Douglas' Story: Loved No Matter What

Growing up I don’t really remember my dad much. My mom was not in the picture much but her sister was like a mom to me. By the age of 8, I knew my brothers were selling drugs and doing other bad things. When my mom finally came home, I was so happy. I really loved her. One day not long after that, when I was 11 years old, I came in and found my aunt and uncle fighting with my mom. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed an icepick. I went crazy. I can’t even remember how many times I stabbed him, but it was enough to end his life — which was the beginning of the end to mine.

My mom ending up sending me away but I didn’t even fully understand what I had done, but I knew it was bad. When I finally came home, I learned that my aunt was locked up for killing my uncle. I also learned that I was a father. I had a son named Joey.

I got yelled at a lot for being a kid and having a kid of my own. I finally made a decision to take the blame for what I had done. I was placed in a California Youth Authority until I was 17. At that time, a judge gave me the choice to join the military or go to state prison until I turned 25. I joined the Army. I felt good about myself while I was in the service. I wasn’t mad at myself for all the things I had done. 

While I was away, my brother had continued to deal drugs and was followed home one day. Two carloads of people began shooting as they made their way up our driveway. My mom and my son's mother were on the porch with my son. According to the cops, the 12th bullet hit my son. He died instantly. His mother died four months later from her injuries.

I learned what had happened when I returned from service and on New Years Eve, my brother came to me and told me where the people were who killed my son and aunt. Before I knew it, we were in a car heading for revenge. I set their house on fire and opened fire as people came stumbling out of the house. I stood there and waited for the police to show up.

I sat in jail and thought, “What did I do?” 

I ended up in old Folsom Prison — it was a mad house. Two weeks in, one old guy dying of cancer started talking to me. He turned out to be my dad.

A couple of years went by and I was doing bad things…building my way up the ladder as a soldier. I was doing a lot of heroin and my life was full of hate and anger. Twenty years later, I found a reason for living…my mom wrote a letter telling me she would wait for me, no matter how long. After 26 years in Folsom and another nine years elsewhere, I got to go home to my mom who was dying of cancer.

During the few months I spent with her, we talked about everything that had happened and I told her I was so sorry for all I had done and asked for her to forgive me. When she died, I dove into my heroin addiction to take the pain away. I was in and out of jail again and wanted to just die.

But today, I’m at the Mission and it has changed my whole life. I had never thought about God before I came here but I know now that God loves me no matter what I have done and it’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had. I want to do what I can and take the young guys under my wing so they don’t do what I did.


Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.