Clinton would pull his car up in front of Tree of Life Baptist Church in Watts and drop Witherspoon at the door.
"He'd be ready to go home, and I would ask why wasn't he staying," Henry says. "He'd say, 'I'll be here next Sunday.' And the next, and the next. . . ."
One day, Clinton kept his word.
"Rev. Henry I guess always saw something in me," Clinton says of the man he considers a spiritual mentor. "The first thing I did was join the choir. I guess that was the way."
Henry heads Tree of Life's departments of evangelism and music, and he spends much of his time with the church's young members, many of whom have only one parent to give them guidance.
Henry has helped many find their way to Christ but says he is realistic about the difficulties they will have following in the footsteps of Jesus: "I'm scared when they become instant Christians. It don't happen overnight with nobody."
It's enough that they grow in it every day, as Clinton has, Henry says, and he wishes more would do the same. "You've got so many of our young men who don't want to turn loose what's out in the world," he says. "It's hard to do your brother in when you're got the fear of God in you."
Clinton is no saint and doesn't pretend to be. He oversleeps from time to time, missing Sunday School. And on more than one occasion, the Voices of Watts choir has been ready to sing when Clinton has darted in late, racing to his seat, his robe rustling behind him.
A tall, handsome man with skin the color of caramel, Clinton tries to ignore the romantic ballads he used to love, popping a gospel tape into the cassette player instead. But some songs he can't resist, such as Shanice Wilson's "I Love Your Smile."
Most of the time he seems like any other young man, except when he spends a sunny afternoon in his mother's back yard, reading the Bible instead of playing ball. Or when he quotes Scriptures to a stranger the way other young people recite baseball scores.
So it wasn't a surprise when Clinton stood before the congregation, his heart pounding, his hands on fire, and said he would become a minister.
Clinton says he had had dreams in which he saw himself at the pulpit; moments in which he leafed through the pages of the Bible and found his finger resting inexplicably on passages that spoke of preaching.
He talked to his pastor for weeks about what he should do. And they decided that Clinton had no choice--if he was being called, he had to answer.
"It's not something I want to be," he said later. "It's what I am. It's what God intended me to be."
The red chairs, where church members sit to make a statement or request a prayer, were pulled before the altar on that February Sunday. Clinton sat briefly in one, then stood and spoke.
"It was the most fearful day of my life," he remembers. "My whole body was shaking.
"I told everybody if I was going to call myself a Christian, I have to carry a cross and take part in the ministry." He will be ordained later this summer.
Henry understands. "His thing is he's gone through so much wrong that he don't want to go that way no more."
But the minister also has words of caution: "Just because you accepted Christ don't mean all your troubles are going to go away."
It hasn't been difficult to leave behind the crack sales, Clinton says; a former partner makes an offer, you shake your head no and walk away.
But there are more difficult temptations to resist, much harder tests to pass. Those that present themselves in a moment of rage, when you want to strike out. Those that come when you are with a loved one, lying in the dark. Those that enter your life and turn your world upside down, leaving you standing there, looking heavenward--and asking why.
A few months ago, Clinton found out Witherspoon was pregnant.
It was unplanned, and Clinton says that conflict briefly rumbled inside him when he discovered that he and his girlfriend had conceived out of wedlock. But Clinton reasoned with himself--"We don't change overnight. Somebody would be lying if they said they did"--and the rumbling passed.
Witherspoon is pretty and 17, with long braids and a year to go before high school graduation. Clinton wants to marry her, and the child has solidified his commitment.
He hits the pavement daily, hustling to find a job to support himself and his budding family. He looks for full-time work in the evenings so he can continue going to Compton Community College. He wants to work in an office, typing or fiddling with computers.
Before long, Clinton just wanted something, anything at all.
Again, he reasons. It's hard to find work in a recession, with no college degree, in the shadow of riots. So he keeps searching.
It's much harder to reason away pain.
On the Sunday before Father's Day, Witherspoon miscarried their baby girl.