'I've encountered Him' - how one inmate lost everything and found Christ

13   Ryan Prasad  Bob Buckham at St Marys Jan 2019 Ryan Prasad and Bob Buckham at St. Mary's. Courtesy of Ryan Prasad.

Ryan Prasad desperately wanted to change his life.

"Every single day before I left my house, I would pray to a God, asking him to help me out of my lifestyle, because there was no way I was going to be able to do it on my own," he told CNA.

The then-24-year-old was battling multiple addictions and heavily involved in the sale of drugs. He knew that if he continued down the path he was on, he would wind up dead. But he didn't know how to escape.

It would take a prison sentence, nearly two years in a recovery home, and a conversion to the Catholic faith for Ryan to turn his life around – a stretch of time that he says is marked by the grace of God and the support of a faith-based community that was there for him every step of the way.

Ryan grew up in British Columbia, Canada. His parents were Hindu, but the religion never sank in for him, and he never practiced it very seriously.

When he was growing up, his household was disrupted by alcoholism, infidelity, and domestic violence. His parents eventually split up, and his mom remarried.

Struggling to process what was going on at home, Ryan starting smoking marijuana in high school. He started college, but dropped out, as the drug began to consume his life.

"I don't think youth really realizes how much [marijuana] can take from you," he reflected. "It kills you. It kills your motivation. It kills your drive."

Ryan worked part-time and also sold marijuana to fund his partying habits.

When he realized that a friend was making more money than he was, by selling cocaine and heroin, he made the leap to dealing hard drugs.

At first, he was successful, and he moved quickly into positions of increasing responsibility in the drug business – which meant more money. Over the next two years, he moved into a nice apartment, bought expensive cars, and dated a series of girls. But he still wasn't happy.

Frustrated that the one girl he was really interested in was not willing to give him a chance, he struggled to deal with his emotions.

"I ended up using drugs as a coping mechanism to numb my feelings…I was so numb and disconnected…I was just a zombie."

From there, things began to get worse. Addicted to cocaine and pills, Ryan lost his apartment. Responsibilities started to be taken away from him at work, until he was only a driver. He no longer had the money to support his drug habit, and he started to get desperate.

"I put myself in a situation where now I didn't have a choice," he said. "What I was doing was the easiest route for me to pay for my addiction, especially on a daily basis, because I'm getting paid cash every day, versus having to wait for a paycheck."

Ryan's life was spiraling downhill. His girlfriend left him when she realized that he had been hiding a drug addiction from her. Several of his friends were shot, went missing, or died of an overdose.

Then, in October 2016, he ended up doing several transactions with an undercover cop. He was caught with drugs in his car and an illegal firearm at his house.

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Ryan was convicted. He was supposed to be in jail until his sentencing, but his lawyer advocated for him, saying that he had potential, it was his first set of charges, and what he really needed was a change to break free of his addiction. He was released on bail to a Christian recovery house called Luke 15.

"I was definitely at a point of surrender…enough was enough, and I really wanted to turn around," he said.

Ryan embraced the recovery house and all of the resources it had to offer. He started attending self-development groups and every church group available. He began going to a Baptist church nearby. He would read the Bible and ask questions.

"I had this eagerness to learn. I just really believed that there was something really helping me to get to this point."

One day, Ryan attended a charismatic prayer group at St. Mary's Catholic parish. The founder of the prayer group prayed over him, and he experienced something he can only describe as otherworldly.

"I was overcome with this bright white light. And it just…came over me and into me, such a profound feeling of peace and love…such a strong presence," he said. "I've done a lot of crazy drugs in my life, and there's nothing that could compare to that…It was so divine and supernatural."

In that moment, Ryan said, his life changed. The bitterness he had been carrying from the dark and traumatic experiences he had endured was erased, and replaced with a profound joy.

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"I was just so happy," he said, adding that he become a different person on that day.

