Cocaine, crime and Christ

A traveling preacher stops by the RN&R to spread poetry and hope of redemption

Reverend E.J. Evans Sr. signs copies of his inspirational poems at Starbucks. Evans likes to include his name and phone number on the bottom of each poem so readers know how to find his books.

Reverend E.J. Evans Sr. signs copies of his inspirational poems at Starbucks. Evans likes to include his name and phone number on the bottom of each poem so readers know how to find his books.

Photo By Amy Beck

Rev. E.J. Evans Sr.'s books are available at Off Da Wall, 611 Wells Ave.
Contact Rev. E.J. Evans Sr. at (253) 882-6146.

Rev. Eugene James Evans Sr.—also known as E.J., also known as Preacher, also known as Chinaman, was a liar. He was a womanizer. He sold drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, from the age of 14. He shot at least one person. He attempted murder in prison. He was a bad man, the worst of the worst, so he said. He’s a clotheshorse who wears rhinestone jewelry and cufflinks—even in the morning, even if they’re unfastened. He’s got a bit of an Eddie Murphy laugh and does not hesitate to look a person square in the eye. He sort of enjoys his notoriety, which is probably why a friend told him he didn’t fear God enough.

Even now, there are things about him that stretch credulity. For example, he was in jail for verbally assaulting his 80-some-year-old adoptive father just a few years ago, more than two decades after he turned over a new leaf in 1984. Just last week, when he was approached for repayment of an old debt, he came up with a lame excuse for not repaying the person who helped him when he needed help.

He’s also a poet and a minister. A father and an evangelist. He speaks to the downtrodden in narcotics and alcoholics anonymous meetings across the country. He has his own church: T.A.G., The All Gangster Universal Life Church. He speaks at other churches regularly, attempting to bring the congregations to Jesus Christ—often successfully, he said. He’s a natural storyteller, with a certain, almost hypnotic, cadence to his speech. He’ll begin a story—for example, how he came to owe Marie $70 for more than three years—weaving in and out unrelated anecdotes from his life, but occasionally returning to the tale to make a point, and finally finishing the story more than an hour later.

“I’ll get a hold of her,” he said. “But not in her timing. In God’s perfect timing. That’s how it is.”

He’s a bundle of contradictions. And yet, his sincerity is palpable.

That’s what he is. What he does is compose and distribute poems. He assembles books—he’s written three collections of poetry—that he sells and gives away on the street, in bars, everywhere. The poems have religious meaning, and the preacher claims they bring people to God. He goes wherever people gather. One night last week, he sang karaoke at the El Cortez and the “Cal-Nevas,” as he calls it.

“They buy my poems, and they buy my CDs,” he said. “They buy my poems at these places, and I sing. The places that most ministers don’t want to go to, that’s where I go to. That’s my ministry. To help feed the poor and the homeless, to help the children understand the right way. I give out these poems freely as bait. I call it ‘bait’ because if they love the bait they’re reading, they’ll go and buy the rest of the book. That’s the whole purpose of that. Plus, it’s a way of getting the word out there, to plant seeds without them really knowing seeds are being planted. They think it’s just nice poems, but really, there’s scriptures in those poems. I plant the seeds, God water them in due season. And in His perfect timing, they’ll grow.”

The bad old days

Reverend E.J. Evans Sr., right, talks with Sheldon Calloway, owner of Off Da Wall. Calloway sells Evans’ books and CDs in his store.

Photo By Amy Beck

Evans was born in Pine Bluff, Ark., on Nov. 17, 1952. His mother’s name is Queen Esther Evans. He said the family moved to Baton Rouge, La., on the day he was born and then to Redwood City, Calif., when he was 7.

He claims he was born bad: “I went wrong the day I was born. My mother said I tried to beat the doctor up when he hit me on my butt and air came into my lungs. I was kicking and swinging at him. First day.”

There were six children in the family, all are dead but for him—they died of everything from AIDS to gunshot wounds. He said his father was a Baptist minister who ran speakeasies on the side back in the ’60s, with gambling, liquor and prostitutes. His chores at the speakeasy included changing the whores’ linens, restocking the bar, and cleaning the basement where the gambling happened. That was until his father died when he was 14.

That was when he began selling marijuana.

“I used to sell weed out of McDonald’s—hamburgers out the front window, four-finger lids out the back door. At the age of 14, that’s how I started. I sold so much weed that I finally went to cocaine, I had enough money.”

Although he started buying his cocaine domestically, he eventually began traveling to Colombia, the source, buying quantities at $90 a pound. A relative, a merchant marine, would bring the goods to Hunter’s Point near San Francisco. Evans would pick up the drugs there, distributing pounds, half-pounds, quarter-pounds from Sacramento to Fresno. Evans said he knew an A-list of celebrities, actors and musicians, most of whom are dead now. He certainly drops the names, but without independent verification, it’s better not to put them in print.

He said he did a total of 22 years in prisons and jails, including Vacaville Prison, Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI)-Tracy, San Quentin Correctional Facility, Folsom State Prison, and California State Prison, Corcoran. Twenty-two years, primarily drugs and weapons charges.

He tells the story of how he attempted to kill the man—a member of the Aryan Brotherhood—who killed his brother. His plan was to throw gasoline on him while his victim was locked in his cell—paying $100 for a paint can full of gasoline—but the effort was foiled. The cell was empty, the mattress folded back. The guards, who were lying in wait, took him down, sent him to the hole, and transferred him out of the prison. Evans said the Aryans took care of the man themselves.

