Rolando Ruiz’s Transformation
Rolando Ruiz’s life was transformed by the redemptive power of Jesus Christ during his treatment for addiction at Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge. He has now stepped into another transformative moment as the 2021 recipient of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship at North Central University.
Ruiz’s story began — literally — in prison. He was born while his mother was an inmate at the Shakopee women’s prison, and his entire family culture centered around drugs, addiction, gangs, and crime.
“The only thing I was taught during childhood was to survive, and growing up poor and with drug-addicted parents in South Minneapolis, surviving meant doing things that benefited my family,” Ruiz says. “Being deeply involved in gang activity and criminality, my family members didn’t have a lot to offer me in terms of my growth and development, let alone my future.”
Ruiz’s culture of drugs and violence would lead him to multiple arrests and time spent inside prison walls. He was involved in a widely publicized incident in 2009 when a police officer detained and tasered him while he waited cooperatively with his hands on the squad car’s hood. The incident was recorded on dash-cam video and resulted in the officer’s termination. Ruiz also received a sizable settlement from the city — which he used to continue his lifestyle of drugs and crime.
A turning point came in 2019 when a judge ordered Ruiz to enter the Adult & Teen Challenge program, as an alternative to a lengthy prison sentence. He liked the new environment, but didn’t completely understand how to transition.
“I met nice people who cared about me — and didn’t expect anything back from me,” Ruiz says. “Everybody was even congratulating me on how well I was doing, but inside I was still the same person.”
When he got a pass to visit family in the summer of 2020, people from his life acknowledged his sobriety and changes, yet encouraged him to come back to his old lifestyle.
“They told me, You don’t have to use drugs, but you can still sell them,” Ruiz recalls. He hadn’t truly changed on the inside and he relapsed while in the program. He figured he would be expelled, but that didn’t happen.
“They saw something in me that I didn’t, and it did something to me,” Ruiz says. “I broke down, and I cried to God: OK, if this is what You want, I will surrender.”
The setback caused Ruiz to take 18 months to complete the ordinarily 13-month program, but he used the time to continue to grow deep in his relationships, with God and with essential mentors in his life.
“Everything changed once I hit that rock bottom. Something was different, and that’s where God met me,” Ruiz says.
Adult & Teen Challenge and a mentor relationship with Judge Kevin G. Ross set the stage for a season of extraordinary growth.
Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge Vice President Tim Walsh observed Ruiz’s journey to recovery firsthand. He shared the impact Ruiz’s leadership has had on the organization’s community in a letter of recommendation for Ruiz.
“Rolando’s life story and testimony include extraordinary challenges, loss, heartache, and struggle,” Walsh wrote. “His recovery story, in particular, illustrates how he lost himself at one point, including any sense of his potential and purpose, but he now has a transformed life, renewed faith, and a clear sense of calling.”
As he moved forward in his recovery at Adult & Teen Challenge, Ruiz accepted a request to serve as a Know the Truth prevention advocate, going into schools and jails, giving presentations, and talking to kids about drugs.
“I was able to use my story to give kids an example of what not to do,” Ruiz says. “Connecting with the kids did so much for me and made me realize I need to be a role model.”
Ross is a district court appellate judge who saw Ruiz’s potential and has invested his time into encouraging Ruiz on a different path. In his letter to North Central University expressing his support of Ruiz’s scholarship application, Ross said Ruiz’s conversion has been a remarkable example of God’s amazing grace and passion to redeem.
“Rolando’s hunger for God’s Word and his thirst for knowledge are insatiable,” Ross wrote. “That God spared his mind despite years of chemical dependency is obvious; he devours complex concepts in a manner that evidences a serious intellect — the kind of intellect most suited for refinement through academic rigor.”
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LEADER
Ruiz, who started classes at North Central on Aug. 25, is deeply grateful for his higher education opportunity.
“The idea that God would pluck me out from that life, and use me to change the lives of others, still blows my mind,” Ruiz says. “I trust that my education at North Central will be a huge part in helping me see more clearly what God will do with my life.” No one in his family ever attended college before.
Ruiz has become a leader in his extended family. Four family members and several friends have decided to follow him into recovery by entering into Minnesota Adult &Teen Challenge.
North Central University President Scott A. Hagan announced the creation of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship in June 2020.
“This is exactly what we want to accomplish through this scholarship,” Hagan says. “Providing opportunities for individuals to access education dramatically changes the narrative for generations to come.”