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From Violent Street Gang to University Degree

Isiah Hasket overcomes brutal youth lifestyle to walk the commencement line at the University of Valley Forge.

Isiah Hasker faced a dark future. As a teenage member of the Bloods criminal street gang, he could have ended up a grim statistic from a violent death or in prison for years. In a wonderful turnaround, God opened a new path as he graduates Friday with a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Valley Forge (UVF) in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

"I came to Jesus with nothing," Hasker says. "Now I want to give back to him because he is the center of everything I have planned."

Hasker grew up poor in a single-parent home in rough neighborhoods of Trenton, New Jersey, the state capital. The city's 85,000 residents endure a 9.7 percent unemployment rate, while 26.5 percent live below the poverty line. Last year, Trenton received the No. 24 spot among the 100 most dangerous U.S. cities.

Life began unraveling fast for Isiah when he joined the Bloods at 13. Missing support from an absent father who never married his mother, he craved a sense of belonging.  He wanted close friends he could call brothers who would keep his back offering protection. He also felt drawn to the gang's code of never lying to each other because of myriad lies he heard growing up.

The lure of making fast money selling drugs ensnared the youth as soon as he joined the Bloods. A veteran dealer who befriended him gave him free samples of a new high-purity heroin to distribute. Addicts begged for more. Within a short time he sold $8,500 worth of heroin. With his street reputation growing, he rose in the Blood's ranks, eventually becoming one of its youngest leaders.

Violence surrounded Isiah. His first brush with death and retaliation with firearms occurred during a drive-by shooting. Several years later he faced drug and gun charges stemming from a home invasion at his mother's house. Two masked thugs flashing revolvers demanded his heroin stash (worth $15,000) and cash. Shots rang out and Isiah collapsed bleeding from a pistol blow to his head. He could have drawn a 10-year prison sentence, but charges eventually were dropped. 

Isiah's faith journey began by witnessing an older cousin's dramatic personal change after becoming a born-again Christian. He yielded to his cousin's nagging to attend a Pentecostal church service. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, Isiah ran to the altar pleading God's mercy. However, giving up drugs and the gang proved too radical.

"When I learned it was a big battle, I returned to my old life," he says. "But I still would go to church every couple of months."

Emotionally low, he agreed to attend a men's conference in Atlanta, with his way paid by his cousin. Although he intended on going clubbing, Hasker instead attended every service. During the event, a man unknown to him spoke a word of knowledge. He disclosed details of Hasker's life on the streets, his dysfunctional family, and how God would give him victory over his enemies. Stunned, Hasker broke down crying feeling an amazing peace. Immediately he called his twin sister confessing, "I'm done with selling drugs and the gang."

Quitting the Bloods was unthinkable. No one leaves except by execution or old age. Beatings and death threats followed until the Blood's head man, who was in prison, finally signaled the gang to let Hasker go free. Hasker's neighbors and former gang brothers marveled about his new faith and how he forgave those who mugged him.

Although he never graduated from high school, Hasker earned a General Educational Development diploma that helped him gain entrance to UVF as a student in 2011 at the age of 19. His first semester's trial-run success has continued through graduation, including organizing student outreach programs and mission trips. He coordinated 200 students in a street crusade in Philadelphia.

"I am impressed with Isiah's growth in Christ and his strong desire to serve Him and share the gospel," says Tim Latiff, UVF admissions counselor. "He is a leader and I'm excited about his future."

Hasker's next step is studying for a master's degree on the way to serving impoverished young people. One of his goals is establishing a transitional school with a Christian emphasis as a new educational model for underprivileged kids.

"God calls us not to forget the poor and the marginalized," he says. "We are the hands and feet of Jesus."


Peter K. Johnson

Peter K. Johnson is a freelance writer living in Saranac Lake, New York. More than 500 of his articles and short stories have appeared in Christian and mainstream magazines and newspapers, including the Pentecostal Evangel,Charisma, the Saturday Evening Post, Guideposts, and Decision. He also serves as a consultant and contributing editor to a scientific journal.