“During this time, my mother would come up all the time, begging me. She called me ‘Neugene,’ like a new pair of jeans, ‘Neugene, son, God’s going to take care of it. God’s going to take care of it. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’ Because she knows if I kill this man, for the rest of my life, I’m going to be in prison. She will never get to see me out there again. She didn’t want that. Plus she knew what God had in store for me. She was very, very close to God. My mother knew everything. How? I guess God just made her like that. God didn’t let me kill this man because God had something else for me to do in this life than to rot in prison. Out here. What I’m doing right now.

“To this day, I done forgave that man. The hardest thing I ever didn’t do in this life was not kill this guy. God wasn’t going to let me kill him anyway. Even though we think we’re in control of our lives, we’re not really in control. The one who is really in control is God. The guy told me, he died, his people killed him. The Aryan Brotherhood killed him because a lot of the things that he done, including killing my brother, wasn’t ordered by them. Something he done. He was supposed to be out taking care of things for them, sending them money and drugs, he out here robbing and doing everything except for taking care of his family’s business. So they told me, face to face, this was in prison, they said, ‘Chinaman, don’t worry about him. We going to take care of this here.’”

The conversion and redemption

All that badness came to an end in 1984. OK, most of that badness came to an end in 1984. He’s still human, and he had a lot of inertia to overcome.

Evans had been in solitary confinement for four months. He thought he was going insane, hearing voices, having recurring dreams about the events in his life that led him to that cell.

“Finally, out of desperation, I asked to see the chaplain. And when I think about this now, that was Him speaking to me. That was Him. In 1984, I accepted Christ. I got down on my knees, buried my face in the ground, and just surrendered to him. Instantly, after doing that, accepting Him into my heart, and asking Him to forgive me, [I felt calm]. When I surrendered my life, seriously, to Jesus, gave it to God, asked him to forgive me my sins, asked him to take this burden off of me, I’m telling you, it was like a cold breeze running through that cell. And I felt for the first time in my entire life, complete peace. Peace of mind. I mean, I asked him to take this burden off me, and I would do his will. ‘Lord, I’m tired, I’ll do what you want me to do. Just take this burden off me, Lord.’”

Evans said he’s been a new man since that moment. He ministers to the homeless and the poor. He brings people to God through his speaking engagements and poetry. He’s mostly based in Reno and Tacoma, Wash.—where he and his adopted father have businesses, but he travels widely. His collections of poetry are a wonder, copied and assembled at Kinko’s (now FedEx). To the casual observer, they appear somewhat naïve—with unsophisticated formatting and misspellings, but Evans said he assembles and reassembles the poems in the order that seem most appropriate for the day, and there have been some two dozen editions of the books. They include advertising business cards, the names of people who’ve helped him in his ministry, poetry published in other media over the years.

When he’s in Reno, in the evening, he’s likely to be found singing karaoke and passing out poems. One recent evening, he sang “Easy” by the Commodores at the Cal-Neva, and “Lady” by Kenny Rogers and “One in a Million You” by Larry Graham at the El Cortez. He doesn’t drink much, but when he does, it’s Christian Brothers brandy. Because he’s a Christian. That’s a joke, he says. He laughs. He laughs a lot.

“What I’m doing now that’s different than I used to do is I’m working for the Light. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. He healed my heart. He changed me. He gave me a life. He gave me something. Instead of selling dope, I’m selling hope now. I’m giving away hope. I’m giving someone a chance to live a better life if they’ll put their hands in the hands of the man who healed the water. The man who calmed the sea. If they’ll put their hands in God’s hands, and let God lead them, the way he’s been leading me, they’ll never go back to evil. They’ll never go back. They can’t go back. He’s so good. The life that He gives you, and the jobs that He gives you, is so good that you don’t want that bad stuff. You don’t want it. You can’t get nothing better than what God has for you.”

What Sin Use To Look Like

If you ever want to know what sin use to look like, then look at me,
The truth I couldn’t tell, I sold dope and went to jail
So if you ever want to see what sin use to look like, just look at me.
My life took me to the pen, with a long list of sins,
Where I asked my Lord and Savior to come on in
Jesus came into my heart and gave me a brand new start,
So if you ever want to know what sin use to look like, well look at me
The lord gave me a church call T.A.G. even though I don’t like to brag,
Gods HOLY GHOST power set me free, so if you ever want to know
What sin use to look like, then look at me.
I was a lier, a looser, a womanizer, and a boozer
The finished work Christ done on the cross gives us victory,
So I started up Gods gang, so other Christians had a place to hang
God made me a preacher man, God gave a Gospel Blues band.
Now we can sing and praise the Lord for what He done on Calvary.
So if you ever want to know want to know what sin use to look like,
Look at me.
I’m filled with the Holy Ghost, preaching from coast to coast
God said even go from sea to sea, so when people see you, they’ll
SEE ME. Through the Trinity
My God is color- blind, at T.A.G. there is no color line
If you ever want tom know what sin use to look like come to
Some one close the door, the Lord said where two or more, are gathered
In His Name, He’s in our mist I’m not shame,
Let’s have church here and now in Jesus Name.