LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - He was once part of the violence and lawlessness of the gang world, but now an East Texas man is focused on helping others reclaim their lives.
He works at the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission helping men recover from alcohol and drug addiction, and homelessness, to get a second chance at life. A far cry from what Henry 'Paco' Mancilla was just 3 years ago.
“I was what is called a torpedo. A front-line man, anytime stuff went down, we’re the ones that set it off. If somebody owed something, we collected,” he says.
He was involved in a southern California gang, often involved in crime. drugs and prostitution. even coming in contact with the notorious MS-13 gang. He did most of his adult life in prison.
“I’ve done quite a bit of time. a little under 17 years. People used to tell me my life was like a movie. They never knew what was going to happen, but it was going to be all bad,” Henry says.
Returning to Texas, he ended up at the mission, and that's where it happened.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do where I was going to go. I was sitting in class one day and the verse came up, Matthew 6:33, ‘seek first the kingdom of God,’ and that hit something in me,” Mancilla says.
“First time he came through the door I’m going, that boy ain’t going to make it. The whole time he was here and I saw him grow, saw him grow , and saw him grow, and then he graduated. It’s been a remarkable journey for him,” says mission case manager Tommy Duke.
He made the decision to change his own life, and now Henry works to give others the same chance.
"I really just try to build relationships with the guys, especially the harder ones that come in that think there's no way out. I can actually sit down now and see my future, whereas before I could only see a grave," he says.
Henry has reconnected with his family and hopes to see them soon.
He is also organizing and effort to take his story to inner city youth through a group called ‘Urban Aztec Ministries.’