The heavy steel door slammed shut — a sound that had become all too familiar. The guard walked away without a word, leaving Emilio alone with nothing but his regrets to keep him company.
Six years into an 11-year federal prison sentence, Emilio had plenty of time to ponder the series of mistakes that put him in that cell.
From the age of 12, he knew he wanted to leave Mexico, join his brother in the United States and earn his high school diploma. But the land of opportunity also held the temptation of another path — into the drug world. New friends and the promise of money and power soon drew Emilio’s attention from his studies to the buying and selling of drugs.
His new lifestyle caught up with him, landing him in a youth detention center and eventually a prison in Los Angeles. After being deported back to Mexico, he began transporting cocaine and marijuana to the U.S. border and soon found himself behind bars again.
But in the midst of his imprisonment, Emilio was about to discover true freedom.
Salvation Found in a Cell
The hot, stale air hung heavy around him, but for Emilio the weight of loneliness was more than he could handle. One of the guards caught him with drugs and placed him in a punishment cell.
Suddenly the voice of Carlos, another prisoner, interrupted his thoughts.
After a few minutes of talking, Carlos asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” He began to share about the freedom and unconditional love found in Christ, in spite of Emilio’s mistakes and failures. Carlos also told him about a church that met within the walls of the prison, led by another inmate.
Sleep was elusive for Emilio that night. The conversation echoed through his mind. He picked up the Bible Carlos had left with him and began to pore over its pages. And by morning, he could not forget the words of Romans 3:23.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
In that moment, Emilio knew he would spend eternity separated from God if he didn’t accept Christ as his savior.
Knowing that he was supposed to spend the remainder of his sentence in that punishment cell, Emilio prayed that God would remove him so he could worship with his newfound brothers in Christ. And one day he woke up to a guard commanding him to gather his things; he would be returning to the general population area.
Called to Freedom
The Nogales Baptist Seminary (SEBANO) in Nogales, Mexico — a ministry of Missions Door — started the church and a seminary program inside the prison walls.
Emilio loved worshiping with his fellow inmates. He listened to the teachers preach the Word of God, and he knew he wanted to dedicate his life to the same thing. So he studied fervently for the last four years of his sentence, taking as many classes as he could through the Seminary.
Upon his release in April 2008, Emilio went directly to SEBANO where he was able to graduate the very next month.
Today, Emilio goes back to the prison every week, bringing the message of freedom found in Christ and teaching at the prison seminary. He is also an associate pastor of a local church.