HOW LOVE CAN MENDAt seventeen, Alexander had anti-Christian tattoos all over his body—Jesus with horns, an upside-down cross, the words “Satan’s Child,” the number 666. His heart bore a different kind of marking—emotional scars left by the deaths of his three best friends, all murdered by rival gangs.

And he had just been sentenced to life in prison.

As Alexander now reflects on those hate-filled years, he recognizes that the gang lifestyle stole his youth. Although his childhood was happy, Alexander’s teenage years were devoured by an endless cycle of violence and retaliation.

Alexander and his three best friends encountered gang violence at a very young age when one of them, Marcos, was mistaken for a gang member and killed in a shootout. “He was shot six times and died in my arms,” remembers Alexander.

The three remaining boys abandoned their skateboards and bikes and began dreaming of revenge. Instead of serving as a warning to stay away from gang life, Marcos’s death pushed Alexander and the others into the waiting arms of the neighborhood gangs.

Eight months later, Alexander’s friend Edgar was murdered in a drive-by shooting. That tragedy left just Alexander and Peewee, who became as close as brothers. But unlike Alexander’s early memories of sibling love and affection, this brotherhood was characterized by fear. “We were not even safe to relax in a park with friends or family, for it seemed that as long as we were tagged as gang members, we became prime targets for violence,” Alexander says.

And the gang violence was far from over. A year later, Peewee also died in Alexander’s arms, the victim of yet another drive-by shooting. Alexander blamed God for the tragic deaths of his three friends and hardened his heart, chastising any Christian who dared to speak to him about God’s love.

But God had a message for Alexander, to be delivered by Peewee’s sister. Alexander had stopped to check up on Peewee’s family, but he was preoccupied with thoughts about a looming gang meeting.

Before Alexander left, Peewee’s sister put her hand on his arm. “You need to let go of that hate and my brother,” she said. “That hate is only going to take you to the same place Marcos, Edgar and Peewee now rest. Give all that hate to God.”

Those words set Alexander’s transformation in motion. He got involved in an anti-gang program and encouraged gangs to sign agreements pledging not to carry out drive-by shootings around homes or schools. Things were looking up.

But the gang lifestyle does not give up its members so quickly. Where violence has a stronghold, escape doesn’t come easy. “On November 6, 1993, a month after my seventeenth birthday, Satan came and took my life away,” remembers Alexander.

He was at a quinceañera party when a brawl broke out. Believing that Alexander was part of a rival gang, several men attacked him. Alexander had a gun he had purchased that day for his mother to use for home defense, so he used the firearm to defend himself and quickly fled the scene.

The next day, Alexander found out that the shots from his gun had killed someone. Overcome with guilt and pain, he went to church and confessed everything to the pastor. After that, he went to the authorities and surrendered himself, confessing fully to the crime.

In prison and facing a sentence of thirty years to life, Alexander’s gang affiliations continued to haunt him. The gangs offered protection and security, but at great personal cost.

Eventually, though, Alexander decided to make good on the transformation that had begun in Peewee’s house. He started seeking God but wasn’t sure exactly where to turn. In 2010, his cellmate gave him an application for CBI’s Bible study program and told him that it would look good for the parole board. Anxious to increase his chances of early release, Alexander enrolled.

“I planned to do the studies solely for the board,” remembers Alexander. “But as I began my studies, I got drawn more to the Word.”

Slowly, Alexander began finding Christian friends, one of whom convinced him to sign up for the next church service. It was there that he finally found peace. The second praise song was one Alexander had not heard in twenty-one years. It was his best friend Edgar’s favorite song.

“I ran out of the chapel crying. It was a message that I was finally home,” says Alexander.

The CBI discipleship program strengthened Alexander’s resolve and began to ebb away at the lingering bitterness in his heart. “I believed that society as a whole had sent me to die in prison. The Instructors have shown me that not everyone has judged me as the worst person in life,” he says.

The love shown to Alexander by his CBI Instructors put an end to the hatred that had kept him entrapped in a cycle of violence. Feeling accepted, forgiven and safe for the first time in a long time, Alexander had hope for the future.

Although prison life continues to be difficult and often dangerous for Alexander—who has suffered multiple stabbings for refusing to participate in gang attacks—he is persevering. “I now serve the Father and Son with all my heart,” he says. “Thank you for giving me hope to live again.”

And his tattoos? He still has them. But now these markings serve a different purpose, says Alexander: “They serve as a witness that when God calls upon a person, He will come and transform our heart to His will.”