A chance for change brings a new direction for former gang member

Photo by Toni Gibbons Phillip de Hoog takes a moment in the sun after working in the office at the Bread of Life Mission in Holbrook. De Hoog is working to complete the one-year Discipleship Program offered by the mission.

By Toni Gibbons

Holbrook’s Bread of Life Mission initially opened in 1996 as a way to provide shelter to those people who were living on the streets and dying due to exposure, but today it is a rescue mission creating second chances. Phillip de Hoog was given that chance when he found himself on a three-year probation after he was released from a two-month sentence at the Navajo County Jail with no place to go.

“My life was like an ongoing scene from the movie, Westside Story,” said de Hoog. At age 13, his older sister introduced him to drugs and that same year he dropped out of school and began a 20-year immersion into the gangster lifestyle, which led him on a journey that ended in Holbrook, where he is now working on a new life.

De Hoog’s first experience of Holbrook was behind the bars of Navajo County Jail after he was arrested for driving a stolen truck on a trip from California to New Mexico.

“When my friend asked me to take the truck to Albuquerque and handed me a screwdriver to start it instead of a key, I kind of had a feeling it was stolen,” said de Hoog.  That was in 2015.

Two years and three parole violations later, de Hoog again found himself in the Navajo County Jail, this time for two months.

When California refused to extradite him, the Sheriff’s Office put him on probation and pointed him in the direction of Bread of Life Mission. It was there he chose to accept not only the “grace and power of God”, but the help of the staff and his personal mentor, John Bradley.

“I always thought my future would be selling drugs and gang banging,” said de Hoog. But the shelter’s manager Ron Ellsworth and wood shop director Roger Stockman saw something in him and began planting seeds for the mission’s one-year Discipleship Program.

“I was not only unsure about the one-year program,” de Hoog shared, “but I was unsure about God as well, until I sat down with Executive Director Cherise Merrick and she clearly shared the good news of Jesus with me and gave me an understanding of hell, that’s what really got me.”

When asked if he misses his life in Los Angeles, de Hoog took a moment to think. “I had friends who were in the gangs, now I have friends here, friends who are positive and loving.”

In looking back on his life, de Hoog realizes that he has spent more than half of his adult life behind bars. “Our fall back plan was to go to jail,” he said of he and his friends from the gangs. “They took care of us there, did our laundry, fed us and told us what to do. My friends were there, so it was no big deal.”

De Hoog said he doesn’t know where he is headed, but he knows his life has changed, “From being dark, full of violence and hatred, to a place of love and peace.”

Merrick said that the success rate of the Discipleship Program has been very good, especially when the participants graduate from the program. Much of the program is based on character building through Bible study and mentoring, as well as the practical experiences of working in the office and around the mission. Several of the graduates work at the mission, finding a new future in their second chance.

Merrick said she wanted to remind the community that the mission is always in need of support. They are able to take the extra food left over from parties, funerals and events and use it to feed the people who come through. Folks can also visit their website at www.bolmaz.com where they can view the latest newsletter and see the donation list of things that are needed.