Alberto Ruiz did drugs, hung out at nightclubs, and had a long string of criminal offences to his name. He was a part of the Latin Kings gang and, during his years as a member, he did time for a number of violent crime charges.
In 2014, Alberto was the subject of a national man-hunt that lasted for eleven hours. When he was caught, he was convicted of three carjacking's, an attempted murder and five aggravated batteries of law enforcement officers and went to jail to serve time for twenty years.
Alberto was born in Cuba and had "a normal childhood. Economic circumstances were hard, but I was always provided for. My mother was a true believer in Jesus and always prayed."
In 1970, when Alberto was six, he and his family immigrated to America to "escape the communist ruling of Fidel Castro."
As he grew up, Alberto admits that he was "attracted to hanging out with the wrong people, going to dance clubs, and using marijuana." His first brush with the law came after he stole a car when he was eighteen; this ended up with him doing time for one year. While in prison, Alberto joined the Latin Kings gang and, when he got out, he kept up "my life of drugs, crime, gangs and total immorality" .
In 1983, he went to prison again, this time for seventeen years. While he was locked up in a holding cell, Alberto was in great despair and had many questions about his life.
Then, Alberto's mother died and "I was really broken-down in spirit."
"I remember speaking to God in a prayer and telling Him I did not want to continue to live the way I was. I remember saying to God many times that I just wanted to die. I had heard of the name of Jesus Christ and many, many times I begged Him to help me."
One of his fellow inmates suggested that he go to the church that was holding services on the prison block.
"I did go and the sermon that the preacher spoke was the sermon of the prodigal son [the story can be found in the Bible in Luke 15:11-31]. The sermon really touched my heart and I accepted the Lord that day."
However, Alberto "constantly struggled with the sins of alcohol and drugs."
Soon, the lure of these temptations and his status as a gang member, took their toll on him and he turned his back on God.
In 1993, Alberto was released but "kept on living a life of sin. I went back to prison numerous times but something kept coming up in the inner part of my spirit and that was the sermon of the prodigal son."
He says that he hit rock bottom when, in 2012, his father, too, passed away. "All I kept thinking about was how much he prayed for me and requested that I change my life. For a few months I stopped doing drugs, went to church, and got a job, but I guess I still had not given myself sincerely to Christ Jesus."
In 2014, "I was at my lowest, living like a crazy man. I lost all hope and just wanted to die," he confesses.
So, Alberto stole a car and fled, eluding police in a long high speed chase that caught the attention of "every news media organisation in the country."
Eleven hours later, Alberto was finally arrested in Miami; but he resisted and ended up being shot by the police.
"I wound up in hospital in a critical condition, almost to the point of death, but God spared me."
He "was sentenced to 20 years in prison [and] my earliest possible release date was in 2034. I will be 71 years old."
The direness of his situation jolted Alberto to his senses. "I realised that my life was unmanageable. I was full of pain, suffering and had no hope. I could not handle my guilt, the wrong I had done and the pain I had caused a lot of people including my now deceased parents. I felt that I disappointed everyone, including myself. The pain within my soul was killing my spirit. I needed Jesus Christ."
As he was alone in his cell, he "spoke to Jesus and I said that I believe everything that the Bible said. I told Jesus that I really desired to change and I wanted Him to change me. I cried to Him as a son cries to his father for help and asked Him to please forgive me for all the wrongs I've ever done. I begged Jesus to give me a new heart and forgive my sins."
The first thing Alberto did, after this life-changing experience, was to renounce his affiliation with the Latin Kings. He no longer uses drugs or drinks alcohol. He does not hang out with inmates who do not acknowledge Jesus.
"I have experienced what the sermon of the prodigal son illustrates," he explains. "For God is constantly yearning for His Creation to come for forgiveness in Jesus Christ and for us to enjoy all of His love and blessings.
"I was dead to sin and a slave to drugs, alcohol and pill addiction. But [I have learned that] Jesus Christ is the only one that can cure a broken heart, a broken life, and a broken family."
To fellow prisoners who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Saviour, Alberto encourages, "It is impossible for us, by ourselves, to escape from the pit of sin in which we are stuck. Our hearts are evil and we cannot change them without the power that is in Christ Jesus. Only His grace and His love can awaken the lifeless state of our souls. If you want to have peace, if you want to have a better life, if you want to be free of guilt and addiction, give yourself to Jesus Christ and I assure you, that good changes in your life will happen.
"For today, even though I will have to serve 20 years in jail and even though I will be 71 years old when I get out, I have peace for I know this is what it took for me to be saved and have eternal life with Christ."•