Former Gangbanger Is Armed to Reach L.A.'s Streets

Michael Rowles is reaching some of the city’s deadliest gangs

by Stanley O. Williford

For a young Michael Rowles, hunger was a strong motivator. It was certainly motivation enough to make him want to find a one-way ticket out of the poverty he endured in Los Angeles.

His mother had always told him, "God will make a way," but Rowles could only see how much his family of 17 lacked. They frequently were evicted from their residences, and he and his nine brothers and five sisters sometimes had to find shelter wherever they could.

Crime became Rowles’ fast way out. At age 14, ready for a change, Rowles helped found the Main Street Mafia Crips, an offshoot of one of Los Angeles’ deadliest gangs.

But for the last seven years, Rowles, now 40, has had a new "set"—his Wrecking Crew for Christ Outreach Ministries, a church he founded to minister to gangbangers, dope dealers and young people. Rowles says his life of dealing drugs and fighting deadly gang wars is over; his calling now is to evangelize.

"Too many young brothers need help," Rowles said. "I have to go get them and bring them to the church."

Along the way, though, the determined teen-age gang member became a feared Los Angeles gangbanger and drug dealer who was dubbed "Ice Mike." And he came to know a vastly different lifestyle than the one poverty offered.

He sometimes pocketed "$40,000 to $50,000 a day" and drove luxury cars. He dealt drugs through much of Southern California, even branching out to other states. Afterward, he’d seek comfort in a fine home or condo he owned in Beverly Hills or Diamond bar.

Ice Mike became so notorious he was once sought by the FBI and featured on America’s Most Wanted. The charges: conspiracy, drug dealing, organized crime—and 27 murders. But the Lord intervened at his trial—two witnesses for the prosecution admitted they had been paid by police to testify. The judge dismissed the charges and set Rowles free.

Before that freedom from his criminal life, the rivalries over drugs and turf became so violent that Rowles would have nightmares. Danger lurked everywhere. Once a rival gang broke into a house and killed everyone except him, said Rowles, who escaped by covering himself under a pile of clothes in a closet. The killers looked in but failed to disturb the pile.

But Rowles does carry bullet holes from three other shootings. In those treacherous days Rowles remembers thinking, Man, there’s got to be something better than killing, shooting and running dope.

One restless night something woke him up and told him to pray, but Rowles was not a praying man: "When I was into that life, I never thought about prayer. I had all the money and women, and I didn’t need God. I felt I was God myself." Later, that same voice woke him again and told him to go to the gang’s favorite corner at 106th and San Pedro streets.

"Nobody was there but this one guy," Rowles said, "I got ready to throw my gang sign and said, ‘What’s up, cuz?’

"He said, ‘I’m blessed.’ Then he told me, ‘God has need of you.’

"I was like, ‘Man, what you want, some money?’ I pulled out about a thousand dollars. He said, ‘I don’t want your money.’ That really stuck me there.

"He said. ‘I’ll see you here next Thursday.’"

Rowles had no intention of keeping the appointment, he said, but still he was drawn to it.

"I was asking myself: What does God want me for? I’m a dope dealer and a gangbanger. I had a fear of this guy, and I’m a third-degree black belt. It was something about him I couldn’t figure out."

When he arrived, the man was waiting. They met Thursday after Thursday for months, Rowles said.

"He always talked about God. He would tell me things like: ‘You’re a leader. God wants to work with you. You need to give your life to the Lord.’

"I was being sarcastic and rude, but he never got angry. He just kept talking about the Lord. Finally he asked me if I wanted to give my life to God. I said yes.

"One day I asked God if He’s really God to help me to do things He wanted me to do and help me to live how He wanted me to live. That next Thursday I started speaking in tongues.

"The Thursday after, when I went to the corner, the man was gone. I haven’t seen him since.

"Two weeks later I went to the corner and started praying. Seventy-five brothers—ex- Bloods and ex-Crips—came and started praying with me."

Rowles said for several Sundays he sought the stranger at various churches, but to no avail. He now wonders whether the man was an angel.

Miracles tend to follow Rowles. When a friend lay on his deathbed from AIDS, Rowles prayed for him and anointed him with oil, and he revived. Once he and a friend ran into a former gang rival, who put a gun to Rowles’ head.

"He told me he didn’t buy that stuff about me being a preacher and was going to blow my brains out. I told him, ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain,’" Rowles said. "He pulled the trigger, and it wouldn’t fire."

Out on the streets, Rowles still sees several police officers who used to roust him, some of whom have since gotten saved. The old tensions are gone between them. "We preach together," Rowles said, laughing at the irony.

Twenty-six years later, it turns out Rowles’ mother was right all along. God did make a way.


Reprinted by permission, Charisma, Strang Communications.