But I Am Innocent
(Please listen to Joe’s story by clicking the white play button at the top of this post. You can read the transcript of the story below.)
I want to share with you what God does and how God showed up in a way that I would have never dreamed. But He did in such a miraculous way that it changed who I am today.
I would say 10 maybe about 12 years ago, I was doing some stuff with DBAs. I was able to go and set up a DBA for eBay and I was selling a bunch of cards and just doing different things with baseball cards, collectibles, and I made a couple of other DBAs. Then a few years after that, I was asked by a dear friend, if I knew how to do it. I said, “Yeah, I sure do. I know how to do it. Just go downtown, set it all up. They asked me to take care of all that, if I would. I went down there, they told me the name they wanted. I went and did that, signed everything, got it squared away, and took it to them. They were thankful, of course, and then a few days later, they asked me, “We can’t open a bank account because the DBAs in your name, if you don’t mind opening a bank account for us as well, it would help us.” They had money to put in the bank and everything to get started, perfect. I did all that, took care of all that, handed it to them, gave them all their information, and got it started. And of course, I just went on my way.
I started doing what God was calling me to do at the time, and then they started their business and were flourishing, honestly. Things were going real well for them. Then about four years into it, they decided to try to keep things afloat, and things just kind of spiraled out of control for them. All this while I started actually going to Bible college. I was in Bible College one day, taking some hermeneutics at the time, and put my phone on the side like I always did, but put it down and listened to the professor going on. And of course break comes up and I remember walking outside and seeing I have 27 missed calls. I was like, what in the world? So I called back and a guy answered the phone and says, “This is an officer for the federal department. Is this Jose Rangel?” I say, “yes, it is. I go by Joe.” And he says, “Well, I need to know where you’re at because I’m coming to arrest you.”
You know, I’m going first off, you know…immediately I’m defensive. Of course, I’m standing there at a Bible College thinking, “Hold on. Who are you and what are you talking about?” Real defensive at first. And then he said a couple of names of the dear friends of ours, and I thought wait a minute, he knows–you wouldn’t randomly know those names. And so it all started kind of…I said, “You know what? I’m gonna call you back.” He’s like, “We need to know where you’re at!” I didn’t tell him where I was. I got off the phone. Then called the, called the dear friends and he immediately started crying…”I’m so sorry. And we apologize. We didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Then what happened was they started a temp agency. And, you know, they were just trying to survive and they were making–They were getting the money from one, from a funding company, and then they were taking that and they were making checks. They would take it to the companies that they had temps working at, hand everybody their checks, and then the following week that company would pay them. They would invoice them and they’d get paid and they’d turn it on and send it back. Well then things started spiraling out of control, by losing a couple accounts. They started grabbing money from another account or another bank, they eventually opened up themselves, and started kind of wiring money back and forth. This big spiral went out of control, and basically what it came down to was the conspiracy to commit wire fraud and basically laundering money. And since my name is on the bank [account], I was wrapped up in the situation.
So for about a year we kept going on and on and I ended up having to get a lawyer and it was just, it was bad. I mean, it was a nightmare. Finally it came down to where we, you know, we’re fixing to go to court. My kids don’t know, nobody even knows, my company, nobody. Nobody knows only me and my wife. She’s, she’s, losin’ it, you know, mad and at the same time still sad. And then still trying to be encouraging, you know? And I remember sitting down with my kids to tell them, “hey, this situation happened.” I told ‘em what was going on and here I am having to tell them that it’s a possibility that I may go to prison. Of course I’m, the whole time, and I can tell you honestly, honestly, the whole time I’m saying, “God, You’re not gonna do this right? You’re not going to let this happen. There’s just no way. Man, I served You. Come on!” And I was saying that, whew, about 150,000 times.
So we get to the courtroom and we go in there and I’ll never forget it. The way it felt walking in there innocent, knowing that everyone looking at you as being guilty without even saying a word. You know, I walked in there like, just like I am, you know goatee, earrings. I mean, I got the suit on and everything like I’m supposed to have, but that’s just for show. You have to look–Everybody looks past the suit and tie. They look at what they see. So I’m about to walk in there and, and I’ll never forget the district attorney’s first words to the judge were, “Well, you know what Your Honor? We can’t find that Mr. Rangel here did or didn’t do anything.” Exact words. That’s all he opened up.
And I remember thinking, that’s because I didn’t! Like, like I told you; I didn’t do nothing. And I already had letters from my pastors now. You know, he’s, he’s served in church. Letters from you know, I’ve coached Little League baseball, football, basketball. I mean, I’m a good person. So he goes on and he’s looking at the paperwork, and he’s doing stuff. And he said, “Yeah, we just can’t find nothing.” And then he said, ‘You know what Mr. Rangel, it’s clear that you probably had nothing to do with this and so obviously, we’re looking at everything. We saw the emails, and they…” You know, my lawyer has a stack full of papers like this big, full emails where they had been talking to each other and just talking about the stuff they were doing. And I’m not even in any of that stuff. And he said, “But you know, the money is so large Mr. Rangel that we’ve got to do something.” He says, “I tell you what we’re going, what we’re going to do. I’m going to sentence you to a year and one day in a federal prison, and you’re going to serve six months, and then six months of house arrest.” And right when he said, “Federal Prison,” Man, I can’t, I can’t even put into words how upset I was. I turn around, my kids are crying. I’m trying to hold back every tear I can. I’m furious with God. I mean, I’m furious. Because the whole time, this whole time I’m thinking, Man, I served You. I loved You. What are we doing here? You know?
