Mobster mom: I was born in 1947. I grew up in the Bronx, New York, with my mom, dad and two cousins; AB, who was five years older than me, and Betty, who was 15 years older. I’d heard that Betty had a kid, but I’d never seen the child. My mom, I found out much later, was involved with organised crime; she was a bookie. She was also very angry and abusive towards me. She never hugged or kissed me, she often beat me. My father was a courier for the Post Office. He never beat me. We lived in a part of the Bronx that not many black people lived in before urban renewal, so most of the people I grew up with were white. Mom and dad, and a couple of aunts and uncles, lived in two family houses. We always had money, but I never knew where it came from. It obviously wasn’t from what my dad was earning. Betty lived a very promiscuous lifestyle and I saw things little boys shouldn’t see. When I was 12, we moved to a house in New Jersey but kept the house in the Bronx. We also had a place in the Hamptons, Long Island. When I was 13, I came home to find my mom’s friends in the house. They said, “Bill, we have bad news, your mom had a massive heart attack and died today.” Mad, glad or sad: I took my dog for a walk and cried. I didn’t know whether I was mad or glad or sad, but I felt sure some of the craziness would change now. When I got back, AB asked why I was crying. I told him it was because mom had died and he said, “So what? She’s not your real mother. Your real mother is Betty.” That’s how I found out my biological mother was the girl I thought was my cousin. I found out later that Betty had been raped when she was 15 by a guy who was 25. Betty wanted to have me aborted, but the lady who did illegal abortions talked her out of it. That lady became my godmother. So I was raised by Betty’s aunt and uncle. I think Betty thought that now the secret was out I could be her son, but I didn’t want her as a mother. She was very frustrated by that and used tremendous profanity. In retrospect, I understand why. She’d lived in a house watching me call someone else mommy, watching them abuse me and not being able to do anything. Trouble with authority: I had a lot of anger issues as a result. I went to an all-boys high school. I was a good athlete and played football, but I was sparking out: I wouldn’t go to class, I was running around. Daddy let me have the car, which was a big mistake because it meant I did the things I wanted to in school – maths, English and football – and then I played truant. I had a lot of behavioural problems. I began dating my high-school girlfriend, Claudia, but I wasn’t faithful. When the football season ended in my senior year, I quit school and was hanging out with a crew. They were going down a bad road – committing bank robbery and murder. I was starting to gravitate in that direction, so I joined the military, in 1966. The United States was at war with Vietnam, but I ended up in Korea, in the military police. I was always getting into trouble for my behaviour, for kicking against authority. I realise now the reason I did that was because, as a child, my main authority figure abused that position and I wasn’t going to let anyone do that again. That doesn’t go down well in the military. Switching service: Betty died when I was in the military. She’d continued to abuse alcohol and drugs and had a stroke. She’d got married and when I went to her funeral, her husband said, “What are you doing here? It’s your fault she’s dead.” I was 20 years old. I didn’t know what to do with that. It felt like another bomb had dropped on me. I got married to Claudia when I was in the service. When I got out, in 1969, I joined Project Transition, which helped people transition from the military. Once you graduated, you could go in any police department in New Jersey or New York that did not have its own academy. There was a lot of racial unrest; Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. I ended up going to White Plains – they needed black police officers because of race riots they’d had there. The naughty list: Although I was a decent cop, I was still very rebellious and did stupid stuff – drinking and taking drugs. I got into trouble. In 1974, a white cop friend, who was just as rebellious as me, was fired. I felt they had fired him first so I couldn’t pull the race card when they fired me. By this point I’d had two sons with Claudia and didn’t want to lose my job. I went to the chief of police and asked what I needed to do to get off the “Bobo list”. He said, “Shut your mouth and get a haircut.” I got my afro cut, trimmed my moustache and shut up. A year later, I was promoted to detective. At the time, they didn’t have any black detectives. I started as a youth detective, juvenile delinquency was a pretty big problem. I was good at dealing with kids on the street. Set free: By 1980, I was an alcoholic, always angry, and being verbally abusive to my wife and kids. One December afternoon, in 1980, I was at home watching a preacher on TV and he said, “Are you a sinner?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you know Jesus?” I didn’t. I called the telephone number on the TV screen and a man explained to me the love of Jesus Christ. I prayed with that man and received Christ into my heart. I was totally and completely set free from drugs and alcohol, and felt a peace I’d never had before. My wife came home to someone totally different. It was unbelievable. That day was a complete setting free. I had gone to a black church before, but it never made sense to me. Now it did. I went back to work a completely different officer, I was trying to tell everyone about Jesus and driving people nuts. It took a couple of years before I levelled out. Called to preach: One day, in a very spirited Pentecostal service, I went to the back of the church and raised my hands, praising the Lord, and God spoke to me. He said, “I’ve called you to preach my word.” Then he wrapped me in an electric coil, that’s what it felt like. I told my pastor the Lord had called me to preach. He said, “Are you sure it was the Lord?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You’ll preach next week.” And that’s how I got started. Our church was part of an organisation called Greater Emanuel. They encouraged me to take a minister’s licence test, which I passed. A year later, I preached at the Children’s Village, a residential centre for emotionally disturbed boys outside New York City, and the chaplain asked me to be her associate. I took the job in 1986, but I didn’t realise how much of an issue I had with women in authority. No one was going to tell me what to do, especially not a woman. We clashed all the time. We are the products of people who loved us and people who did not love us, and we carry this stuff around Reverend Bill Paige One day she said, “What kind of a mother did you come from?” I drove away and thought about it: two moms, they screwed my life up, they were both dead and I’m still p***ed off. Then these words came out of my mouth: “Mommy, wherever you are, I forgive you. Betty, wherever you are, I forgive you. Father, forgive me for what I allowed Betty to do to me.” And then I felt an incredible weight lifted. Talking to kids: I found it necessary to talk about this experience a lot and taught a programme called Therapeutic Crisis at Children’s Village. We are the products of people who loved us and people who did not love us, and we carry this stuff around. I also started preaching part-time at Young Life (an international Christian organisation for children). Meanwhile, I had transferred from being a detective to street crime. In 1990, I had a dream that I should leave the police and tell kids about Jesus. I handed in my notice that day. I joined the Young Life staff full-time, speaking at conferences and camps. I flew over two million miles just telling kids about Jesus. Married lives: In 1997, we found out Claudia was really sick. It was complete liver shut down and she deteriorated quickly. She got a liver transplant and lived for 16 more years. Claudia died in January 2014. Pam, a good friend of hers from church, came to help clean the house out because Claudia was a real hoarder. I asked the Lord if I should get married again and I heard these words, “It is not good for a man to be alone, especially you.” And so, 16 months after Claudia’s death we got married. She is 16 years younger than me. I’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2013 and it got worse after I married. I couldn’t walk across the room without being out of breath. I was put on the transplant list and, in 2016, had to leave Young Life because I couldn’t travel. Pam was a vice-president for Citibank and when they relocated her position to Florida, she couldn’t go because the transplant team was in New York. We both lost our jobs. I’m retired now, but people still call and ask me to preach – I came to speak to students at Hong Kong International School (in November). At 72 years old, you wonder how much time you have, but that’s not my business. God has sustained us and kept us and opened his doors for us.