Story by Matt Larsen
Photos by Matt Hellman
“Whap!” A gun smashes into the back of his head.
He crumples to the ground.
Two men take off with his coat and money. He stands back up, head pounding. He tries to run. He gets hit. He tries to run again. He gets hit again. After the seventh time, there is no getting back to his feet.
“My whole body was just blood,” he said.
“Pow! Pow! Pow!” One bullet found flesh.
“All of a sudden I’m sitting at the top of this tree way up in the sky, like I’m sitting on the Alico,” he remembers. “I look down, and it’s me and these circle of clouds. They are going counterclockwise. They are going around me and these guys are jumping me.”
An ambulance ride, a hospital visit and a reconstructive facial surgery later, Jason Ramos had more than 70 stitches in his head, face and mouth. A scar in his foot still marks the bullet wound.
But he’s alive.
Loosing Innocence Early
That was not Ramos’ first run-in with a gun. At age 6, Ramos, his twin brother Jon and their sister watched his mom slip out the door as his drunken father threatened her with a shotgun.
After he was locked up, it was Roy.
Every time they went to the room, Jason and Jon knew exactly what they were going to do.
“Don’t do it, please don’t do it!” Jon remembers screaming through the crack at the bottom of the door to his mom as she stuck a syringe filled with methamphetamine into her arm.
Then came the beatings.
“We’d hide in the closet and watch for hours while he beat her up,” Jason said.
One day they finally ran down the street to get their grandpa. Putting on his deer uniform, their grandpa grabbed his gun out of the gun case and said, ‘C’mon, boys.’ Minutes later he kicked down the door and watched Roy scurry out the window.
“That was the end of Roy,” Jason said.
Despite the coming and going of two abusive father figures, the twins still held onto their childhood for a couple more years.
“We were kids all the way to seventh grade,” Jon said. “And then our lives changed.”
With few family memories that didn’t involve drugs or violence, Jason and Jon were simply looking for somewhere to belong. That somewhere ended up being anywhere their respective gangs went.
“I would go to school Friday morning in seventh grade and not come home until Sunday night,” Jon said.
By the age of 12 Jason found himself stealing cars, smoking weed, and getting drunk. He remembers the first time he was arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon at 13. At 16, he overdosed on cocaine.
Lying in a hospital bed after the overdose with his grandma crying by his side, Jason vowed to give up the drugs for a while. That lasted about a year.
After that year, Jason quickly fell back into a habit of using and selling everyday.
“That was just the lifestyle we lived,” he said. “It was normal.”
Normal was also in and out of a relationship with Monica, the woman who would be his future wife. The two met in their early teenage years but finally started a relationship, built around drugs, in their early 20s. For much of the on-and-off relationship, the two used drugs together on a daily basis. In October 2001 Monica became pregnant with their first son, Austin.
Ten years later, Austin sparked a change.
A Pair of Breakthroughs
For his 10th birthday, Austin had one wish: to go to church for the first time.
So they went.
“It was so uncomfortable for me,” Monica remembers, smiling. “I felt like the whole message was for me.”
The following week a couple girls approached Monica at the supermarket and asked if they could pray for her. Though she didn’t fully open up to the two strangers, she shared that her family was in a tight spot financially because she needed a job. Having just prayed for God to show up before she entered the supermarket, she thought these girls might be her answer.
After they prayed for her, she walked out the door of the supermarket and ran right into her old boss who asked her to come back to work for him.
But the drugs continued.
Three more weeks of simply adding church and Bible-reading to her drug-dependent lifestyle found her still depressed and disappointed in her shortcomings as a mom. Then all of sudden something broke, and she lost the desire for drugs.
A week later she gave her life to Jesus.
“Even though we were in this depression stuff, it was the first time I had experienced this joy and peace,” she said. “I never knew I could experience that no matter what was going on.”
Knowing she wanted him to change too, Jason tried to hide by smoking just $20 or $30 worth of dope a day rather than $100.
But she could tell. One day he came back to their apartment after hitting the streets and she was gone. She wanted a real father for her children and started praying for one.
This separation launched Jason into the loneliest season of his life.
While watching his reflection smoke a glass pipe in the bathroom mirror of his apartment, guilt and despair finally gripped his insides. He flushed what he had and went to his mom’s house. Flopping down on the bed in what used to be his room, he grabbed a pen and paper and began scribbling:
“God I need your help. I don’t want to live like this no more. I can’t live like this no more. Come take me by the hand and pull me out of this.”
“I was praying to God,” he said. “And He heard me.”
His answer came the following day at work in the form of a phone call from his probation officer. Jason had not told him about the job.
“How did you find me?” Jason remembers asking.
