Craig Lorick, The Game Of Life

With two strikes against him, a former inmate is still swinging for the fences. Like many children, Craig Lorick dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. 

by Kirk Noonan

Craig Lorick

It didn't matter to him if he became a pro basketball, football or baseball player – it only mattered that he went pro. And like most children who dream of playing professionally, Lorick not only craved the competition, he also yearned to be in the spotlight. For a kid growing up in South Central, a notoriously rough neighborhood in Los Angeles, Lorick’s dream was a common one. But what separated him from most of the dreamers was the natural athletic ability he possessed. He also had an uncle who played for the Baltimore Colts, and that gave him instant credibility with peers and coaches.

As Lorick rose in the ranks of Little League, Pop Warner and then onto school-sponsored sports teams, many people told him he was destined to be a star. He believed them. But as he made his ascent to stardom he started emulating man of his older male relatives who partied. Though Lorick was gifted and driven athletically, the lifestyle he embraced would prove to be his greatest weakness. In time it would rob him of his dreams and eventually land him in the state penitentiary.

“Sports were my god,” Lorick, now 42, says recalling his childhood. “Jesus was the furthest thing from my mind.”

At 13, Lorick smoked marijuana for the first time. Soon after, he experienced with other drugs. Though his grades slipped he relished his role as the big man on campus. When he was a junior in high school, Division I schools from around the nation began courting him. When his grandmother would chastise him for his poor grades he would pull out the letters of interest from the universities and wave them around telling her academics didn’t matter. But as his graduation neared, none of the universities would accept him because of his poor grades. He enrolled at a community college and once again excelled in sports, but his personal life spiraled out of control.

At halftime during football games he would take drugs so he could get “jacked up and take my opponent’s head off with my hits,” he says. When not playing sports or studying, Lorick prowled the streets burglarizing homes and cars to support his habit. He was arrested and spent two weeks in jail. A few months later he started smoking cocaine. Despite his drug abuse his play on the football field was rewarded with a full-ride scholarship to Fresno State University. But before Lorick enrolled at FSU he was arrested for breaking and entering and sent to jail for six months. He lost his scholarship and while he was imprisoned his mother died.

“I went to my mother’s funeral with shackles on my feet and hands,” he recalls. “It was the saddest day of my life – I couldn’t be there for my mother before she died. But two weeks after I got out of prison I was back on the dope.”

As he entered adulthood, Lorick continued to while away time doing drugs and committing crimes. At 23, he was ordered by the court to enroll in a drug treatment program or go to prison. He went to the program, but as soon as he completed it he was back on the streets doing drugs.

After being arrested for burglary again, Lorick was sentenced to two years in Soledad State Prison in central California. There, he accepted Christ as his Savior and began feverishly studying the Word, but his addiction did not abate. While in Soledad, he contacted a basketball coach at a small Christian college in northern California and asked for a tryout once he was released.

The coach, Phil Oates, agreed.

After being released, Lorick tried out and impressed Oates not only as a player, but also as a person. He promised Oates he had kicked his habits and the two became quick friends. While at the college, Lorick grew intellectually and shared his testimony at several churches. Everything seemed to be going well, but Lorick had a terrible secret.

“I thought I could still get high here and there and still serve the Lord,” he says. “But as soon as I got back on drugs I wanted to commit suicide.”

“Craig was still an addict and he wouldn’t confide that in me or others because he was embarrassed,” says Oates, 51, who now help run a family company in Sacramento. “Everyone was telling him he had conquered it all, but in reality he hadn’t.”

Lorick was arrested while on a drug binge and sentenced to prison for eight years. Ironically, this imprisonment would prove to be a turning point in his life.

“I went to prison and rededicated my life to Christ and started ministering to other inmates,” he says.

To do that, he sang praise songs and preached basic sermons of salvation from his cell. At first, he faced harassment for his testimony, but he continued to share the gospel.

Eventually, Lorick was transferred to Lancaster State Prison, 90 miles outside Los Angeles. There, he continued to minister. Because he is black, other blacks expected him to avoid ministering to the white inmates, he says, but he was not deterred. Because he fearlessly and shamelessly shared the gospel with everyone, he soon earned the trust of gang leaders and prison guards alike.

“It wasn’t fun being in prison, but it was the richest time of my life in terms of ministry,” he says. “It was a time to get close to God.”

With good behavior Lorick was transferred to a minimum-security yard where he became a taxi driver who shuttled guards from place to place in a golf cart. He befriended Darrel Downs, 45, a correctional captain. The two men shared a love for the Lord and for preaching. On many days they exchanged sermon ideas and dissected Scriptures as Lorick drove Downs to work. Downs, wise to the ways of con men, says he never doubted Lorick’s sincerity.

“Working in the prison environment you can tell quickly who is a true man of God,” he says, “and Lorick was and is. He eats, sleeps and breathes ministry.”

Edwin Derensbourg, 50, bishop of United Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational church in Lancaster, began visiting Lorick in prison in the mid-90s. Derensbourg discipled Lorick, who was serving as the pastor of the yard, and would give him advice on ministering to others. Having Christian visitors come to see him and having access to Christian periodicals, Lorick says, served a great purpose in his life. “It was like a cold glass of water for someone who was wandering in the Mojave Desert,” he says.

Today, Lorick and Downs serve as leaders at Derensbourg’s church. Lorick and his wife, Denise, 37, are raising four children while he works at a local pest control company. On the weekends he travels around California sharing Christ’s message of peace and hope at churches and conferences.

Downs and Lorick hold each other accountable.

“It’s amazing to sit in the audience and watch Craig preach,” Says Downs. “But there are going to be a lot of obstacles and things that are going to try to throw him off because he is anointed. It’s my job to hold him up daily in prayer.”

“I have two strikes against me,” Lorick says referring to California’s three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule.

“One more strike and it’s over. I made the wrong choices in my life. But by the grace of God I am alive and out of prison.”

Oates and others say Lorick is going to make it this time.

“No matter how low he has fallen, the Lord has always been there to restore him,” says Oates, who is helping finance Lorick’s education through the Assemblies of God’s Global University in Springfield, Mo. “I find that very encouraging.”

As a boy, Lorick dreamed of being a professional athlete. Today, his goal is to see others come to know Christ as he does. To ensure that happens, Lorick is not wasting any time thinking about the possibility of striking out for the third and final time. Instead, he is focusing his energies on hitting home runs for God. In doing so, he hopes lives will be changed for eternity. 

“Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel.”

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