Ruckus from Southside Reseda: Ryan’s Story

May 3, 2021

“Take Your Ass to the Mission,” she said with a gun in his face.  Crude yes, but it was a language he could understand. And that God would use.

Ryan has always been a fast talker. But he never thought he’d be a fast typist—or even be able to type at all. Or, for that matter, would even want to. After all, he was a rough-and-tumble gang member from Pacoima. Life for him was all about survival. Living for the next fix. The next deal. And getting one up on the next guy. It was: Watch your back–not clickety clack, build a future.

But there came a day. The day Ryan went from his gang member drug-related jargon of Deal. Inject. Ingest. to Click. Control. Delete. It was Fist in Your Face to Copy and Paste. But before reaching that level of accomplishment at the Mission’s Academic Center, he wanted, as he puts in his own colorful way, “to throw the Chromebook through the wall.”

If you think outrunning the law is hard, try focusing your ADHD, drug-fried brain on a task to reach a goal that will change your future—a future you couldn’t possibly imagine and never thought you’d have. Because up until then, all you knew was shooting high and aiming low. When you weren’t behind bars, you were living locked and loaded. Man on the run and livin’ like a son of a gun.

What GI Joe Doesn’t Know

Growing up, there was one thing Ryan could point to as a normal little boy thing: he played with GI Joes. But the rest was anything but normal. His sister was a pot smokin’, needle usin’, Hells Angels groupie who was getting beat up by her biker boyfriends and crashing her dad’s car. His mother had separated from what Ryan had thought was his dad…until he discovered at age 12 that he was actually his stepdad. His biological dad was, as Ryan describes it, “a biker dude who died from an overdose.” If you ask Ryan, he says he’s not bitter at his biological father, though, he adds, “If I had ever met him, I wouldn’t have held back from slugging him in the mouth.” If you’re tempted to judge him for that, don’t. His father treated Ryan’s mom like dirt.

Ryan does have a way with words. Some might call it “conversational French.” He doesn’t mince them (words) and he has little concern about being socially acceptable. Nor has he been a believer long enough to speak Christianese. Refreshing.

One Christmas, the man he had always called dad came to visit and he ended up having a stroke. “Worst Christmas ever,” says Ryan. From then on, life definitely took a turn for the worse: “My dad woke up a vegetable and my mom started going to bars and leaving me with my crazy sister.”

Eventually, his dad went to a convalescent home. Father and son were very close and it was a deeply traumatic time for Ryan to see his dad in that state. “When he passed away, I remembered him just lying there cold stone dead. I put a towel over him and he looked peaceful, but he was freezing cold and blue…man, that messed me up. I mean it was a lot for a kid to take in.”

Bounce House

The death of his dad pushed Ryan into a downward spiral—and a lot of bouncing around. So much bouncing around, it’s hard to keep the timeline straight. He remembers starting to hang around with older kids in a crime-ridden part of Reseda. He had aspirations of becoming a pro skateboarder—until a knee injury snuffed out those dreams. From there on out, it was one big roller coaster ride of trouble with a capital “T.”

“I was an off-the-hook kid by then—the pot smoking combined with my ADHD made me crazy, so my mom sent me to live with my sister in Lake Tahoe with the idea of straightening me out,” says Ryan. “Big mistake.”

Instead of towing the line, Ryan started crossing that line—of rage and violence. He’d get into constant fights with his sister’s boyfriends. “They’d beat up my sister, then hit me, and I’d get the sh– beat out of me,” says Ryan. After a brief stint with his sister, Ryan ended up in a reform school for over a year.

Ruckus from Southside Reseda

Life pretty much continued to beat up Ryan, though to be fair, he was giving life a pretty good reason to throw him down. By his mid-teens, he had gotten a girl pregnant, joined a gang, got steeped in the drug world and had even been bestowed a gang title: “Ruckus from Southside Reseda.”

Ruckus was selling and business was good. Meth was a money-maker and he was enjoying the profits. Until he didn’t. A drug deal gone bad resulted in a friend aptly nicknamed “Cookoo” going ballistic in his home—pulling a gun on Ryan and his friend. Right about then his mom walked in the living room. It was the only thing that saved him. In that culture, moms are sacred—you just don’t mess with moms.

From there, Ryan’s life was a series of stints in LA county jails and one in San Luis Obispo –a place he calls a “great surf town, but not for convicts.” He was well known to the LA gang units. And in his hood. To say he had a trigger temper was an understatement. He got ticked off at a guy just for calling his house too much and in return he called his wife and threatened to, as he put it, “smoke his ass.” Translated: shoot him. Ryan got shot a lot himself. And he lost more than a few friends to gang violence.

