Pastor Anthony Thompson talks about how he forgave the shooter who killed his wife, Myra, at Emanuel AME church shooting on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina.
The pastor publicly models to the nation what true forgiveness entails toward the gunman and is a great inspiration and lesson to us all. Listen to Thompson, author of the new book, “Called to Forgive,” on a recent episode of “The Pure Flix Podcast” reveal why he chose to forgive the unrepentant killer:
TRANSCRIPT OF PURE FLIX'S INTERVIEW WITH PASTOR ANTHONY THOMPSON:
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Billy Hallowell: Hey, what's going on? It's Billy Hallowell and welcome to the Pure Flix podcast. I am here today about to have an amazing discussion with Pastor Anthony Thompson. If you don't know Pastor Thompson, he lost his wife, Myra, on June 17th, 2015. She was attending a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, when a gunman entered. And we're gonna choose not to say that gunman's name on this show, but a gunman entered the church and gunned down nine African-American Christians as they prayed in the middle of this Bible study. It was an event that stunned the nation, that horrified all of us. And Pastor Thompson has spoken out since that event, talking about the power of forgiveness. He has a new book out called "Called To Forgive". And it's really, a convicting message, not only the fact that we are called by God to forgive, but the fact that this is a man whose wife was murdered and who within days, within hours, within moments of that event, was not only forgiving in his heart, but publicly forgiving the man responsible for this horrific crime. So we're about to welcome to the show, Pastor Anthony Thompson.
Billy Hallowell: Hey, Pastor, how are you doing today?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: I'm doing very well Mr.Billy, how are you doing today?
Billy Hallowell: I'm doing well. Thank you so much for coming on the show. And, you know, I I'm so privileged to be able to talk with you today. You've got a new book that's coming out called, "Called To Forgive". And your story is one that has really just touched me. Watching from afar how you and so many others who were impacted by this shooting, the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, how you have responded, you lost your wife, Myra, during that tragic event. And, we're going to talk about that today and talk about the book. But, you know, one of the things about your story that has struck me and struck so many others has been your ability to forgive the shooter. And I don't know. I typically choose not to name perpetrators and those who've committed these crimes, and I refer to them generally as the shooter or the person accused of the crime. And so I'll do that in this interview. If you choose to to name him, that's fine. But, I wanted to ask you, considering the stunning level of forgiveness that we all saw coming from you and other family members of the victims. How long did it take you to get to that place of forgiveness?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, to be truthful with you, it was kind of kind of instantaneously, because at the bond hearing. Well, first of all, I didn't want to go to the bond hearing and after being coached to go, I went and I told my children not to say anything because I wanted to get their leave as fast as I could. But while I was shutting down after Naydeen spoke, I forgave him. I was getting ready to leave and God said, get up. I have something to say. And I had no idea what it was He wanted me to say. And so as I walked to the podium, words just came to my mouth. Wow. It was like it was like Dylan and I were the only two in the room, really didn't focus on see anybody else. And all of a sudden, I just say, son, I forgive you, my family forgives you, but we will likely to take this opportunity to repent, repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters the most. Christ. So that He can change it and change your ways, no matter what happens to you. You will be OK. Do that and you will be better off than you are right now. And after I forgave him. I mean, immediately, my body began to tremble. And I could actually feel things leaving my body. All all I mean, my burden is my anger, my rage, the way I felt about my wife. I mean, just left me empty light as a feather. And I experience God's peace, like nothing else. Wow. Oh, yeah. The peace that passes all understanding it is real.
Billy Hallowell: And felt and you felt in that moment, I mean, you knew that God wanted you to get up. You felt God telling you to do this. That is a that is an unbelievable prospect to me. And just to put this in context for people listening, considering the fact that you just you've lost your wife in a horrific shooting, you're standing somewhere you didn't really want to be. You're sitting somewhere you didn't want to be. You didn't really want to go there. You're there and you're face to face with the person who committed this this horrible crime. And you're feeling, God tell you, stand up and you're not sure what you're gona say. And you stand up and you listen and you offer forgiveness to somebody who so many of us would say, how how do you muster that? How do you find that forgiveness in that moment? And can you answer that? I mean, where does that come from?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, it came completely, entirely from God. Say, on the night of the tragedy, I was at the church trying to get inside. And once I discovered that my wife, you know, she was just gone. I started I just lost it and I started wailing on the ground, just crying uncontrollably. And that voice that I heard at the bond hearing. I heard it there first. God said, get up. And He said that three times and He didn't say it mildly, He said it harshly because at first I thought somebody else was telling me to do it. And when I looked around, it wasn't anybody else. He said, get up.
