that kind of shocked me. He said, “Are you a sinner?” And “Do you know what sin is?” And at that time, I felt a little angry to be honest because I felt like that was a loaded question. “Who’s not a sinner?” you know. We’re all born imperfect. We’re all flawed as human beings. We’ve all made bad decisions in our life and stuff like that. And I kind of got mad, and I told him, “Yeah, of course.” And he says, “And what do you think about sin?” I said, “Sin is when you do something bad and you go against God. You shoot people, stab people, lie to people – that’s a sin.” And he said, “Not so.”

And that was the first time – he shook my world upside down. I was like “What do you mean? This is kind of weird because that’s what I always learned.” Even though I wasn’t Christian, Catholic or anything like that, I knew that doing bad things is a no-no. You don’t do that. But he explained to me that sin was actually twofold. The first thing is it’s trusting yourself above the Word of God. So trusting yourself more than God – that’s what sin is. And number two, it was inheritance. So he explained to me the analogy of “You’re Chinese. You didn’t choose to be Chinese. You were born that way. Your father was Chinese. His father was Chinese, etc. It was passed down.” Likewise, with sin, it wasn’t that you did anything wrong. Your father – Adam was evil. He was sinful, and it was passed down to us. And we were born sinners.

And at that time, it really made sense to me. My son, he was like 4 years old at the time. I always taught him well. “Hey, don’t follow the way that daddy went. Be good. Respect your elders, etc. etc.” Never taught him how to lie, steal, do anything like that. But at the age of 4, he loved eating gummy bears. And I remember he would always want gummy bears. If he could just live off of gummy bears, he would do it. But I told him, “You have to eat veggies first, and then you can eat some gummy bears.” But I would see him trying to hide the veggie, trying to take it to the little potty and throw it in there. Who taught him that? He even got to a point where he would steal the gummy bears. He would scoot the little stool over, climb on top, reach at the top of the cabinet, pull out the gummy bears. I caught him one day red-handed. I’m like “What are you doing?” He’s like “Nothing, dad. Nothing.” Who taught him that? I never taught him any of that evil stuff, but it was part of him, and it was something that was actually normal for him — for kids to rebel.

And he used the analogy of an apple tree, which really put it in perspective. He said, “When you look at the seeds of an apple, where are the apples? If you plant it, as it grows, it will only produce apples. No matter how hard it tries, it cannot produce oranges or mangos. Likewise, when you look at a baby, where is the sin? It’s very cute. It’s loving. But as it grows, as it matures, all you see is sin. They start to lie, they start to cheat, steal, they can even murder.” So when I saw that, it really made a lot of sense to me as a person. And I was able to see that, “Oh, we’re just being normal.” It’s not that I did bad things, and then I became a sinner. No, I was born flawed. I was born imperfect. And he said, “You’re an imperfect person trying to get perfect results. Of course you’re going to fall short.”

So that’s why I had emptiness and depression and loneliness inside of my heart. He was showing me that it wasn’t the surface-level things, but it was at the core of the heart because everything is rooted in the heart. Everything came from the center, so I was trying to basically put a Band-Aid on. Oh, I had anger, so I’d take anger management. No. If you peel back the layers of an onion, you’ll realize that you’ll get to the root of it, which is that sin produces everything. And I started to realize, “Oh, I was looking at it from a wrong perspective.”

He said, “It’s okay.” And he used the analogy of a car. He was saying that there’s a braking system in the car. And it must overcome the accelerator. Otherwise, if the accelerator overcomes the brake, it will crash. No one would drive that car, even if it was a Ferrari, because it has no brakes. Likewise, we are people who need to have self-control. If we don’t have self-control and our desires are like the accelerator, if it keeps going, “I want to do drugs. I want to do money.” If you don’t manage that, you’ll crash out in life, and you’ll live miserably. When he was saying these things, it was hitting me at the core of my heart. “Wow, this guy knows me, and I just met him.” And I didn’t really understand how he knew me through and through.

At that time, he said, “You’re a person — because you were born flawed, imperfect, and in sin, you don’t have the capability to stop yourself. And so, you need something to help you.” And he said, “That’s where I come in as a pastor. I am your braking system.” At that time, he had asked me this one question, and he said, “How is your relationship with your father?” I said “It’s horrible. I honestly hate him. I feel like the reason why I joined a gang, the reason why I was angry, the reason why I was so violent was because of my father.” But he had mentioned, “Okay, so listen to me very carefully.” He said, “When you meet your father, I want you to apologize to him.” And I was like “What?” Excuse my language, but I was like “Fuck that,” honestly. Because I didn’t ask to be born. He had a responsibility to take care of me. But when I was born, he beat me, and he wasn’t there for me. And I felt so angry when he asked me to apologize to him.

