Pastor Walter Womack is now the president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian leadership conference and preaches at Faithful Baptist church. But he started off in the Tulane Apartments in Whitehaven, watching crime in his front yard.
He remembers watching a friend`s mother, murdered with no mercy.
"She was shot with a sawed-off shotgun," he remembered. "Her brain was blown out and her brain was on the ground."
He can`t sugarcoat it. He watched people shoot dope in front of him as he came home from school. He saw people lose their lives in craps games. The past of pain is still present.
"One night I ended up sleeping outside under a bush," he said.
At 18 the trouble made its way to his doorstep, disguised as a way out.
"One of my friends said, 'If you can turn one of these, you won't have to work anymore,'" he said. "He told me, 'Hey this is a way you can make big money.'"
Womack says the fast life of drugs sucked him in. At first, he admits, it was enticing and thrilling, riding around with thousands in his pocket, living the easy life.
It was a trip to a correctional facility that made him rethink the risk.
"It's a life headed to nowhere. You're going to end up in a prison in jail or dead."
Once he saw the light of Christ, he says the shadows of the streets couldn't touch him anymore.
Womack isn't just reading scripture or reciting the word now. He's preaching a walk he's walked, sharing his testimony with young people that might be at the same crossroads he once faced.
"You don't have to stay on that trail, there`s a better way," he tells them. "Look, I've been there, I've done that."
He says it's not about where you've been or what you've seen. He says it's about how you shine your light once God leads you out of darkness.
"By the grace of God I'm here," he said — preaching, guiding, and living. An example of restoration, not perfection.