Billy Hallowell: Have there been a lot of moments in your life where you've heard that voice or felt that voice?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Oh, yeah. When I was seven years old. At my grandmother's place, I was outside kicking up some bags, just playing around. And He called me three times before I realized it was Him. Wow. And the third time He said just like this. He said, I am God. You're gonna be a preacher.
Billy Hallowell: So when you said you were seven, seven, wow.
Pastor Anthony Thompson: And when He said that, I said, no, I'm not. And I ran to my grandmother and told her she was excited. And I kept under no, I'm not going to be a preacher. But the thing about it is, I heard that whispering voice in my ear every day until I went to the seminary. Wow. To study to be a minister. I mean, everyday. Seriously, everyday.
Billy Hallowell: And that's. That's another level to your story, though, that I think, you know, so many of us and I know life can be tough for pastors because there's there's a lot of extra pressure. Right. You have an entire congregation looking to you for their to help with their problems, looking to you to guide them spiritually. I mean, that's what it means when you're called like that. You're called to a life of service in the church. And then an event like this happens. And as a pastor, what is it like to have so many times you're the one helping people through their stuff? What is it like when when you have something like this happen? What was that experience like for you after losing your wife and processing through that with the community?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, my concern was my congregation. Like I told you that night when He told me to get up, He reminded me of the sermon I normally preach to my people all the time about if something happened to your loved one, your child or any any anyone close to you. And you cherish them more than God. What are you gonna do? He reminded me of that. That's what He told me to get up. And He gave me a scripture to preach that Sunday. And all of a sudden, all I could think about was my congregation. They needed to know and I was all right so that they could be all right.
Billy Hallowell: So you preached a few days after?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: I preached that this same Sunday. Yes. Wow. Wow.
Billy Hallowell: Do you remember what that scripture was that He gave you?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Yeah. St. Luke 17 chapter first through the six verses in, I realized. It was for me. I didn't know where He was going with this. But when I got to the bond hearing, I realized a whole lot about why He gave me that scripture, because it said things that cause people to stumble about to come. Well, whoe to anyone to whom they come. And would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourself. But that's not the kicker, the kicker is this. It says, if your brother or sister says against you, rebuke them, if they repent, forgive them, even if they sell against you seven times in a day, seven times come back to you saying, I repent, you must forgive them. That was the message. He was He He prepared me on the spot that night.
Billy Hallowell: Well, and how how long was the bond hearing after the event took place?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: The bond hearing was on in 48 hours.
Billy Hallowell: So you were forgiving publicly, within a couple of days. You said it was instantaneous in your heart. But but I now remember, I remember the public reaction to this being so incredible because I and I remember people in my family saying to me, I don't know if I could do it. Could I forgive if I were in their position? Could I do that? And there's a quote from you that has stuck with me. And I saw I think it might've been an interview, I don't remember. But it was that you had said something like, I ask God to forgive him every night, that you, that that was something you had said at the time. And that, too. I mean, this continued quest in hope and prayer that this person who did this horrible thing to you, that your love for that person is so strong. That's a shocking thing, but that it's so strong that you want that person to find salvation. That's incredible. And to get to that place. So many of us struggle how how in our lives. And maybe the better question is, what would you say to somebody in their life who is struggling with something that has happened and they just can't get themself to that place? Where you almost instantly were in this situation?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, the first thing you have to realize is that no matter what they did to you. You have something in common. You're both are sinners. Incentives need to be forgiven. God can forgive you, you should be able to forgive someone who did something to you. And if you can't do it, you can't expect God to forgive you because He won't. It's convicting that, it's convicting it. And if you don't do it, you're not gonna have the peace that you're trying to get by holding a grudge, about being angry, trying to take revenge. Doing things like that. It just comes back at you, like makes your life more miserable.