I remember telling the Judge–I said, “Listen Judge.” I just said, “My son, who’s here with us, he’s going to be leaving to the military in August. (This was in June when I got sentenced, in the middle of June.) He’s gonna be leaving in August. Would you please let me just stay and see him leave?” They said, “I tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to let you stay, but you have to self report. You’re going to tell me where you are.” You know, where I was going to go. And I said, “Okay.” So I got to stay six more weeks. We enjoyed spending time, we got to do some stuff together. But I remember for those six weeks, every time the phone would ring, I kept thinking, especially with a number that wasn’t saved, I would think, oh, this is basically it. Isn’t it? Isn’t the district attorney Hey, you know what we decided we made a mistake. We’re not. We, we pulled it back. You know? Every call. Every single time the phone would ring I remember thinking, Oh! And it wasn’t that call.
We got closer and we got closer to the day I sent my son off. And then I was–he left on Wednesday and I was coming the following Wednesday. I was to be ready to report. We got down to that last week and every night I would lay in that bed and I would think, Man, this is crazy, you know, six more nights, five more nights to get to that long trip all the way to Pollock, Louisiana. (Where I wind up staying.) We get there and I’m saying goodbye to everybody. My wife’s crying and saying, “Be strong.” I told her, “Look, it’s too far for you to keep coming to see me. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.” And at this point, you know, I had already worked my way up. I was a general manager at the job that I was at, making a decent, pretty decent money. And you just start thinking, Man, you’re going to lose, lose everything. Nobody’s gonna hold a job a whole six months. There’s mortgage, food, family. I mean, all of this stuff is going in my head. So I kept thinking, God, You can’t do this. What’s happening here?
I found God, or He found me, right there in Federal Prison. All the truths that I just thought I knew became real. They became real. They became tangible.
So I’m in there now. I say goodbye, they leave and I remember getting there and I’m thinking, I’m, I know I’m saved. But I’m not no fool. And so I came in there, fist loaded and ready to go. You’re sure of what you’re about to get into. Prison is no, no place for, for any man to be honest. It instantly divides you. There’s segregation like nothing, like nothing you’ve ever believed. And I’m a believer. I’ve sat down with a black man and witnessed to him, saved him and brought him to the Lord. I’ve sat down with a white man, brown man, Asian, you name them, I sat with them all. I’ve ministered to them all. I’ve eaten with them all. I share with them, played ball with them all, hung with them all, coached with them. And the instant you get in there you’re divided; you’re just divided and it’s not even my own doing, it just happens!
So a couple nights will go by and I’m laying in this little rack. I’m in a room, it was about 50 guys in it. I’m on the second top rack and I’m laying there man, I’m mad. I’m talking I’m mad. And I remember telling–I’m just in my mind–God, what are You doing? Why did You do this? What? Why is this happening? Why are You doing all this? What do You…you know. I remember it, it was almost so loud in my spirit that it was, it was somewhat audible. It was so loud. I remember I was, I’m saying, “Why are You doing this?” And I remember the Lord saying, “Why not?” I’m now, I’m now, I’m just, I lost it. I pull that cover off. I jumped down the rack. And I remember walking around the corner and we had like a TV room. It’s like three in the morning now, and nobody’s in this TV room. And I’m in this TV room and I’m saying, “WHY NOT? WHAT THE? And I said a few words that I won’t repeat here. I’m cussing. I’m mad at God. “What do You mean, Why not?” I’m just, I’m just livid. I’m screaming almost and I remember looking out and a couple guys try and look straight at me in there, you know, thinking I’m just an idiot in there. And I’m just, I’m saying, “What do You mean, ‘Why not?’ I can’t believe You said that! Because I had nothing to do with this. I can’t believe You did this! I’m innocent!”
And again, just as audible as it could ever be, In my spirit, He says, “So was I.”
And you know, I probably preached, to that point, the crucifixion 50-60 times maybe. I’ve said something about it, you know; I have heard the same thing. I’ve, I’ve heard it all you know? Roman soldiers being perfectly trained to do what they do. They broke His body in so many different ways without breaking a bone. But it never became so real to me until He said, “So was I.”
I knew being, like the parable, when Jesus heals the blind man. He says, “Can you see?” And remember, he opens his eyes, he says, “I can kind of see. I see trees. I see, I see men as trees.” I remember He says, okay. He spits, He does it again. The man opens his eyes and he can see clearly. And I realized that day, that moment, that I spent my whole life preaching and leading, sharing, raising kids and a family. But that whole time, I could only see men as trees.
Every guy there, the first few nights, the first week that was there, Man, they were just numbers, just names, faces. That next morning when I got up, they were men. And I could see clear why our God, My God, put me there. I’m so thankful now.
This is gonna sound probably foolish, but I’m thankful that He sent me to prison. I know that sounds crazy. And I know that for the rest of my life, in my timeline, there’s going to be a moment that says I was, I was, I’m a convicted felon. And I know every time everybody gets to vote and I don’t. I know when everybody gets to go buy a firearm to protect their home that I’m not allowed to. I know that if I was out searching for work, I know that I have to check that box. And I know that’s in my timeline. I know that it’s there. And I know that some people look at it like a stain. But see, none of that really matters to me now. It did then a little bit.
Now don’t get me wrong, on that trip up there, the first week, Man, I was furious. Like I said, I didn’t cuss God out for no reason; I was mad. It wasn’t like…I didn’t walk in there blind. I didn’t get some kind of jailhouse religion. I knew God. Well, I knew of God. And man, I got a tingle every now and then and I knew how to raise my hands and I could sing the right songs. I could do it with the best of them. But I found God, or He found me, right there in Federal Prison.
All the truths that I just thought I knew became real. They became real. They became tangible. I can hold them and put them in my pocket and run with it.