The Shot Caller: One Man’s Journey From Gangbanger to Christ Follower

By Nancy Flory Published on April 23, 2019

“I had stabbed people. I had stolen property — from cars to cash to drugs. I had ordered others to take out rival gang members or punks who double-crossed us. I had street cred in spades.” So writes the author of a new book called The Shot CallerCasey Diaz knows his book is raw. He wants to show the reader that God will change anyone who will let Him. But he wants to do it honestly.

When he began to write the book, he knew that he, along with his collaborator, would pull no punches. “We didn’t want to do a fluffy Christian book,” he tells The Stream. “There’s a lot of stories — good stories and good books — that have been written well. But they don’t touch on the seriousness of what life sometimes is. Not everybody that walks out of their door [finds] perfect weather [with] birds chirping. Life usually isn’t like that.

“Sometimes we’re handed a bad deck to start with and we’ve got to use those playing cards accordingly,” he added. “Sometimes there’s pain and suffering … in life. So we wanted to do a book that was raw, that really described certain events. We didn’t want to glorify those events but we knew that it was necessary to really be raw and truthful in these things.”

‘Life is Cheap’

Casey witnessed a gang execution before he was 10. The biggest lesson he learned? “Life is cheap and could end at any time.” By 11 years old, Casey had been jumped into a gang. By 16 years old, he was convicted of murdering a member of another gang. He was sentenced to prison for over 12 years. 

Within a few years, gang members asked Casey to be the “shot caller,” the name of a person “calling the shots” in prison. “They are the power brokers inside prison walls,” explains Casey. “[They] determine who gets hurt or killed and who doesn’t.” As a shot caller, Casey ordered brutal assaults (called “hard candy”), demanded taxes from gang members and debt collections within the prison. His title of shot caller stayed with him even when he transferred to another prison.

As a hardened criminal, some would say that Casey wouldn’t change. But at least one woman didn’t believe that. A member of a church prison ministry, this elderly woman came to visit Casey once a month. The visits impacted him.

Casey believes it was the power of intercessory prayer. “It’s so underestimated, the power that intercessory prayer has. … Intercessory prayer is really waiting on God’s time. We don’t have the same watch that He does. We don’t have the same clock that He has. His time is so perfect. Sometimes you have to pray for someone or yourself and wait longer than you thought you needed to. But intercessory prayer really works. I’m the product of somebody that said ‘I’m going to put you on a prayer hit list and Jesus is going to use you.’ And she prayed for 16 months, this lady. And didn’t give up.”

An Encounter With Christ

The biggest miracle came when Casey had an encounter with Christ in his prison cell. “Here’s God calling me by name. I just knew in my heart, in my soul, that God was real and that I was so important to him that He would come and visit me in a solitary confinement cell. … That was really my turning point.” Casey got down on his knees in his cell and prayed. After confessing his sins, he felt like weight came off his shoulders. “And then I made a promise to God,” he writes. “‘I will not put my hands on another man again because I know what my hands are capable of — killing another person.'”

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Following his conversion, Casey had to inform his gang members inside prison that he had changed and was leaving the gang. It wasn’t something he took lightly. It could have gotten him killed. “I knew that declaring I no longer wanted to be a gang member meant that I was forfeiting my life. I was aware of that, but I was ready to do whatever He wanted me to do. Even if my actions got me killed.” While he did suffer beatings because he left the gang, God protected Casey’s life.

In all, Casey served 8 years of his sentence. One of the first things he did was visit the elderly lady’s church. The church had stopped investing money into the prison ministry because “quite frankly, they didn’t see any fruit,” explains Casey. When the elderly woman and the pastor saw Casey, they rejoiced. “The pastor from the pulpit said, ‘As of this moment, whatever it takes, whatever funds are needed for the prison ministry, we are going to use them … we’re going to restore the prison ministry here at our church.'”

Nothing Matters but Christ

It’s been 20 years since Casey was released from prison. He now has a family and his own business. Recently, he was asked in a radio interview to say something to prisoners who would be listening to the show. The prisoners might think their lives are over and they can’t do anything about it. Casey told them, “That’s the enemy telling you that it’s over. As long as there’s breath in your lungs, God is still there with outstretched arms and He wants to help you.”

He added that God could use them right where they were, to deter others from taking the path they took. If following Christ meant dying in prison, so be it. “[Paul] tells us that to live is Christ, to die is gain. It’s having that relationship with Christ that really matters. … Understand, though, when you have a life in Christ, nothing matters but that. We were willing to die for a street name, we were willing to die for an organized crime organization. How much more should we be willing to, if need be, lay down our life for the Gospel’s sake in order that some may get saved?”

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