After living a life as a criminal and prisoner, David Green has experienced—and now makes known a message of—redemption and reconciliation.
In the early morning hours of Easter 1978, just after midnight, a group of adolescent boys entered a 24-hour convenience store in New Orleans’ notorious Ninth Ward, intending to steal alcohol. During the attempted robbery, shots were fired and the clerk on duty behind the counter was mortally wounded.
All of the boys managed to flee the scene except one, a 15-year-old known to his cohorts as “Red.” As he tried to escape, a paying customer tripped him and detained him until the police arrived. Red hadn’t seen who pulled the trigger, but even if he had witnessed the shooting, he wouldn’t have been much help to the police. Like Red, all the young men on the street were known by nicknames. He didn’t know any of their real identities.
Although he was unarmed when he was apprehended, and despite the civilian witness’s willingness to testify on his behalf, eight months later Red was convicted of armed robbery and first-degree murder. He was 16 years old when he was sentenced to death at Angola State Penitentiary.
A PATHWAY TO PRISON
It hadn’t always been that way for the young man known as Red. Ironically, his given name was Green. David Green. He was raised by a single mother, one of six children, but as he tells it, he was “rooted in the church since I was a child.” Both his mother and his grandmother were faithful, committed believers who did their best to instill their faith in the young boy. He participated in a discipleship program called Lads to Leaders beginning at age 12, and even won a preaching contest at the New Orleans Superdome when he was 14. Yet Green ran away from home a year later, eager to experience life on the street. The lifestyle of an urban runaway quickly became a pathway to prison.
It took seven years for his murder conviction to be overturned. When it was, Green was transferred from death row to the general population at Angola. He was 24 when he was eventually released on probation.
“Ironically, I was not really a murderer when I went to Angola,” Green said. “But by the time I left, I had murder in my heart. I had watched killings on a near-daily basis. I had been a witness to things that most people cannot even imagine.”
Upon his release from Angola, Green was reunited with his mother. Sadly, their reunion was short-lived. He joined her for worship on his first Sunday as a free man but felt unwelcome in the church where he had been raised. Feeling spurned by the congregation his mother and grandmother attended in New Orleans, and unable to find a steady job, Green turned to one of the only sources of steady income available to a young African-American ex-convict in the 1980s: the illicit drug trade.
At first, he bargained with God, promising he would deal drugs only until he had earned $10,000—an amount he surmised would allow him to buy a car. Green met his earnings goal in his first two days selling crack cocaine on the streets of the Crescent City, and the allure of such swift, significant income was more than he could resist. But he quickly learned that dealing drugs was a dangerous lifestyle. Green was shot in broad daylight by a drug runner he considered a friend and eventually was the target of an attempted hit job at his own home. When Green killed the hit man in self-defense, he left the state and started a new life under an assumed name in Kansas City, Missouri.
For more than two decades, Green continued to live a life of crime.
“I was a criminal, a thug, and a killer,” he said.
Green continued in the drug trade, ran an escort service, and served multiple terms in prison.
By 2003, at age 39, and serving a five-year prison term for drug trafficking, Green was tired. Tired of running from his crimes. Tired of his addictions. Tired of living in darkness. He cried out to God from his cell and prayed, “God, don’t let me leave this place the same as when I went in.”
BEGINNING A NEW LIFE
Over the next five years at Cameron Penitentiary, God answered Green’s prayer, transforming his heart and mind with the Word. Inside those prison walls, Green said, he gained an understanding of the Bible like never before. He was baptized, and though he was still incarcerated, Green said, “I knew that God had changed me.”
When he eventually was released from the correctional center in Cameron, Missouri, Green started an addiction ministry in partnership with a local congregation to help other ex-offenders break free from the habits that bound them. Soon after, that church helped Green establish the House of Hope, a residential program that helped men and women establish employment and lives of faithfulness after being released from prison.
Each House of Hope resident was placed in a steady job and committed to contribute $250 per month for room and board. The rest of their earnings were placed into a savings account to be used as a deposit on their own apartment after a period of 6 to 12 months. For spiritual development and encouragement, everyone at the House of Hope was also required to attend church and Bible study.
Green remembers the sense of awe he felt in those days, not only beginning a new life of his own but helping others do the same. He said, “God was using me. Me—of all people. He had taken my sinful, broken self and through his grace and mercy turned my mess into his message! And he wasn’t done yet!”
RETURN TO NEW ORLEANS
In 2007, Green began to sense a calling to return home to New Orleans. That year, he was invited to speak at the Churches of Christ National Jail and Prison Ministry Workshop, where he met Richard Felix, who had served as the chaplain at Angola for many years. Felix embraced the idea of Green serving at Angola and extended an open invitation to join him in his ministry there.