Billy Hallowell: Yeah. And it's so true and it's such an inspiration. And that's why your book, Called To Forgive. And I wanna ask you a little bit about that more. It is so important for people to read and understand that calling and the reality that you just described. But one of the things before we talk a little more about the book that I wanted to ask you about as many times after a racially motivated crime, and that's what this was. There's chaos, there's protesters unrest, there's fight infighting and fighting between different groups. You know, white people and black people and just chaos. But that didn't happen in Charleston. Why? Why didn't that happen?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Because of the fact that we forgave him. People. We're all about forgiveness because they expected to rise and burning down. And just, you know, anger and hate. They expected that, but it didn't happen. And when they heard about forgiveness, they were like. You know, we got to get with them. We have to comfort them, we have to find out what we can do to help them. I mean, everybody just came together. I mean, just automatically. I mean, I don't think they even thought about it. Everybody just did it. Man in it all. You know, forgiveness has a lot of power. OK? I mean, it is a healing. Forgiveness has a healing power. And it gives you peace. Peace like none other. Because if you think about it, that's why Christ died on the cross. OK. Isaiah said five hundred years before he actually die, that by His stripes we are healed. And when He died on the cross, they said Father forgive them. The whole world was here that day. He took away our sins and taken away our sins, is taken away our burdens, taking away our anger or whatever it is. And you receive that piece. Automatically, you don't have to do anything to get it. You just forgive. It'll come to you. He'll give it to you. I mean. It's is all God. And that's why it's so hard for people to understand.
Billy Hallowell: Have you? What is your hope? I mean, you've said that you ask God to forgive him every day. What's your hope for him and where he is now and and just moving forward? What would you what would you want to see in his life happen?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: I would want to see him give his life to Christ. And if he had, I would like to see him rededicate his life to Christ, so that he can receive some peace. I know he's miserable. You understand? You know, he may not have shown. He didn't show any remorse. He did say I'm sorry. He said, I'll do it again if I had to. OK. He said some terrible things to us in the courtroom.
Billy Hallowell: So he spoke to you in the courtroom?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, not directly. He just generally speaking.
Billy Hallowell: Well, I know he had said that he it was interesting. There was language in a journal, I believe where he had said he would do it again to those innocent people. Something along the like innocent people. And I thought that was a really strange term to use. Admitting that these were innocent people that that he had done this to. And yet you still forgive. And I think that's the amazing thing, because it's not just like, oh, somebody did something horrible and they're sorry for it. This is somebody who has not been sorry for what he did.
Pastor Anthony Thompson: You know what? It's somebody who did a horrible act, but its also somebody who needs help. Somebody who needs some peace in their life, somebody who needs their life to be changed so that they can get the peace they're trying to get by doing bad stuff. You know, and he's a child of God, just like me.
Billy Hallowell: What did this what did this teach you? Were there any spiritual lessons and I'm sure there are many coming out of this and losing your wife and going through this in a very public setting, too. When you walk away and you look back, what have you learned?
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, I learned that all you have to do is give God full control of your life. Give them control of your life and you just do what He purposed in your heart to do for Him and whatever else that's going on in your life, He'll take care of that if you just obey and do what He wants you to do. Don't worry about undone things or things you think you need to get done because you can't really get it done, unless you still give Him full control and do what He wants you to do. He'll get it done for you. That's what I learned, because every day I'm an awe about what God is doing in my life, my family's life, my church life, and other people's lives; who have given me their testimonies. And it's like it's I'm watching a movie right? But I'm not in the movie. And all I can see is God's handiwork. He showed me everything that He's doing and everything He wants me to do. He's showing me that He's even doing that. And all He wanted to do is just stay still. Do. What He gave me to do. And He'll make everything else work. It's just that simple. I mean. I mean, I preach a lot of sermons about that and I thought I had it, but I didn't have it until then. I know I know exactly what it's all about now. And that's what I learned.
Billy Hallowell: When when you look out at culture and the infighting and it's not just racial division, it's political division. It's there's it seems like we have we continue to fracture more and more as a as a culture. What lessons do you think people can take away from, Called to Forgive. And from your story.