Hot and Mean and By the Way, Mom’s Gone

Not untypically, the only time Ryan reached out to God was in jail with a “If you get me out of this, I promise I’ll…” kind of deal. We’ve all been there—in one form or another. Eventually, Ryan ended up in Chuckawalla prison in Blythe, CA. Life was lonely with a 120-degrees mean temperature and even meaner cellmates—and with no visits from his mom, as she didn’t have the means to visit him. She also had had enough. In her final phone call to her son, she simply said, “I’m done with you. Good luck. I’m leaving and moving up north to live with your sister.”

Not long after being released from prison, Ryan decided to relocate to Shasta County where his mom and sister were now living. But his attempts at transferring his parole went over like a lead balloon. “They didn’t want a low-life, piece-of-junk gang member up in their county. And hey, who could blame them?” says Ryan. Eventually, the county did accept his transfer, though they lived to regret it. Ryan continued with his lowdown ways, living with his sister, getting high and causing his mother more grief. After three successive times of testing “dirty” for meth, his parole officer gave him the bad news: “You’ve got 48 hours to leave this county and be in Van Nuys. If not, you’ll be a parolee at large.”

Ryan hightailed it out of Dodge, but he didn’t report in to the parole office. Instead, he ended up going back to his old gang territory and crashing with a friend—breaking the “no gang association” rule. Eventually Ryan got caught for parole violation and was offered his first rehab program. It didn’t take.

“It’s Not What I Came Here For”

Alone and longing for family, even a dysfunctional one, Ryan moved back to Shasta county where he once again lived with this sister. It was a highly toxic relationship.

While high, she pulled a gun on him. In response, Ryan smacked her in the face in self-defense. Eventually his sister kicked him out, even though he had no place to go. She told him, “Get your ass to the Mission.” Eventually, he would make it there. But before then, his tale of woe would sound like a country song: “I was living in my car under four feet of snow.. buried in my addiction with no place to go.”

Ryan’s first stint at the Mission was short lived. He simply wasn’t ready to change—clearly, he had not yet hit his bottom. He’d tell everyone, “I didn’t come here to hear about God or Jesus…I came here for my drug problem.” Ryan couldn’t seem to make the connection between his soul problem and how the drugs, the rage, the pride and everything else wrong with his life were simply symptoms of that.

When you’re looking for a way out, you’ll find it. And at first Ryan’s way out—a job offer at Pit River Casino—seemed to be “a sign” to him that yes, he could make it on his own and no, he didn’t need anyone’s help. Ruckus was once again on the move.

When the Bow Breaks

“You’re making a big mistake,” a leader at the Mission told Ryan as he was getting ready to leave pre-program. And he was. After leaving the Mission, Ryan would lose his car and everything else in his life that up until now had propped him up—keeping him from facing the ugly truth. But the truth was catching up to him fast. While living on the reservation with a native-American friend, thoughts of ending his life began to creep in. Those thoughts were soon followed by action. As Ryan recalls, “First I tried to hang myself and the branch broke. Then I put a gun in my mouth but when I pulled the trigger, my gun jammed.”

For the first time in his life, Ryan had a full-on meltdown—sobbing and asking the God he didn’t believe in, “What shall I do…I don’t know what to do!” That’s when he heard a still small voice in his head ask him, “Why don’t you go back to the Mission?” What other choices do you have? I wonder if your friends are still there?” Immediately, God started bringing up names of guys he had met who had successfully gone through the program, even though he himself had never “made it upstairs” to the recovery program.

“Hey, good job, son!” Dr. Ray Johns and Ryan enjoy a good laugh at the Academic Center.

Saving the Once Private  Ryan

Ryan did go back. And he made it upstairs—out of pre-program to program. More importantly, Ryan connected with “the Man upstairs.” Though it took a while for him to get to that upper room.

“The first six months in recovery I was treading water,” says Ryan. “I was like a pit bull behind a windshield…I was coming through, no matter what,” says Ryan. “I had to put that arrogance aside. I had to put that ego aside. I had to put that pride aside. I had to put that anger aside. I had to put that authority figure aside and let go and let God.”

Today, life is good for Ryan. He’s no longer raising ruckus, but rather he’s trusting in a risen Savior to take him through each day—molding, refining and reshaping him as he daily surrenders to Jesus’ purifying love. He has a great job and an even more promising future. He mentors others who had lost their way and are now on their way to recovery. “Here at the Mission, I finally grew up; I became the man that I’m supposed to be—the man God always had designed me to be,” says Ryan. “And that’s a gift, man, a total gift.” – Jenni Keast

Mentors mold a man. (L to R) Advisor Dr. Ray Johns, Academic Center Coordinator, Stephen Paine and Ryan.


About the Author:

Jenni Keast is our marketing content coordinator and a lover of jean jackets, the Great Outdoors, photography and all things mid-century.  Her favorite authors are Holy Spirit (the Bible) G.K. Chesterson, C.S. Lewis, Leif Enger and Walter Isaacson, to name just a few.