DILLEY, Texas - Eduardo Navarette was someone his "homeboys" could rely on for help.
In July 2011, Navarette was asked by a friend to help three people kidnap a man who hadn't paid off a drug debt.
They took the man to a home, where a woman in the group shot him in the head.
But something went wrong.
"It went south," Navarette said of the kidnapping.
Despite being shot in the head, the man survived and was able to identify Navarette and his three accomplices.
Navarette was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was assigned to serve his prison term at the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley, about 80 miles south of San Antonio.
"It was rough because at the end I stayed by myself," Navarette, 23, said about his first months in prison in 2014.
Like most new inmates, Navarette tried to fit in and make the best of his confinement.
Navarette made some friends, including some who wanted to introduce him to God. He attended some church services, but it wasn't enough.
"It wasn't until I went to Kolbe, though, that it helped me realize how much love is out there," Navarette said.
In 2016, Navarette attended a prison retreat hosted in part by Kolbe Prison Ministries San Antonio, a Catholic nonprofit organization that ministers to incarcerated men and women in five Texas state prisons, and jails near San Antonio and other detention facilities in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
The three-day retreat aims to educate inmates about the Catholic faith through Mass, prayer, group discussions, biblical reenactments, videos and testimony.
The retreat begins with the inmates met by mostly total strangers who take turns welcoming them with a huge hug.
"I thought they were crazy," Navarette said about his first experience with the "hugfest."
"Why would they be all trying to hug me, show me this love? In this environment, to show something like that, it's hard, because of how most of us were brought up, because of who we were with. Affection like that isn't something we show on a regular basis. It was crazy for me to feel that coming from people that don't even know me."
The hugs were the beginning of a spiritual change for Navarette. The retreat, combined with religious services and classes, set the stage for a closer relationship with God -- even if it had to happen in prison.
"To find him here is the perfect place, because we're the ones, I think, that need him the most because of the things we've done, of the thoughts we have, of the feelings we got towards other men," he said. "It helps us so much. He helps us be able to have that change to show other men."
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Apparently, others saw that Navarette was changing. After he attended another Kolbe retreat, he was asked to be a table leader in his Kolbe retreat. Table leaders are tasked with helping inmates attending the retreat open up about their life's journey and how faith can help them feel better about life.
Despite his newfound belief in God that gives him more peace, Navarette still runs into inmates who doubt his faith.
"There are times that I do get criticized. But there's times when they do respect it. They do see that it's really sincere and true. And most of the time when they do see the sincerity in it, they'll respect your beliefs," he said. "But you still have those who criticize you. They mock you or they tell you, 'Oh, you're too holy now, or you can't do this because of how you live.'"
Navarette is convinced that God answers prayers.
His mother was in prison and in danger of being deported to Mexico. Navarette said he prayed like he never did before. He had gone through this before.
"Because my father got deported and he passed away two years ago. So I really felt if my mother went back to Mexico, I might not get to see her again. And it was going to happen just like my father. And God answered my prayer," Navarette said.
Navarette said prayers may not be answered right away, but one should never give up.
"So I just want people to know that not to give up. With faith, he'll answer everything in time. In his time. But he's always there."
Navarette is eligible for parole in July 2021.
If you would like to learn more about the Kolbe Prison Ministry, click here.
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