But the call had a purpose. Jason had tested positive for drug use at the probation office earlier in the week.
But he had no intention of coming quietly.
“I’ve been ducking and dodging and ripping and running my whole life. I ain’t fixing to go do no time,” Jason told the officer.
“Hey, you prayed about this two days ago,” a voice from inside him interrupted.
So he went.
“I walked out of there that day, and I felt this lift off of me like I had never felt before. I went home and told my mom, and she was crying. I was like, ‘No, I think this is God. I think God is doing something.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007, Jason Ramos entered Lubbock County Correctional Facility and found his freedom.
“He started a Bible study and it got to the point that it was bigger than mine,” Benny Lopez, Jason’s friend and Pastor of Prison Ministry at New Life Ministries, said. “So from that moment I could see that God had something special for Jason. He was a leader… A bunch of guys started to call him the pope.”
The two developed a deep bond during Jason’s time in Lubbock. Lopez’s strongest memories were Sunday night dinners with Jason and a handful of other inmates. Spaghetti, garlic bread and one movie: “Nacho Libre.”
“We watched it so many times, to the point that we all knew the lines,” Lopez said. “So every Tuesday I would go over there and be like, ‘Nacho!’”
A Family Affair
In September 2008 Jason Ramos came back to Waco free from prison, free from his drug addictions and free to pursue a new dream: the transformation of his family. He went into prison weighing 135 pounds and came out at a rock-like 185. But his smile is what really grew.
“I didn’t even recognize him when I saw him,” Jon said.
Though Jon was released from prison shortly after Jason, he had no interest in a new lifestyle just yet. Jason spent two and half years praying and waiting patiently for his brother to want to change.
“But every time I would see him, I would see him as this man of God,” Jason said, recalling the visions he had of his brother following Jesus and walking in the same freedom he was experiencing. He remembers passing him on Waco Drive one time and whipping back around for a second look.
Out of faith that God would transform his brother into the man of God he kept seeing, Jason kept extending invitations for Jon to meet Jesus and find freedom.
“He continued to invest in me,” Jon remembers. “I was living my life, selling drugs and gambling. ‘Jon, you want to come with me to lifegroup? Jon, you want to come with me to the feast? Jon, you want to…?”
“One day he came at the right time.”
As Jason walked into his mother’s house one afternoon, his brother was lying on the couch looking exhausted.
“I know you’re tired,” he said.
Jon knew he wasn’t talking about physically.
“You ready?” Jason asked.
“He has asked me that many times before,” Jon said. “That day when he asked me, I was like ‘Yeah, man. I’m ready.”
After praying with Jason, Jon told his family his plans and moved in at the Mercy House within the week. Run by Antioch Community Church volunteers and staff, the Mercy House functions as a home where addicts can seek freedom alongside others with similar pasts.
Jon remembers mowing the church lawn early during his stay and thinking about how much money he needed to store up before he could get right back out on the streets selling drugs. God had a different plan though.
Jon’s 3-month stint at the Mercy House ended in October 2011, but he stayed a month longer and now spends every other weekend there helping other men walk into freedom.
“It’s my home,” he said.
While Jon calls the Mercy House home, he has done anything but forsake the family in which he has also found a renewed sense of belonging. The night he prayed with Jason to seek freedom from his addictions, Jason made sure Jon knew how excited he was to have his brother back.
“We’re twins again,” he remembers Jason telling him with a smile that could have been mistaken for a child’s toothy grin on Christmas morning.
Walking in close relationship with friends at Antioch, Jason and Monica started their relationship back up and eventually got married, this time centered not on their addictions but around the one who set them both free. Jason would become the answer to Monica’s prayer for a real father for her children.
Not only has Jason become a real father, but restoration in the Ramos family is reaching back a generation to see Jason and his real father rebuild their relationship. While reaching back, the brothers have committed along with their cousin Frederick to leading their families forward to create a new norm for their children to grow up in.
“I used to go buy them an Xbox to keep them in a room. That was parenting for me,” Jason said. “Now I want to train them up to be men of honor. I want to train them up to be somebody’s husband someday. I want to not just give them, give them, give them. Now I want to be a father. I want to be a dad.”
Knowing their history, the brothers are building a new heritage for the Ramos family, establishing a new namesake.
“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my life before, and I am so thankful that God pulled me out of it,” Jason said. “But the reality is that you can be a part of something greater than yourself by giving your life away.”
Though their sons come first, both brothers know the freedom and life they stepped into was not meant for just the Ramos family. They will give their lives away to see it spread. Their freedom compels them.
“Its just the beginning,” Jon said with a grin.
Find more info at: http://www.mercyhousewaco.com/