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Well, one of the greatest lessons they can get from that is. Look at each other. And don't assume that you know that person because of the color of their skin. You know, don't don't define somebody by the color of their skin. Actually get to know the person. Ask them their name. Tell him your name. Asks them about their family. Tell them about your family. Ask them. What do they do for a living? I mean, try to form a relationship. With people. So that you can really get to know them, because we don't really know each other when it comes to black and white and different races and different cultures, because we define each other by the color of our skin. By the way, we talk, the language we speak, and the differences in our culture. That's how we define each other. We don't even know each other. So that's the lesson they can get from, Call to Forgive, because it starts with forgiveness. You have to ask God to forgive you and if there is anybody who made your life miserable, did something wrong to you. You have to forgive them. You can't do it. You have to ask God to help you to forgive them. And He will. And once you do that, you'll begin to see people much more different than you saw before. Because all because all the anger, the rage, and the hate, and the mouths you hold in your heart will be gone.
Billy Hallowell: That is powerful and a reminder that we're all God's children, right? I mean, it's just a crime like this where somebody goes in and targets people based on race or ethnicity and it's just so horrific and hateful and evil to see what you have done and how you have responded to it, and how other family members of the victims have responded is such an inspiration, the level of forgiveness and really living out faith. You know, you guys have lived out the Christian faith in a public setting better than so many examples that I have seen before. It's it's it was so in your face in a positive way. And it forced the nation and the world to think more about how we would respond in our lives if something like this were to happen and how we respond to small things that happen in our lives with such, you know, inappropriate ways sometimes, and here, you guys have just served as great examples. I so appreciate you and your story and being willing to share what you journey through, what you've gone through, what you continue to talk about. And I just wanted to ask you one final thing. You know, is there anything about your wife, Myra, that you'd want people to know just about who she was? Because I think sometimes that gets lost in the mix of these stories. And I'd just love to give you that opportunity.
Pastor Anthony Thompson: OK. She was a wife, a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher. She was a counselor, a teacher. She was a minister. But her greatest gift was being a giver. She would give anything for anybody at any time, if it would make their lives better. And she did. Everything she accomplished. She accomplished not because she wanted to be greater or get a big paycheck or high status like she did because she knew somebody needed that. So she went to school, to make it happen, so she can come back and give and give it to them. And she did it all the time like that with her students, with a church, with her friends. I mean, with everybody. She was not a stranger to anybody who ever she met for the first time was like they knew her all their lives.
Billy Hallowell: That's powerful. That is powerful and I appreciate you sharing that. And again, thank you for sharing your story with us today.
Pastor Anthony Thompson: Thank you so very much for having me. God bless you, my brother.
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Billy Hallowell: Welcome back to the Pure Flix podcast, Billy Hallowell here. And, you know, before we continue the show, I just wanna reflect again on what Pastor Anthony Thompson said, this this power of forgiveness, what it means to forgive. And I think so many of us struggle with this in our own lives. But, you know, I've said this with other stories. If this man can forgive what happened to his wife, if he can forgive the man responsible for that, a person who has not been repentant, who has not apologized for what he has done, if he can forgive him and do that within moments, it is a true testament to faith. And it's a lesson to all of us that we, too, can forgive whatever it is that has happened to us. And so I just wanted to reflect on that briefly. And I wanted to also encourage everyone to listen in for this next interview, because this is actually a segment that we ran on our Pure Talk show. And that's something you can watch over on Facebook, at Facebook.com/Pure Flix. You can see the show there. But this is another incredible story of life change. And this is somebody on the other end of of a situation like what we just heard with Pastor Thompson. This is Casey Diaz. Now, Casey was a gang member. He was a murderer. He took pleasure in violence and chaos. And he had a gang lifestyle that he entered into very young. But he had this amazing chance encounter in prison after he committed murder, where the Bible's message of hope changed his entire life. It opened his eyes and really transformed him in the most profound way imaginable. Now Diaz told us his life affirming story. He also wrote a book called, "The Shot Caller", where he takes us through what happened to him in his childhood and how he found a new life with God and in Christ. Now he appeared on Pure Talk. I felt it was such a powerful, important interview that we wanted to also air that discussion here on the Pure Flix podcast. Now, he just to give you a little background, came to America from El Salvador when he was two years old, went through a lot of familial chaos and there was drugs and alcohol in his house as a kid, abused that his mother sustained, and so many elements of his childhood seeing violence and people being shot in his community. He entered into that gang life early. And you can hear in his own words what happened next. Here is our interview with Casey Diaz.
