He was known to be tough, violent and feared. He had a long list of crimes after his name, including murder. He was part of a gang known for its ruthless criminal activities.
Mpho Mokoena acknowledges that things were sadly wrong in his life.
"I was selfish and would readily take people for granted," he says. "I would take what I wanted from you and then just forget about you. I was also ruthless in what and how I did things.
"I would often hurt people physically over small things, just to prove a point. I wanted people to fear me so that I could manipulate them into giving me things that I wanted. In the midst of all this sadness, I was using drugs and alcohol to help me cope with life"
Eventually, Mpho's crimes caught up with him and he was given a prison sentence.
One day, he overheard his cellmate praying and "a spark of light" ignited within him.
"I was a loner growing up," Mpho recalls. "My parents had separated while I was still young, so I was raised by my grandparents in an abusive household. Our spiritual lives involved praising ancestors, doing rituals and using muthi (magical charms) for protection," he says. "My grandmother was a sangoma (a witchdoctor) so I had to follow whatever was being done in the family."
Mpho resorted to a gang lifestyle for survival. "From primary school to high school, I did a lot of shoplifting. Then I started doing robberies and house break-ins," he admits.
Then things in his life took a turn for the worst. "In 2016, I committed murder but got acquitted," he says; "but it didn't stop my criminal ways. I lived by the bottle and drank almost every day. I would often engage in a very immoral lifestyle, and I enjoyed being unkind to the girls involved with me."
Eventually, Mpho's criminal ways came to a sudden end when in June, 2018, he was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail for theft and house breaking.
Mpho talks of the events leading up to his arrest, "My friend and I decided to break into a tavern. We took TV's, alcohol and cash. We were arrested the following morning in a tip-off.
"The police went to my place and found stolen items which were from two other different scenes whereby I alone broke into the library two times and took electronics. This resulted in two extra charges added to the initial one."
Once behind bars, Mpho says that he became very sad and lonely. "I realised that no one could help me out of this hole."
Then, on 1 September 2018, he had a life-changing experience.
"I heard a fellow prisoner praying. It was very emotional and it touched me. I went and spoke to him. I realised he was free even though he was in prison. He opened the Bible and talked to me about Jesus."
Mpho longed to have the freedom and the peace that this prisoner had. So, even though he had forgotten how to pray, he bowed his head and gave up his life to Jesus.
Things have drastically changed for Mpho since then. "I am free!" he smiles. "I have forgiven those who were abusive to me growing up. God has shown me that I can change with His help."
Now, Mpho wants to tell others about what he has experienced: "Hang onto God, because Jesus is the way to a life free of sin. He is the way to a life of morals and values that can be seen and lived only through Jesus who died for us on the cross."
Mpho's favourite Bible verse comes from Isaiah 55:1, "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters."
"I realise only Jesus Christ can quench my thirst," Mpho declares.•