Year Born: 1974
Country of Origin: Albania
History: Thief, drug dealer, prisoner
I was born into a poor family in Tiranë, the capital of Albania. My father was an honest man who worked long hours to care for us. But we always seemed to struggle just to get by. As a boy, I was painfully aware of our poverty. For much of my childhood, I didn’t have shoes and didn’t always have enough food.
I started stealing at a very young age. I thought I was just helping to provide for the family. Eventually, I got in trouble with the police. So in 1988, when I was 14 years old, my father sent me to a reform school. I spent two years there and learned to be a welder. When I left, I wanted to make an honest living; however, I could not find a job. Unemployment was high because Albania was undergoing political turmoil. Frustrated, I fell in with old friends and started stealing again. Eventually, my friends and I were arrested and sentenced to three years in prison.
After my release from prison, I continued my career in crime. Albania’s economy had collapsed, and the country was in chaos. During those unsettled times, I made a lot of money from illicit activities. After an armed robbery in which two of my accomplices were arrested, I fled the country to avoid a long prison sentence. By then, I was married to my wife, Julinda, and we had a baby son.
We ended up in England. I had every intention of starting a new life with my wife and son, but my old habits were deeply ingrained. I was soon involved in crime again—this time in the drug trade, with large sums of money passing through my hands.
How did Julinda feel about my dealing in drugs? Let her tell you: “Growing up in Albania, I dreamed of escaping poverty. I was willing to try anything for a better life. I thought money would improve our lives, so I fully supported Artan with his lying, stealing, and drug dealing—anything to make money.”
Then, in 2002, our lives changed and our financial plans and dreams came to a sudden stop. I was caught carrying a large shipment of drugs and was imprisoned once again.
HOW THE BIBLE CHANGED MY LIFE
The Bible started to influence my life before I was even aware of it. Earlier, in 2000, Julinda had met Jehovah’s Witnesses and started to study the Bible with them. Discussing the Bible did not interest me because I thought it was boring. But Julinda loved it. She explains: “I come from a religious family, and I loved and respected the Bible. I always wanted to know what it teaches, and I was thrilled to study the Bible with the Witnesses. Many Bible teachings made perfect sense to me. What I learned helped me to make some changes in my life. Still, there was little or no change in my attitude toward money—that is, until Artan got arrested. That was a wake-up call. Suddenly, I realized that what the Bible says about money is true. We had chased it desperately, yet it did not make us happy. I then understood that I needed to follow God’s standards completely.”
In 2004, I was released from prison, and soon I tried to get back into the drug trade. However, Julinda’s thinking had changed, and something she said really brought me to my senses: “I don’t want your money anymore. I want my husband back, and I want the father of my children to be here for them.” I was shocked, but she was right. I had spent years away from my family. I also thought about the many heartaches I had experienced as a result of chasing after money dishonestly. So I decided to change my ways and cut off contact with my old friends.
The real turning point came when I went with my wife and two sons to a meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was impressed by the sincere, friendly people that I met there. Eventually, I started to study the Bible.
I used to think that if we had plenty of money, we would find happiness
I learned from the Bible that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have . . . stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) How well I understood the truth of that scripture! I bitterly regretted the consequences of my previous life and the hurt it had brought to my family and me. (Galatians 6:7) When I learned of the love that Jehovah and his Son, Jesus Christ, have for us, I started changing my personality. I began to think less about myself and more about others, and this included spending more time with my family.
HOW I HAVE BENEFITED
I have benefited from following the Bible’s advice: “Let your way of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things.” (Hebrews 13:5) I now have peace of mind and a clean conscience. This has given me a joy that I never experienced before. My marriage is stronger, and my family has drawn closer together.
I used to think that if we had plenty of money, we would find happiness. Now I clearly see how crime and the love of money brought me much pain. We are not financially rich, but I feel that we have found something that is far more important in our lives—friendship with Jehovah God. Worshipping him unitedly as a family makes us truly happy.