When David Green eventually relocated to New Orleans four years later, he immediately contacted Chaplain Felix. Within 30 days, Green was granted permission to enter and minister inside the prison walls at Angola, where he once had sat on death row. On his first visit to preach at Angola, Green met Herman Evans, a onetime acquaintance who had been present at Green’s house during the attempt on his life. Evans had been tried and wrongfully convicted of murdering the man Green had killed in self-defense and was serving his unjust sentence at Louisiana’s largest and most infamous prison.
Evans had received Christ through the prison ministry in Angola, and he graciously greeted brother Green when they were reunited. The two men immediately bonded as brothers in Christ, despite their history and the miscarriage of justice in Evans’s life. Green contacted an attorney and quickly prepared an affidavit confessing to the killing, in the hopes of gaining Evans’s release. After more than two years, the courts rejected the affidavit. Evans is still serving his sentence and Green is still working to get him released.
Shortly after he arrived in New Orleans, the Elysian Fields Avenue Church of Christ hired Green as associate minster. Being called to serve the very church where his mother and grandmother had prayed for his deliverance from a life of crime and violence was clearly the kind of redemption only God himself could orchestrate. When the church’s senior minister moved to a new city, Green replaced him.
“I had no idea that I would serve as minister of Elysian Fields when I came home, but that was in God’s plans,” Green said. “It was my honor to walk in the calling that God has placed on me.”
NEW LIFE WHERE THERE ONCE WAS DEATH
In addition to ministering at Angola and serving with Elysian Fields Avenue Church of Christ, Green felt a calling to start another ministry for recently released ex-offenders. The new program, Keep It Real Ministries, offers a 6- to 12-month job-readiness program and job placement assistance for ex-offenders. Keep It Real Ministries has placed roughly 300 individuals in permanent, full-time employment in the last year. Since 2015, the program has placed almost 1,000 individuals in employment around New Orleans.
Alongside its job placement services, Keep It Real Ministries offers vocational training, certified domestic violence and anger management classes, and parenting and nutritional courses. The results have been astounding. According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, the statewide recidivism rate is 34.1 percent. The recidivism rate for individuals who participate in Keep It Real Ministries is just 11.3 percent.
In March 2020, Green left the Elysian Fields Avenue Church of Christ to start a new congregation, the Church of Christ of Greater New Orleans. As Green knows well from his experience, ex-offenders who come to know Christ in prison often find it difficult to stay faithful after their release.
“I long for a congregation, a church, where people can be themselves and worship and give God glory for what he has done in their lives,” he said.
Green is quick to point out that the Church of Christ of Greater New Orleans is not an ex-offender congregation. He calls it “a restoration congregation.” In his words, “The Christians at GNO come from varying walks of life. We have a wide range of education, family background, age, race, and economic standing. We recognize that we live in a city that is in desperate need of a Savior.”
Starting a new church in the same neighborhood where he once lived a life of crime is a daily reminder of Green’s rebirth in Christ.
“I used to be ashamed of the things I’ve done,” he said, “but now I know my story is for God’s glory.” He is teaching his congregation, likewise, to be unashamed—and unafraid.
“These people have willing hearts to reach out with the love of Christ anywhere. They have faith that God transforms lives because they have experienced it. Some churches today want to be safe, but God didn’t call us to safety.”
On top of Keep It Real Ministries and the Church of Christ of Greater New Orleans, Green and his wife, Jaime, whom he married in 2015, are launching The Fort, a residential transition program similar to the House of Hope in Kansas City. They have identified a location and are currently raising funds to complete the facility, which they hope to open this spring.
THE NEED AND THE HARVEST IN NEW ORLEANS
David Green has great love for his city because he sees its great need.
“Louisiana is different, and the Greater New Orleans area is very different,” he said. “If you have ever visited our city, it would only take a few minutes to begin to see our struggles and the impact that sin has had on us.”
Green is quick to cite sobering statistics: Louisiana has the highest murder rate per capita in the country; 18 percent of the population of New Orleans is infected with AIDS or HIV; teen pregnancy rates are in the top 10 nationally.
But he recognizes both the problem and the solution in New Orleans.
“This city invites sin and profits from it. Sin is an industry for us, and the fallout of sin is prevalent,” he said. “We live and worship in a city that desperately needs Jesus!” But Green remains hopeful. “We are in a mission field where there is a harvest. God has brought me home to New Orleans and now has placed me in the same neighborhood where I ran the streets.”
Just as God restored and redeemed Green, he is now restoring Green’s hometown.
“We are seeing the impact that God has on our city and throughout the state. We have already begun to see men and women that I was in the streets with come to Christ! We pray that God will give his increase and that souls will come to a true knowledge of him as he transforms lives in New Orleans.”
Green knows it’s possible, because he has experienced it himself.
“I’ve done so much wrong in my life. If God can change me, he can change anyone.”