Staying out all night partying, doing drugs, consuming alcohol, fighting, engaging in gun violence and stealing are some of the adolescent experiences Rev. Derek LaFleur wishes he never had.
Twenty-five years ago while growing up in Beaumont, Texas, LaFleur was an active member of the Bloods, a street gang with primarily African American members founded in Los Angeles, California. The gang is widely known for its rivalry with the Crips, another California-based street gang that's also had a presence in Southeast, Texas.
But decades later, LaFleur is a devoted follower of Jesus who has used his experiences to disciple and lead other former gang members to Jesus.
Today, LaFleur serves as an ordained deliverance minister at Oklahoma City-based Authority Church. Not a day goes by where he doesn't reflect on what the Lord did for him.
Growing up in the late 1990s, the community LaFleur lived in had high levels of crime and violence. It wasn't unusual for youth to join gangs in the neighborhood.
One of four children in his family, LaFleur told The Christian Post in an interview that he has primarily happy memories from his childhood mainly due to his close-knit, loving family. His mother and father were happily married and loved him.
Initially, LaFleur was raised in a nonreligious Catholic household. But during his youth, his parents rediscovered their faith in more intimate ways at Paradise Baptist Church. His parents taught him the foundational importance of maintaining the Christian faith.
LaFleur's father became more devout and created a rule for all the children in the household: "If you're going to live under my roof, you must attend church."
LaFleur obeyed that rule because he loved his father and wanted to be around him.
Things took a turn for the worse after his parents divorced when he was in the fifth grade. LaFleur said he felt a great sense of rejection from his mother as she moved out of the family's home. In the following years, LaFleur would still see his mother but mostly lived with his father.
"The divorce is when my anger started. I joined the gang at 9 because I was just trying to fit in and trying to feel that love and support," LaFleur said.
"I mean, I'm not saying that my family did not love me at all. I just wanted to feel welcomed somewhere else."
A 'bad crowd'
From then on, LaFleur said he hung out with a "bad crowd," dabbling in fighting, smoking and much more.
"I was more than just a partier," he recalled. "But, I was pretty much the party pooper. I would go to parties just to crash the party. If we went to parties, I would get into multiple fights. If we went clubbing, I crashed the club by getting into fights."
For over half a decade, LaFleur continued as a member of the Bloods, engaging in gang-related activities. On a few occasions, LaFleur said he had run-ins with the cops but was never arrested because he was never caught for his actions.
But when he was 14 and in the eighth grade, LaFleur said he was wrongfully accused of a crime unrelated to gang violence and placed in juvenile detention.
While behind bars, he recalled feeling pure desperation. He turned to prayer and encountered Jesus Christ for the first time, changing the trajectory of his life forever.
In the two years following his release, LaFleur turned away from gang affiliation and fully accepted the Lord as His Savior. He later received the call to go into the ministry.
'I'll never forget that day'
"I'll never forget the day I was arrested on April 1, 2001. I remember hearing the words, 'you are under arrest,'" he recalled. "They read me my rights, and then I was handcuffed. It was just confusing, and I remember thinking about the things I said and the things that I didn't say, just racing through my head over and over again, thoughts like, 'What did I do? What was I doing? What did I not do? Why did I get up?'"
On that day, LaFleur went to school like normal, but there was no teacher present in one of his classes. He remembered thinking there was probably a substitute on the way to take over the class. But no adult was present in the classroom.
The teens began to play a game of truth or dare, which LaFleur said turned into a sexual game very quickly. The students dared each other to give one another lap dances and kisses, among other sexual activities.
"I remember it so clearly," he said. "I had been failing the class. ... And so, instead of engaging in the game of truth or dare, I stayed at my desk doing my make-up work with my head looking down. And suddenly, I lifted my head up to see what was happening because I heard yelling. And then, I realized a fight had broken out between a girl student and a guy student. The guy was my neighborhood friend."
As the fight unfolded, LaFleur stood up from his desk, trying to break up the fight. In the process of LaFleur pulling the two individuals apart, the girl's shirt came off and her breasts were fully exposed. LaFleur said the girl ran to the restroom, covering her chest, as the bell rang for students to go to the next class.
After LaFleur entered his next class, he said the classroom phone pager rang. The teacher picked up the phone, and the principal told the teacher to send LaFleur and three other male students to his office.
As LaFleur walked down the hallway, he saw police officers lining the walkway near the principal's office. He entered the office and was told to write down everything that had happened in the classroom.
"Then, they arrested me. I was placed in a detention center cell alone. My neighborhood friend, who had fought the girl, was in the cell next to mine," he shared. "Through the thin wall, he spoke to me. He poured his heart out to me and apologized to me within the first hour that we were locked up."
"My father had received a call from my school telling him that I had been arrested, and he tried to come to get me at the center," he continued. "But I overheard the cops telling him, 'No, Mr. LaFleur, this is a felony. This is a pending felony charge.'"
After hearing the cops tell his father he could not leave, LaFleur said it was at that moment the gravity of the situation sunk in.
"I began to realize that this is my reality. This is really happening. The girl who got in the fight had accused me and the other guys who were arrested of holding her down and basically raping her," LaFleur said.
"And at that moment, while I was in the cell, I saw there was a Bible that was in my cell. And for the first time, I touched it. I didn't read it. But I laid down on the hard and very uncomfortable bed, and I put the Bible on my chest, and I began to cry out to God in prayer for the first time ever in my entire life. I asked God, 'If you are real, please get me out of this.'"
The next day, LaFleur woke up. He and the three other boys were given dress clothing. The four boys appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing to share their sides of the story.
LaFleur said he testified that he didn't have anything to do with the fight and was trying to stop the scuffle.
LaFleur said he and the three other boys spent one more night in juvenile detention and the four woke up the following day to appear in court a second time to witness other students' testimonies.
Out of the 21 students in the classroom that day, LaFleur said only two students' testimonies didn't match his account. The two students who told different versions were the girl involved in the fight and her friend.
On April 3, 2001, LaFleur said he was released from the detention center because the majority of testimonies matched his.
Although LaFleur was released, the charges remained pending for three more days. During those days, LaFleur was placed on house arrest without an ankle bracelet.
After three days, the charges were dropped, and LaFleur was taken off house arrest.
Despite the charges being dropped, LaFleur still had a police record based on his arrest.
In the following months, LaFleur said he was unable to secure any jobs even though he was not found guilty of a crime.
LaFleur applied for a job at Sam's Club, where his father worked. But he was turned down for the job.
After many refused employment opportunities, LaFleur said his father took a trip to the precinct on his behalf. A week later, his police record was scrubbed, and he was able to get hired by Sam's Club.
To this day, LaFleur credits God for the charges being dropped and his record being cleared.
However, it took the next five years of engaging in fervent prayer, Bible reading and attending church for him to fully devote his life to Jesus Christ.