Billy Hallowell: Well, thanks for being here. So we're gonna talk through your story today, which is an incredible story of a book called, The Shot Caller. And before we get into the intricacies of the book, which tells your story, I wanted to start with your early years and coming to the U.S. when you were two years old with your family and by the time you were 11. Take me through where you were in life.
Casey Diaz So, I came here when I was two and we settled in the Rampart District of Los Angeles. And we move back and forth through South Central and the ramp R district and began very innocent, you know, playing ball outside. As I grew up a little bit older and at 8 is when it started to really change. And I started to notice some things. And one of them was, you know, the violence inside my my own home. My father, heavy drinker, dealt drugs, and beat my mom. And then we had my mom, who worked from 4:00am in the morning till late at night every night, including Saturday. So, there wasn't there was that element of, you know, family missing within within the apartment that we lived in.
Billy Hallowell: And you were noticing that at eight years old.
Casey Diaz Yes. And, you know, it's it's one of those things that no kids should ever see. I mean, you're you're watching your father beat your mom relentlessly almost every other day. Mean it starts to affect you.
Billy Hallowell: And at that age, you're starting to perceive things right around you. You're starting I have a six year old. So I think about the way she looks at the world and the things she asks the question she asks, you know, you're really when you're watching that at that age, starting to impact you. What would go through your mind as you would experience these things and see them as a child?
Casey Diaz Anger, you know, anger, mostly anger, because you think to yourself, as a kid, you're going. Something's wrong. This is not, it can't be normal. There's something where, you know, there's something wrong. And, you know, at the age of eight, I was hanging out on my fire escape. We lived in the third floor of this apartment building in Los Angeles. And I'm there. My feet are dangling from the from the fire escape. And this is normal broad daylight day, you know, and the guy in this alley parked his car, walked over to three guys that were walking up the alley and gunned them down, all three of them. And so I, I, I, I witnessed this thing that early. So you're seeing violence in your apartment and your family and then you're seeing violence and you're alley and you start to have this perception that. Life is cheap. It's it's no big deal to take someone out and that early of an age.
Billy Hallowell: And it's like that's your whole world at that age, it's your home. And then the world outside that you're seeing that violence is that pervasive in it. Now, by the time you're eleven, what happens now? Just a couple of years after.
Casey Diaz Yeah. At 11, this gang member started to show up and it was enticing because here is is part of a gang and the gang culture in the 80s is just starting to kind of stew in and, you know, it becomes popular. And he introduced me to this gang. And I decided to go ahead and, you know, ask questions. And eventually I would join it. And it was at 11 that I joined. And that was. That was the beginning of a rough road in violence.
Billy Hallowell: At 11. You know, you think about an eleven year old, you're curious, you're looking for that guidance. And if you're not getting that guidance, you're gonna find it somewhere. So what does it entail to enter a gang that young? What do you have to do? Is there in initiation? What is that process?
Casey Diaz There is initiation, for us it was getting jumped in on the 13th, the second count. A lot of the Southern California gang. That's pretty much the normal. And then there's where you go out and you've got to do something. And for me, unfortunately, the gang leader that took me under his wing. We went out and we would go looking for a rival gang members. And then one incident, we snatch someone up that was from a rival gang. And he proceeded to stab him and then handed me the screwdriver to to do my first stabbing. And so at eleven years old, my first stabbing was there.
Billy Hallowell: Wow. Did you having come from that background of violence, having seen violence, having experienced it that young. Were there moments where you said to yourself, I shouldn't be doing this? That ever happened? Or was it just such a norm?
Casey Diaz It was normal, became normal. I never had to question or or desensitized. It was desensitized. So it was just a normal thing, you know? And then you start to embrace it. And that's where it becomes very serious, where you just you crave it. And, you know, there's gang members that they like to just hang out on the corner, drink beer. Then you have the gang members that like to go party and then you have this part of this element in this gang that is drawn to violence and you start to enjoy it. You start and it sounds sick because it is, but you really enjoy partaking in the violence of it.