And you know what he said was. He said, “Johnny, you’re right, that he beat you, and you didn’t have a good childhood, but you’re also miserable.” And that hit me, you know, really deeply. “You’re miserable because when you go outside and you see fathers who do respect their children, who did raise them well, you feel that pain.” He said, “Why do people argue? Why do people fight? Why is there no peace? Because two people are right. ‘You’re wrong, I’m right.’ The other person thinks, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ Right? And then they start to fight, and then there’s no peace. But when one person becomes wrong,” he said, “then everything drops, and they can start to heal. Peace starts to come in, and they’re able to grow.” So he said, “Even though you don’t understand it, I ask that you accept what I’m saying, and just move forward.”

So at that time, I put down everything I felt, and I trusted this man. And I was like, “Okay, I’m not going to trust myself. Let me see what he says. And let me just try it out. What’s the harm in trying it out?” So I call my father, and it’s such an awkward phone call. I haven’t talked to him for years. And I say, “Hey dad, it’s Johnny.” He’s like “Who?” “It’s your son.” He’s like “Oh.” And the first thing out of his mouth – I remember vividly – “I don’t have any money for you.” And I got a little angry, “I don’t need your money.” I kind of simmered down, and I was like, “Dad, I just want to talk to you. It’s really urgent. I need to speak to you about something.” He said, “Okay.”

So we planned to go to this [?] restaurant in Alhambra, and we get there. He’s sitting across from me, and I’ll never forget. It’s awkward. There’s so much tension. He’s not looking me in my face. I’m looking off the wall. But I remember vividly what the pastor told me. “Just move forward, just apologize, it’s okay. I am your braking system.” So I told him, “Dad, I’m here today to tell you that I’m sorry. [Tears up] I’m sorry for being a bad son. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for you. That I didn’t help. And I didn’t live up to your standards.” And then my father actually – he started crying. He said, “No. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I was a bad father. I’m sorry I didn’t give you a good childhood, and I’m sorry I couldn’t control my drinking, and that you had to suffer because of that.”

Twenty years of pain, anger, frustration – it was crushed. We hugged it out, and now we have a great relationship. When I think about it, if I had never followed what the pastor said, if I never trusted him and I trusted myself, if I tried to understand and wrap my head around, if I held my own righteousness, I would have never experienced this. At the core of my heart, the pastor was dissecting it and fixing it from the inside out. And when I seen that, I was so thankful. Wow, this pastor, he knows something that I don’t know. For the first time in my life, I didn’t trust what I saw and what I felt. I left it in the hands of someone who was better than me, who knew God, who lived happier than me, who was more peaceful than me. And when I was connected to that, I was able to overcome everything.

I see my father every week now. We go out to eat. And all we talk about is happiness, and we’re able to rekindle everything. And I never preached the Gospel to my dad. And I never told him about God. I just showed him, “Hey, I’m happy dad. And I love you.” And that love really overcame everything.

Interviewer: Forgiveness.

Johnny. Yeah, forgiveness. It wasn’t like I wanted to, but when I connected to something that was stronger than me, like my pastor, I was able to stay out of prison. I was able to kick the drugs – I was on meth, ecstasy, and coke. It wasn’t that I did anything myself. I didn’t even want the help. You know, a lot of people – we’re on Skid Row. And they talk about homelessness. “Oh, the problem is homelessness.” Well, if you peel that back, it could be mental issues– mental health. If you peel that back, it could be drugs and what not. But the truth is it’s at the core of the heart. I believe it’s sin – that begets everything else. It produces everything else.

I liken it to the analogy of cancer. Say I have cancer. And if I’m losing my hair and if I’m losing weight — well, if I put a wig on and I just eat and fatten up, it doesn’t get rid of the cancer. And, likewise, we have to get to the core of the issue, and the core of this issue right now is people’s hearts. They’re self-worth is completely gone. When the pastor planted hope inside of my heart, it casted everything out. He never said, “Don’t do this. Stop doing drugs, stop gaming [sic].” He never told me that. He didn’t give me a dime. What he gave was hope inside of my heart. And when that happened, I naturally dropped everything that was hopeless. I clinged to drugs because I thought that was my hope. I clinged to my gang because that was my hope at the time.

When God showed me another perspective – he talked about God. He talked about Jesus and he said, “Why do you think that Jesus had to die for you? Well, because you’re a sinner. You were born into sin. You can’t stop sinning, so you’ll always be empty. You’ll always be miserable. But when you think about God, he paid for all of your sins. He made you righteous.” And I’m like “He made me righteous? I’m a sinner. I remember my sins.” He said, God doesn’t remember them.” Hebrews 10:17 says “And your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”

He said, “You have a choice to make, Johnny. Are you going to trust what you think and you feel, which is constantly changing? It’s like the ocean, high-tide, low-tide. One minute I love this woman, the next minute we argue and fight. I hate her and tell her to get out of my house. Am I going to trust this heart that constantly changes? One minute, I make a determination. I throw all of my pipes away. I’m not going to do drugs. The next minute, I’m rummaging through the trash again, picking it all up. Am I going to trust something that constantly changes? And he told me, “If something is constantly changing, if a person says one thing and does another, he’s a liar. So do you trust this heart that lies to you, or are you going to trust the Word of God that never changes? No matter what, God dies for you. He perfected you. He made you holy. Past, present and future sins are gone.”

