At age 25, Bill Todd Jr. didn't fight it. At that point in his life, he said he had nothing to lose. "That's why I did the robberies. I didn't wear masks. Subconsciously I wanted to be caught."
The California justice system sentenced the drug-addicted alcoholic to 15.4 years with "half time" (possible release in eight years on good behavior) in the California State prison system.
He fought and struggled his way through the 15 years, didn't earn his half time but became a born-again Christian and was paroled last Feb. 14. Months after his parole, he was given a brand new sentence, one that didn't come from the courts.
It came from doctors at Sutter Delta Memorial Hospital.
He was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma (lung) cancer and given months to live. With "good behavior" (treatment), he'd be awarded a few extra months.
"I believe God is drawing people to Him through me. Maybe that's the purpose for the rest of my life," said Todd, 40, who is living with his dad, Bill Sr., and stepmother, Toni, in Brentwood. "If one person is drawn to the Lord through me, that's what it's all about. I want to say I'd like to live, but I can't walk around thinking I'm going to die."
From his sentencing in Redding, he went to San Quentin State Prison, a reception center for new commitments. It's known as California's oldest and best correctional institution. Opened in 1852, it houses the state's only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates. It's also where Todd said prisoners are sent to be classified and tested for their propensity for violence.
"They judge your IQ through a battery of tests. It's basically an 'in-take' where they determine what they're going to do with you," said Todd, who admits his stealing fed his drug habit.
The process can take up to 120 days, where one basically sits in limbo. His evaluation process took 45 days.
Things were going well for Todd, relatively speaking, before his arrest. He had a good-paying job for a pest control company making good money, when his drinking took over.
"I used the company credit card once and filled up the bed of a truck with beer and ice," said Todd, father of two, married twice. "My drinking destroyed everything."
He was sent to Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, maximum level security level four. The prison was designed to house 2,280 prisoners, but generally houses over 3,300.
"They call this place 'the end of the world,' because it's out in the middle of nowhere. It's a rock and concrete compound; no windows, with piped-in sunlight. It's where they used to keep all the big shots in crime," he said.
Todd's reaction was shock when told his next move would be Pelican Bay.
"They were supposed to send me to Tehachapi State Prison, but 10 days later they were banging on my bars telling me and my celly (cell mate) we were going to Pelican. I thought to myself, 'What did I do now?!'"
After three years at Pelican, he was sent to Corcoran State Prison, where he was given a SHU (Security Housing Unit) term for battery on a peace officer, and possession of a controlled substance in a California State prison.
He spent his last six years at New Folsom Prison, also known as California State Prison, Sacramento. It's where his celly helped him develop a personal relationship with God.
"David Schott was from Redding. He was a homeboy and he and I hit it off right away. At the time I was still doing heroin and anything I could get my hands on. I was drinking 80-proof whisky. He and I did drugs together. He was a Christian, but was backsliding (failing in his Christian walk)," said Todd.
Six months into sharing a cell together, Todd caught Schott reading the New Testament.
"I called him a hypocrite," said Todd. "We got into a long, drag-out conversation about God and the Bible. We got into the 'whys' and I could never stump him. He'd say, 'It's that way because God made it that way.' I'd tell him to shut up and ask him if he wanted a shot (alcohol)."
Todd finally made a deal with God. He told God through prayer that if he was real, he'd show him a sign, and Todd would believe.
"I threw down the gauntlet to God and two weeks later I got my sign," he said.
It was during a lockdown and the only thing we could watch was this religious video called "The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai," a program where atheists and Christian scientists set out to prove whether the Exodus in the Bible took place.
"Piece by piece they were finding all these landmarks. We were both silent at the end of the show. I turned off the TV and I sat there fighting off pride," said Todd. "I looked David square in the eyes and said, 'You'll devote an hour and a half each day to study time with me.'"
Together, through daily Bible studies, drug and alcohol withdrawals, falling off the wagon, constant use of foul language, and living among a hostile environment, Todd said he lives a clean life today.
Among the few that make that complete 180-degree turn, he said the concept that people who go to prison and get saved "is a myth!"
From 180 pounds at parole to 130 pounds during his initial treatments, Todd currently undergoes chemotherapy for his metastasized cancer. A breathing facilitator, treatments, pain medications and prayer all help to increase his quality of life during his "second sentence."
"I feel this situation has brought people to the Lord. My father, for one. He watched me transform in jail and saw that I was serious about sobriety. I've been clean from drugs for a few years now," said Todd, a huge fan of fast cars and Mustangs. "Part of my growing process as a Christian was to ask God to take the cravings away. David and God helped me through the withdrawals."
Memories of prison such as stabbings, shootings and gang violence will never leave him, but at least the nightmares have ended. He said seven out of 10 parolees end up back in jail and he wanted to beat those odds.
"You never read about those success stories. I wanted to be one of them," he said. "I'm not ready to meet the Lord yet, because I want to see the world. Ultimately I think I'm going to beat this, God willing, and that more people will be drawn to the Lord."