Billy Hallowell: So what happens during your teen years, a time when when people are out there having fun with their friends playing outside? In your case, you're in a gang. What are the rest of your teen years looking like? And what's that end point where things get really bad?
Casey Diaz Well, for me, as a teen, it was in and out of probation camps and juvenile halls at Eastlake Juvenile Hall. Sylmar Juvenile Hall lost adrenals in Downey, and it was courts. I mean, for me, it was court dates and coming out and staying out for, you know, two days a day and going right back in. So that was just the normal thing. Wow. And for me.
Billy Hallowell: What did your parent what was going with your parents at this time?
Casey Diaz Not so much. I mean, you know, for my mom. She was of course, that was I can't even think of how what I put her through. I put her through a lot. You know, she was at every court date. She was at every visit that she possibly could. And, you know, here here she is trying to make a living for us, trying to put a roof over our head, working two jobs. And then your your oldest son is out there doing all the stuff. And it's just as an adult. It's heartbreaking.
Billy Hallowell: You know, this is a strange question, but in gang life, we know on the outside, well, you know, the gangs fight, there's. But are there times where gangs get along? What is what is the culture like outside of the death and the destruction? I know it sounds like a strange question, but there's a reason why people stay in gangs. I would imagine you feel some connection to the people in it. So what what is that like? What is that relational process?
Casey Diaz It's a it's a it's it's the sense of family. Right. It's the sense of loyalty. It's the validation of other gang members. And there's you know, if you don't have a family that supports you and not to say that my my mom didn't support me, she did the best that she could in the condition that she had. But, you know, the streets grabbed you. And it was enticing.
Billy Hallowell: Well, and your dad, you know, in talking about your dad and that male approval and the things that I think as men we want. Yeah. Not getting that the impact of that, too. And then seeking that maybe. Yes. In others, I would imagine that's a factor for a lot of people who enter into this life. And it happens so young. Yeah. To you. I mean it happened so young. So now all this crime, all this in and out of juvenile. At some point you go to prison, correct? Yes. So take me through what landed you in prison.
Casey Diaz At 16 years old, I committed a murder. I was a fugitive for 21 days. From the. From the actual crime. And I was caught by the Los Angeles Police Department recrash unit. And that's there. Back then, it was their special unit for, you know, for gangs. And so I was captured and arrested in California at that at that time was trying to see how young could you convict a young gang member, you know, and try 'em as an adult. So I was in the very the very beginning of that of the testing of that. And so I was tried as an adult. And what they did is they sent me to the California Youth Authority. And there they kind of see how you could still, if there's hope for rehabilitation. And while I was put in there, I strangled someone and almost killed that another rival gang member. So from that incident, they said, you know, you're not fit for this kind of environment. And so they sent me to a state prison after that.
Billy Hallowell: Was there, I mean, it sounds like this incredible amount of anger. Right. And the experience that you had, all that leading up to it, were there moments of remorse after the murder?
Casey Diaz No. I mean, there wasn't. You know, again, if you look at life and it's cheap at that point, it can be thrown away. It can be disposed of. And, you know, you really don't care about anybody's feelings or life itself. That was the experience.
Billy Hallowell: So how did you end up. I know solitary confinement is something that gets a lot of attention now. There's a lot of debate around it and discussion about how did you end up in solitary confinement?
Casey Diaz So the California Department of Corrections at that time, I don't know how it is now, but at that time they have a scoring system, one to 100. So the higher you score, the more security. That's how they figure out what prison you're fit for. So I went up there with 97 points. So there was a lot of security needed for me. I already had in the county jail, I was housed in the what's called the gang, the gang module. This is where all the shock colors are held in L.A. County. And from there, I was shipped to Delano State Prison. And then again, they look for. How validated are you invested, are you in this gang or are you a part of even the bigger picture, which is organized crime in there? And so they found that I was. So, then I got sent to solitary confinement immediately.
Billy Hallowell: So now you shared you shared a term shot caller. And this is out. Yes. Title of the book. What is a shot caller? So people understand.
Casey Diaz It's an it's an upper management of the gang. The shot caller is the one that makes the decisions. Final approvals on whether or whom he hits inside of a prison, inside and outside and outside.
Billy Hallowell: So that's the term that would be used for both. Yes. So this exists and this is really an important thing for people to understand. There's gang activity and organization inside of prisons going on as well.
