Would I Allow an African American Convict to Live in My Home?

Blog November 11, 2020

Dr. Jorge Valdés

Would I Allow an African American Convicted Felon to Live in My Home?

I had just been released from prison and moved to Wheaton College to finish my master’s degree. I was free and excited about my future as a theologian. Life was good until one day. I got a compromising call from my dear friend Manny Mill.  I had met Manny through a phone conversation while I was still in prison. My mentor, Dr. Walter Elwell, a professor at Wheaton College, told me about Manny and Barbara, who ran a home for convicted felons to come live with them upon being released from prison for one year. In their home, Koinonia House, they would be mentored for twelve months until they were ready to go back and become amazing members of society.

When I first heard about this, I was shocked. How crazy can anyone be to allow a convict to come live in their home with one small child and a pregnant wife? But then I knew Cubans are half crazy, so I never gave it much thought. Manny had also attended Wheaton College as a Chuck Colson scholar after being released from prison himself. The minute I spoke with Manny, it seemed as if I had known him for a million years. He was loud like me, laughed as hard as I laughed, and was also a former baseball player and convicted felon.

Manny and I conversed for a few months until one day; I called him to tell him that I was being released and would come to Wheaton to enroll in the spring and summer semesters. Then out of nowhere, Manny asked me, where are you going to live when you move to Wheaton? I said I did not know; I would rent a hotel until I got settled and see what I would do. Manny abruptly interrupted me and said, no! You will come and live with my family and me until you find a home. I had tears running down my face; how could a stranger invite someone he has met by phone in prison, especially knowing my past?

Then one day, my dear friend Manny Mills called me to ask if I was willing to allow an African American young man named Eddy, who was being released from prison, to come live with me for a couple of months until Manny had room in their house. Immediately I said to Manny, can I call you right back?  Manny’s call shook me to my core, and my initial thought was to say hell no, and this was not because allowing another convicted felon to come live with me would be a direct violation of my parole and send me back to prison for another ten-years. This was not my hesitation, in being transparent and honest, my hesitation was really because Eddy was a black man. When I realized that this was my hesitation, I was deeply disturbed and I wept. As a Cuban American, I am also considered a person of color. Most importantly, in prison, my best friend was another African American young man. I had always fought racism and its horror and here I was for a moment experiencing it firsthand, except the person being racist was me.

It was not until I took that enormous leap from theory to reality, and realize that Eddy was my brother in Christ, not a black man or white man, simply my brother. He was coming out of prison with no place to go, and of course, if I had to go back to prison because I was doing what Jesus expected of me, let it be, another five years in prison was nothing compared to letting my Savior down . I rather disappoint my parole officer than disappoint a God whose love transformed my life. So Eddy came to live in my home and we became very close friends, and for the last 25 years I have seen the miracles that Jesus has done in Eddy’s life. He has an amazing wife, and gorgeous children.  Till this day we celebrate Christ’s victories in our lives. As an added bonus, my parole officer never found out and I was not sent back to prison.

We tell the world that we are not racist or prejudice, but if we are honest, deep down inside every human being, there is an ugly beast that desires to distinguish among people for their color, gender, sexual orientation, and many other characteristics. This beast holds us back from being fully human and what God created us to be.  This being said, the question becomes whether we can overcome this and be liberated from those shackles that keep us in bondage and free ourselves of any prejudice or racist inclinations. I believe we can; I KNOW I DID!

I tell this story because it is so applicable in today’s world where the lines between love and hate are so radically drawn, not over whether you believe in Jesus, Mohammed, Yahweh, or any other higher being, but whether you are a Republican who supports Trump, or a Democrat who does not.  The lines of division are clearly drawn and both are filled with deep hate. In a world where we no longer have dialogue we have allowed media to throw us into very different camps where you are not humans with different opinions; you are outright enemies and the devil!

Most people do not understand that our children see us behave in such a horrific manner, and they will become who we are. But I pray they choose to become better than us and that they will be the generation that will bring back civility.  But what is most horrific about this situation is that most people on both sides of the isle call themselves Christians. This is what most irate me, because if we truly are a follower of Christ and call ourselves Christians our defining virtue is TO OBEY CHRIST WHEN HE COMMANDED US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOR. WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT HISTORY HAS ITS EYES ON US.  LET LOVE BE OUR DEFINING VIRTUE.

God bless you always,

Jorge

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