by: Kierstin Hill
Adam Riojas spent 14 years in level 4 federal prison for a crime he did not commit. His father committed a murder in LA and inaccurate evidence was able to place Adam at the scene of the crime.
Adam, an Oceanside High School graduate, was an extremely successful real estate agent living in Hawaii when he was arrested the first time. He was detained in solitary confinement and interrogated non-stop for three days straight, but did not know any answers associated with the murder. After three days, he was released and did not think much of it after, because he knew those days had just been a mistake. Eight months later he was arrested in Hawaii again and this time was immediately sent to LA County Jail. He was offered a plea – if he told the detectives who actually committed the murder, he would be set free. Only problem was, he didn’t know who did it.
Adam did not talk to anyone in LA County Jail – he was angry, he was innocent, he wanted to be set free. One day an inmate handed Adam the Bible and said, “I can see that you are angry and troubled. God can help you.” Adam threw the Bible back at him and said “God? There is no God. God wouldn’t incarcerate someone who didn’t commit a crime.” After thinking about it a few days, Adam picked up the Bible and read it cover to cover. Then again, and again. He read the Bible five times that first year in jail and truly found God.
After his first year in LA County Jail, Adam was transferred to a Level 4, high-security federal prison. He wrote letters to Christian publishers and told them his story and asked them to send him their books. He filled his time by studying the Bible and reading various Christian literature.
While in prison, Adam recalls he would yell in the hall “Okay guys, we’re going to talk about Jesus right now!” At first he received quite a few explicit comments back, but a handful of people started listening. Pretty soon that small group of people grew and grew and Adam had formed his first congregation. The Chaplain of the prison approached Adam and said “I don’t usually do this with inmates, but I want to ordain you as an inmate pastor.” Adam accepted and quickly became an extremely successful inmate pastor. Traditionally, a good day in the church would have 20 people in the room, but when Adam was preaching a room of over 500 people was standard.
During his 14 years in prison, he was transferred six times and earned a total of 12 vocational licenses, which equates to two PhD’s. Adam always remained the most popular pastor at each different prison and continued to pull record number crowds at his services.
In 2004, Adam’s father was in a coma and dying. Out of nowhere, his father woke up from the coma and shouted “I’m guilty, my son should not be in prison. I did the crime.” A witness heard and Adam’s mother hired a private investigator. After an investigation, his case was submitted to the Board of Prison Terms. His case was reviewed and the Board found him not guilty. The California Innocence Board fought on Adam’s behalf and soon after, Adam was a free man again.
After his time in prison, Adam moved back to North County and started work as a general contractor. Ironically, the vocational skills he learned in prison made him the perfect candidate to become a successful handyman. He opened his own business and within two years, had twenty employees and was able to buy a few properties. However, he still didn’t feel like he was doing what he was called to do.
A regular at Calvary Chapel Oceanside, Adam was approached by the senior pastor and was asked to become a pastor at that church. He accepted and completed a four-year internship program in just one year. He helped to grow the church membership by leaps and bounds and enriched the lives of those who attended his services. Even with his success at Calvary Chapel, he still felt as though that was not his true calling.
Adam always felt as if God called him to open his own church, but he did not know much about the backend of running a church. However, after a series of events, Adam opened ‘At The Cross’ church in Oceanside and is currently the Senior Pastor. At The Cross Oceanside currently meets at Oceanside High School and has two services on Sunday mornings at 9:00 am and 11:00 am.
This story was featured in the 2015 edition of Oceanside Living Magazine: Unique People and Places. The entire magazine can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/OceansideLiving2015