Casey Diaz It's it's in the inner prison because that's what's all terrible violence. You're not they're not able to really even control you on mainline in regular population so that the only way that they can kind of own you down is putting you in a cell for 23 hours.
Billy Hallowell: What was the impact of solitary confinement on you and how long were you in it?
Casey Diaz I was in the SCHIP program for three years. Little bit over three years. And, you know, one of the things that. I think I still to this day, and I've been born again for quite some time. One of things that I could never forget is, you know, there's nowhere to hang yourself from in the cell. You're there with your thoughts. You have boxers, a white t shirt, a blanket, roll toilet paper. And at some point, if you're not if your mind is not strong enough to to to live through this, you're gonna break. And I saw many you know, you either start talking to yourself, you start hallucinating. But the one the one thing that grabbed me was. We all knew we all knew it all together. When a man was just done and again, you can't hang yourself, so would what? We were accustomed to hearing from time to time is men racing to their cage, to the gate. And it's it's prison metal. And you could hear the yell of someone just not able to take it anymore. And they would race from the back end of the wall, head first against the bars, against the steel, in hopes to snap their neck and end it. And those were, that was still stays with me because I could hear it over and over again. Men just not able to live another day there.
Billy Hallowell: What was the moment for you that convinced you that this life of devaluing life was wrong? And that Jesus was the right way for you to go?
Casey Diaz Well, there was a Baptist church that came to solitary confinement and they came once a month to share a Bible study and a lady by the name of Francis Proctor. She came in there and asked the guards to approach my cell. At that time, I was the shock caller. I was the one that held down a lot of decision making in there, both for inside and out. And she came in there and she said something interesting to me. She said, I'm gonna pray for you. She said, I'll put you on my hit this I'm a pray for you. And that was interesting for her to use that term, you know? She said, I'm gonna pray for you and Jesus is gonna use you. And initially I thought, this lady's she's not she's you know, she's lost her marbles. Does she even know where she's at. But and then she asked me, you know, is it OK if she could approach my cellwhen they would come in? And she did for a year and some change. And she was interceding for me all that time. And I had a moment in which I describe in the book where Christ makes himself very real in myself. And it was that moment that it's not that I realized that I was doing something wrong, is that I knew for a fact that had that I had sinned before God, that became the pivotal point of change for me.
Billy Hallowell: Now we have to go here. So I have to ask you this last question then have to go, but what has your life been like since?
Casey Diaz Well, I'm married. I've been married to believing life, about to celebrate my 20th year with her. I got three children. I pastor a church in Burbank, California. And it's just amazing what God has done.
Billy Hallowell: You're a pastor. I mean, people hear that that you can change from what you were experiencing and doing and murder, in prison to become a pastor. Yeah, that is evidence of God. If I've ever if I've ever heard any of its God, that is it that change.
Casey Diaz Jesus Christ does in the life of anybody.
Billy Hallowell: Wow. What a powerful interview. And just a testament to what God can do in the hearts of men and women everywhere. Two stories we had on this show. One forgiveness, the other redemption. Two themes that I think run through all of our lives. We can relate. We can understand. And maybe we haven't gone through these extreme situations that these men have gone through. And in the case of Casey, the crimes that he had committed that he has overcome, he's a pastor now. I mean, think about that gang member, murderer turned pastor. And I just I found it so incredible to have that chance to sit down with him. Now, the end of that interview brings us to the end of our show. But I just wanna remind you guys to check out Pureflix.com. We have so many films, so many original series, TV shows, documentaries for you to check out. There are thousands of titles over on Pureflix.com. You can get a free trial to check it out. Try it out. One of the films I want to highlight is Seven Reasons. This is a movie from Ray Comfort. He's an apologist and the film is streaming right now on Pure Flix. And it takes you through how people respond to questions about abortion. Race sits down with a number of people who are pro-choice. And he starts to ask them what they believe about life. And through this series of discussions, we see people's hearts and minds start to change. It's very powerful. It's called seven reasons. Check that out on Pureflix.com and be sure to go over to Facebook.com/Pure Flix and Insider.pureflix.com for daily inspiring content. Tune in next time for another episode of the Pure Flix podcast.
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