From The Crips to the Church

From The Crips to the Church

By McCarton Ackerman 01/08/14

A former addict, Crip, robber and pimp, Bishop Ron Gibson found sobriety through God. Now he's helping others do the same.

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Bishop Ron Gibson preaches to thousands of people each week at So. Cal mega-church Life Church of God in Christ, but his platform reached millions this past fall on Oxygen reality show Preachers of L.A. The show reached upwards of 1.2 million viewers and an additional 2.8 million when the full episode streamed online each week, making it one of the most successful programs in the network’s history.

But it’s been a long road for Gibson to get to this point. He was a leader of the Crips by the time he was 16, a robber and a pimp. His behavior was also fueled by a gnarly drug addiction that led to a pair of near-fatal overdoses. But after finding God and sobriety for the past 30 years, he’s now hoping to help others do the same. This season of Preachers of L.A. featured Gibson performing an intervention on his sister Shaun—addicted to heroin for decades—outside of a dope house in Compton.

Now that Season 1 has come to a close, Bishop Gibson spoke to us about whether his sister has been able to stay clean, his views on religion in recovery and why he believes he’s fully out of the woods with his addiction. 

How has your sister been doing since the intervention this season?

Since I intervened with Shaun on the show, she’s in a nice rehab now and not using any drugs. She’s detoxed from the meth and the heroin and I’m working on getting her into a word-based church when she finishes treatment.

I didn’t go through a 12-step program. I went through one step of faith and have been sober for over 30 years. 

Because she had been a drug addict for decades, were there concerns about exposing her on camera or did you see it as a last resort option?

I was concerned about the safety of my sister and my wife because there are a lot of addicts and gangsters in the neighborhood where that dope house was. You never know what can happen. But I knew Shaun had come to the end of her rope and this was the last resort. I felt like she was waiting for my sincere help. I had tried to help for many years, but she just wasn’t ready for it at that time. I felt if she had the cameras on and could see the world was watching, there would be an even greater moral support there that she didn’t have before.

How did you first get turned on to drugs?

I was a gang banger in high school, but didn’t get turned on to drugs until I was 18 or 19 years old. After high school, I joined the military and met up some with guys in Georgia. They introduced me to Colombo, which was a type of weed. I got kicked out of the Army eventually and was on the streets selling my weed. I was addicted for seven years.

Then my friends told me that I didn’t need to smoke weed anymore because if I took two hits of angel dust, I’d be high all day. I didn’t want to, but one day they sprinkled angel dust in my weed and didn’t tell me. Eventually it escalated from angel dust to PCP, snorting heroin and every drug you could name. I was homeless and on skid row, just displaying psychotic behavior.

Would you say that being homeless was the lowest point of your addiction?

The lowest point was when my grandpa saw that his grandson was smoking dope. I had been able to hide it from my mom and grandma, but one day I went to play basketball at the park in Compton and had half a stick of PCP in my pocket. Afterwards, I went outside to smoke it and overdosed. The paramedics were called and when my grandpa saw me, he was crying because he had no idea I was using. 

They should have put me in jail, but my family knew some of the police and they put me in the psych ward instead. They put me in leather restraints, but I literally broke out of them because I was so agitated. I was so embarrassed afterwards that I hid from my family because I was an oddity in the house and they couldn’t understand what had happened. I was depressed and suicidal. . . just a ship without a sail. 

What eventually inspired you to get sober?

I never wanted to get sober. I never wanted to stop smoking dope. My mom is a Christian and told me Jesus saves, but she was divorced with seven kids and we were broke. You have to understand that I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, so I was surrounded by Black Panthers and Muslims. I hated Jesus and I hated white people. 

I went to a party one night and was given some uncut black angel dust. The dealer told me not to even think about smoking it unless it was cut first. But the drinks were flowing and I completely forgot to do that, so I overdosed and was about to die. 

Growing up, my mom always told me that if you’re ever about to die and there’s no one there you can call on, then call on Jesus. I did just that and I heard a voice speak to my mind. The more I called on Jesus, the more sober I became. And then I started speaking in another tongue, which was crazy because I had been trying to go through to the holy spirit for 20 years. I didn’t go through a 12-step program. I went through one step of faith and have been sober for over 30 years. 

Most 12-step programs advocate having a higher power in your life, but do you think it’s possible for people to get sober without religion?

A lot of my friends are in 12-step programs and do great work. The 12-step program says that your higher power is whoever you project it to be, whether it’s Jesus or karma. It’s just your world view. A person can definitely get clean without the holistic view of religion, but you’re on a cliffhanger without it and can fall back anytime unless you have a strong mind. That said, it can happen with Christian people too. 

We saw you on the show going back to the streets of South Central and preaching to gang members. How important has being of service in that nature been for your sobriety?

I’ll always be there. I’ve never stopped going to South Central. My church is next door to a federal halfway house and when they come out, I give them jobs. But I still know some of the old gang-bangers in that area and have had to go to plenty of funerals for people I know.

Whenever I preach to some of the gang members, they respect me because I’ve been free for 30 years. There was a guy who tapped me on the shoulder one day and I had owed him thousands of dollars for dope. He said to me, “I respect that you’ve found your way and I hope you continue on your path. But the moment you leave Jesus, your ass belongs to me.” Things like that keep me on the right path as well. (Laughs).

After being sober for over 30 years, are you still ever tempted to use?

If you went through the hell I’ve experienced in my addiction, you would never go back. Some of the executive producers at Oxygen say I’m too spiritual, but they don’t want to see the Ron Gibson demoniac. I was the devil incarnate. I won’t ever live through that again.

McCarton Ackerman is a regular contributor to The Fix. He last wrote about Politicians Arrested for Drugs.