When I believed, when I put myself down again and my thoughts down, and I trusted the Word of God – that power became mine. And he likened it to the analogy of a debt. Let’s say, Mark, I have 10 thousand dollars for you, and I say “Let’s go to Arizona — in Phoenix, in one week, I’ll give you 10 thousand dollars. If you believe in me, if you trust what I say, you will make that trip and go out there, and you will receive the 10 thousand.” But let’s say you don’t believe in me. “Aw, Johnny’s a gang member. He’s just a guest on Soft White Underbelly, I don’t’ believe him.” Even if I go to Arizona with 10 thousand dollars, you will not receive the blessing. So it’s important what you put your beliefs in.

People say, “The Lord is my Savior,” but what did he save you from? He saved you from your sins. So if he saved you from your sins, and you still think you’re a sinner, that must mean he failed. He didn’t. It says in the Bible that he has perfected us forever. When I was able to believe that, that core of my heart changed. I went from emptiness to having hope. Where do righteous people go? Righteous people go to heaven. I always thought I was going to die and go – maybe not to hell but somewhere where evil people go because I was an evil person. I did a lot of things that I’m not proud of. And now I had that hope that “Hey, I don’t have to live this way.” This mind, this heart was deceiving me, telling me that I was not righteous, telling me that I was evil. When you live that lifestyle, you start to believe, “Well, I’m evil anyway, so” – excuse my language – but “Fuck it.” I’m going to do whatever I want — because your self-worth is gone. Your confidence – gone. Everything is out the window.

What I’m doing nowadays is I’m going to prison. I’m a prison minister. And I preach my testimony and this story to people, and it really changes their lives. Because everyone is telling people, “Hey, stop doing bad. Stop doing evil.” The problem is they’re not understanding that trusting in themselves is the root of all evil. Because we’re flawed as human beings. And if we’re flawed, we cannot produce perfect things. We actually cannot produce good things. We can try, but at the end of the day we fill this emptiness. And what I call it is this up-and-down lifestyle. You know, when you’re really happy, you’re on the up, but when you’re sad, you crash. So you’re happy-sad, happy-sad, happy-sad until you die. There is no real purpose inside of your life. And that’s something that people really resonate with because I went through that.

When I look at my life, I thought it was a curse, 12 years old in YA. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be dead. I’m supposed to be on the streets here with these people, strung out. But as I see that God was leading my life, I see that it’s such a blessing, a blessed life, because I understand people –these homeless people on the streets. They don’t need money. They don’t need clothes and all that. They need the fixing and the renewal of the heart. And so that’s really what I’ve been doing nowadays. Going to prisons and talking to inmates and double lifers, people with LWP – life without parole. I don’t tell them, “Hey, you need to change. Why did you murder people? You need to make a decision.”

What I tell them is “Do you know what God did for you? Do you know that sin was part of you? It’s not that you wanted to do it, but it was something that was dragging you. And if you learn to distrust that voice, distrust that destructive voice, I call it. That evil thought, that evil nature — then you’re able to live well. Then you’re able to connect to the pastor. You’re able to connect to people that are better than you. And then their happiness, their hope will pour into your heart.” And once that changes, they start to become mentored. They start to also mentor other inmates. We’re making a big impact in all these prisons.

I go to Thailand. I also preach at the Bang Kwang prison. I go to Korea. Recently, I met with [?]. I’m from the San Gabriel Valley. I’m from Wah Ching. How can I be talking about God? Well, I really feel like it wasn’t me. I feel like God had prepared this thing for me, and he had showed me something while going through the struggles, while feeling empty – and overcoming that. And that’s really what I want to kind of share with the people because if that pastor never gave me a chance. If he never explained to me these things, I would probably be dead or in prison.

Interviewer: How’s your brother?

Johnny: He’s good. He’s out of prison. He got out about 4 years ago. He comes to church with me, as well. He’s happy. He’s really happy.

Interviewer: That’s great. That’s a hell of a story of forgiveness and change of heart.

Johnny: Yeah. Forgiveness and understanding that we are already flawed, and it’s okay. When we stop trusting and believing in ourselves, then truly God can work ‘cause then we start to lean on him. Like I said, it didn’t make sense to say sorry to my father. It made more sense in my head for him to apologize to me, but when I put that down, truly I became happy. And I never thought that I could rekindle this. I thought I wasn’t even going to visit my father on his deathbed. That’s how much hatred I had for him. But now that I think about it, I’m so thankful for him — that I was able to experience God through this.

And my father now, like I said, comes to church. He hated church. He was like, “They brainwash you. Don’t give them your money. There’s only women at church.” It was all this stuff. But when he saw that I had stopped going to prison. I had stopped doing drugs. I had stopped carrying a gun. It started to really pique an interest in him. And so he himself went to my pastor, the same pastor that preached to me. And now he realized, “I’m perfect through God, through Jesus, because he didn’t fail.” Not because we do well, not because he stopped drinking, not because he stopped beating my mom. In the end, he really gave up drinking. Him and my mom are still married. It’s amazing, truly, when the heart changes.

Johnny Chang Christian
An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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