Three years later, he still thinks about that moment.

"Because of that day, I can't doubt that there is a God…I can't pretend that he doesn't exist, because I know he exists. I've encountered him."

Although he had been attending a Protestant church, Ryan knew he needed to learn more about the Catholic faith. He enrolled in RCIA classes and devoted every spare moment at the recovery house to reading about the Catholic Church.

On April 17, 2017, Ryan was baptized and confirmed. His mother and stepfather attended the Mass.

"They were really seeing the changes that were happening in my life – my language, the way I carried myself, my mannerisms. They knew I was changing," he said.

Ryan spent a total of 21 months at Luke 15. During that time, he sponsored other residents in the AA program, volunteered at a local soup kitchen and shelter, and got heavily involved with the St. Mary's church community. He felt like a new person.

But throughout it all, there was a weight hanging over his head. "The worst part about this, in my circumstance, is I didn't know whether I was going to go to jail or not," he said.

Prosecutors were seeking eight years in prison for him, a prospect that he said took his breath away.

"[J]ust hearing that number, the possibility of me going to jail for eight years – I really had to persevere in prayer," he said.

When he was finally sentenced, his family members and friends from the St. Mary's community came to support him. His lawyer presented all the progress he had made and the good work that he had been doing, asking for leniency in his sentence.

He was given 12 months for the firearm charge and 11 months for the drug charge. It was far less than the eight years prosecutors had originally sought, but still a devastating prospect for someone who had come so far in his fight against addiction and just wanted to move forward with his life.

In jail, Ryan said, "I did not fit in with anybody. I was so rehabilitated and so religious…People were wondering, 'What are you doing here?'"

He spent his first month in the medium security section of the jail and was then moved to minimum security, where he had more freedom to come and go from his room and was able to get a minimum-wage job with the BC Wildfire Services.

But despite the increase in freedom, he continued to struggle. The minimum security section of the jail did not offer any Catholic services, and there were few to no other Catholic inmates there. He felt isolated in his faith.

"It was hard. But I definitely relied on God and read my Bible a lot," he said.

Ryan said God answered his prayers through a man named Bob Buckham. The head of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Bob would visit Ryan periodically. He became Ryan's lifeline to the Catholic faith.

"I told him about how I really wanted to have Communion again, and he became [an extraordinary] minister of the Eucharist," Ryan said.

When Bob visited, he would bring Communion and read the Bible with Ryan, and the two would discuss the faith. This was helpful, because the other inmates would challenge Ryan's beliefs.

"I would get questions about my faith a lot. And I would defend it," he said.

"All the time that I spent in Luke 15 taught me a level of tolerance and patience and understanding…I was able to really diplomatically communicate with these people…I was just equipped. I just knew what to say and how to say it."

After serving a little over six months of his sentence, Ryan was granted full parole. He went to a halfway house, where he was able to once again attend Mass and get involved with the Catholic community.

With parole came freedom – more than he had experienced in years.

"I had to really make a conscious decision every single day, planning my day – What am I going to do? Who am I going to talk to? How am I going to do this? How long am I going to be there?" he said. "And I started really being focused and really taking my own time seriously, because all that ambition and drive that I had before, I was finally given a little bit of an opportunity to use it."

Today, Ryan is 27 years old. He lives with his family and is training to be a mobile crane operator and get his trucking license. He works six days a week and spends his free time reading the Bible and going to the gym.

He goes to Mass twice a week and attends RCIA meetings, where he shares his experience with the people who are currently in the program.

"I stay busy, and I'm only going to get busier," he said.

Looking back on his experience, Ryan is grateful to God and to all the people who supported him in his journey of recovery and faith.

"I've got to express my gratitude – me being where I was to where I am at now, and just to have the support and people I can reach out to and ask for prayer and help, and they're willing to help me and talk to me and give me their time," he said. "It's done a lot for me...It's really helped me grow. And I'm still growing."

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