David Rocha knows all about gang life and how it feels to serve six years in a federal prison on drug charges. He also knows what it’s like to make a 180-degree turnaround, thanks to God.
Rocha, who grew up in Tracy, spends his days preaching to a small church congregation in Ceres and talking with inmates who are moving from prison into the parole system. He tells them of the day in solitary confinement when he realized “something had to change. It was my third time of getting into trouble. I had grown up in a Christian home, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. Then, in solitary, I surrendered to God. I literally felt weight come off of me. I’ve been changed ever since.”
He enrolled in an online Bible college for inmates and received his associate of arts degree. He’s close to completing his bachelor’s degree, he said. He pastors the House of Rest church in Ceres, which draws 20 to 30 people each Sunday. And he’s recently finished filming a movie, “Always With You.”
The movie stars his daughter, Angelyn Rocha, 17; Hollywood actor Jose Rosete, who had nonspeaking roles in “Any Given Sunday” and “Three Kings”; and Tony Rodriguez of Merced, who also is a former gang member and, as a member of a controversial rap group, Darkroom Family, a “pretty well-known recording artist before he became a Christian,” Rocha said.
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The story opens with a loving scene at a church between a teen girl and her dad, who leaves to help his suicidal, alcoholic brother. The father is shot and killed, and the grieving girl spends much of the film turning her back on God, her uncle and even her best friend. The movie is set in San Francisco, but many of the scenes were filmed in Modesto, Rocha said.
He said he was able to make the movie because technology has changed so much in the past several years. “I learned how to make movies (before I became a pastor). I’ve done eight of them before,” said Rocha, 42. “I’ve been slowly accumulating the equipment I needed to do it right. We own our equipment, so it doesn’t cost much to (shoot a movie).”
The movie will be released Tuesday, and Rocha hopes it will be a tool to help teens and young adults make good choices, a resource for churches, and a fundraiser that will help his church and others do more outreach. He would like to see churches and nonprofit agencies use the film for a movie night, and is willing to set up those showings.
“Our goal is to get into theaters,” he said. “We’re going to use this as a door-opener. I don’t want to be the guy who’s always saying, ‘We need more money.’ I want this industry to help do some outreach. We’ll use the film not only to reach people, but to fund the things we want to do. Our No. 1 goal is we want to reach the youth in Modesto.
“I come from a really rough background, and I talk to people coming out of prison. We want to do that before they get into prison, to have someplace for them to go, offer some kind of mentoring, of being there on a day-to-day thing.”
The movie costs $19.99, which includes taxes and shipping, and can be ordered from the website alwayswithyouthemovie.com.