By the time Mino Pavlic was 25 years old, he had racked up roughly 50 criminal convictions as an adult. Almost 40 years later, he is as devout a Christian as they come, but that doesn’t mean he’ll sugarcoat the lessons in his weekly prison speeches.
“Give your life to God for the next nine months, and if you find out it’s not really your bag and it’s not working out for you, don’t worry about it, because the Devil will always take you back,” Pavlic will tell the incarcerated audience.
He said that ever since he started on a religious path in October 2006, he has had no need for parole officers who failed to straighten him out, the alcohol that fueled his anger and criminal activities for much of his life, or the drugs that eventually led to his positive HIV diagnosis. His account of it all can now be read in his autobiography From the Unimaginable to the Extraordinary, published by Word Alive Press.
“I was in the wilderness for 33½ years,” he recalled, making reference to the period of time that Jesus is said to have spent on Earth before his crucifixion. “When I let out that feeble plea, it was my 40th year of life.”
What led to this wild life of criminality and the things that come with it was a host of factors, starting when he was just a kid in post-war Europe. Following the death of a worker at a blasting site of his father’s business in 1955, the elder Pavlic was looking at 18 years in prison.
| Mino Pavlic sits at his kitchen table in Cloverdale.
Thinking there may be political forces at play, he escaped and fled with his young wife, Katica, to Austria, where Mino would be born the following year.
“My given name was Miodrag, which meant ‘sweet and dear,’” writes Mino in his autobiography. “It would be tough living up to that name, as I was anything but sweet and dear.”
Shortly after the birth of his son, Mino’s father tried to sort out his troubles at a Yugoslav consulate, but as Mino rumours, it ended up with his father having to jump out of a window so that staff could not apprehend him.
“Whether this story is accurate, the facts of the following twenty years give it considerable credibility, for after I was born we crisscrossed Europe and continued into Canada, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand,” he writes.
“In all appearances, it would seem my father wasn’t only running from something, but possibly someone.”
Eventually, after a failed attempt to put down roots in New Zealand, the family’s travels led them to Vancouver in 1969.
Once there, they settled into a somewhat stable life, but it would be short-lived. Mino went back to Yugoslavia for schooling because of the language barriers, and his parents went through an ugly divorce, leading to his mother’s own flight from the family.
Mino’s entry into crime started after he drunkenly totaled six cars, including his own in the spring of 1973. The incident left him with no car, and he began committing burglaries to afford his drinking habit.
“That was May 1973, a month whose significance didn’t mean anything to me at the time, but in the distant future it would be as powerful and impactful as a crack of thunder,” Pavlic writes.
For the next 25 years, he would be in and out of prison for crimes ranging from theft to assault to numerous prison escapes, all the while supporting his alcohol and drug habit. In 1998, however, Pavlic met a 41-year-old single mother named Debby, whom he called an angel and a miracle.
For the next four years in which they were together, Pavlic didn’t touch any drugs. In 2005, he also quit drinking. He said finding God and having Debby in his life, however briefly, got rid of any need for booze or drugs.
“The addiction was miraculously gone, as though it never existed,” he writes.
Debby died of cancer in 2002 and though her loss was tough for him, Pavlic carried on. He seeks out happiness in his faith and says his dog Foxy fills any emotional voids he may experience from time to time.
Today, the Cloverdale resident holds speeches at various prisons in the Vancouver area, telling his life story and how he found a way out of the wilderness of crime and destruction. His HIV is also under control since starting experimental medical treatment in the mid-1990s, though he also credits this to divine intervention since doctors have said frequently he should not expect to live for much longer.
“Once you realize you have the disease, you’re on a brand new playing field and rules have changed,” said Pavlic, who tells those with HIV that in order to salvage what is left of their lives, they have to make a hard choice.
“Everything else that you though to be true, throw it out the window. [There is] a new rule book.”