How Prison Set Me Free
God reaches into the dregs of humanity and uses men and women who are despised by the world, giving Him glory for the change in their lives. I believe miracles happen every day and the greatest miracle is that of human conversion.
I never knew my real father. My mother had many husbands and I was dumped at my aunt and uncle’s when I was very young. They already had a house full of their own children – seven in all. Me, my bigger brother, aunt and uncle made 11 people living in one house.
I ended up claiming the closet as my own bedroom. I didn’t know enough to feel sorry for myself as a young child. I remember the only books I loved where encyclopedias.
When my mother finally did come for my brother and me, even if it was for a short time, we had a new step-father. In all those years and in all my mother’s different marriages, I never heard the phrase, “I love you.”
I never heard any praise or encouragement, but I did remember being screamed at, spit on, shouted at, and cussed out more than once. I also remember being beaten, being slammed to the floor, and one time I was spanked with a log from a stack of firewood.
Once, at age 10, I suffered a fractured skull. I became so hardened over time that I never gave my mom the satisfaction of crying when I was beaten.
My aunt and uncle must have felt sorry for me, for when I was with them, they never raised a hand against me and they never yelled or screamed at me and they never told me that I was worthless. My mother lied to the school and I started kindergarten at age 4 and wouldn’t be 5 until my birthday in November.
Today, most children whose birthday is in November and age is 5 would wait until next year and be 6. So I actually started school at 4 and I was always 1 to 2 years younger than all my classmates and needless to say, I struggled mightily in sports and academics. By the age of 16 I had graduated already but still being a minor I could only work on a farm.
What an arrogant young boy I was when I left home at 16. I had such hostility that I often got into fights with men who were much older than I was. I couldn’t stand even the slightest insult.
I flew off the handle at just about anything. I was a cocked gun with a trigger finger. I stole, I drank, and I used any drug that I could find. It seemed that I was taking life out on me and anyone who happened to be around.
I lived with a guy who sold drugs and stole anything that was not tied down to support his drug habit. I tried cocaine, acid, marijuana, alcohol of all kinds and I even mixed drugs at times.
It was amazing that I didn’t kill myself. I was at home one day and a police officer arrived at the house I was living in and said that he had a warrant for my friend and then he asked me my name. After I told him, he said that he had a warrant for me as well. So off to jail I went, this being the first of many trips to lockup.
After getting busted for yet another breaking and entering and possession of a controlled substance charge, I was taken before the judge who had gotten sick of looking at me and he sent me off to state prison. After serving there for about 2 years, I knew that I was getting ready to get out.
The only person who had ever visited me (I had only one visitor in 3 years) was my father-in-law. None of my actual relatives wanted to have anything to do with me and ironically, the only visitor I had was neither my family or my friends.
I remember nearing my release that I had no home, no car, no job (not likely to find one either being a convicted felon), and apparently no family. I was so down that the only way I could look was up. I attempted a feeble prayer but thought, who was I? I saw the trustee bringing books and at the very bottom of the stack there was a torn and tattered Bible. I asked him for it and signed to check it out.
Ironies of ironies I found that the God of the Bible was the only true source of freedom. For me, it took prison to be set free. I opened the Bible and read Psalm 22. Now this is called “scriptural roulette” and I do not recommend it when you want to find answers in the Bible, but apparently God had planned this as a special circumstance and I didn’t know any better.
Below are a few of the verses in Psalm 22 that foretells of Christ’s torment and abandonment on the cross, which I didn’t realize at the time. Imagine what I felt when I read these verses. I thought they were written for me!
Psalm 22:1 – “God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”
Psalm 22:2 – “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.”
Psalm 22:6 – “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.”
Psalm 22:7 – “All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.”
Psalm 22:11 – “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”
Psalm 22:14 – “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax, it has melted within me.”
Psalm 22:19 – “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly to help me.”
After I read the verses, I cried and asked God to provide a way for me to get out into the world. It was a fearful thing getting out because, as most people might not realize, there was a strange comfort being in prison. All your needs were taken care of, there was structure, routine, work duties, meal times, time in the courtyard, and so on.
I was going from something that I knew well to an outside world that had rejected me. None of my friends even wrote me while I was in prison, not to mention my family. I had no idea what I would do after I got out.
There are miracles that are far greater than the parting the Red Sea, greater works than God making the sun stand still, more earth shattering than the Walls of Jericho falling. It is the miracle of human conversion.
The greatest miracle that may happen today may be the conversion of one single human soul. In fact, this may be the greatest miracle of all. This happens everyday and it happens when people come to the end of themselves. When all of the self-sufficiency disappears, when all of the pride of life is gone, when there is no one else to turn to but an unseen God.
The former alcoholic, the former drug addict, and after prison, the former homeless man had reached the end of his rope. I came to the end of myself. And there was God, waiting all the time.
When I think back on my life, coming from a broken home, having not even seen a picture of my father, what hope did I ever have? I was dumped by my biological mother. She could not find peace within her own soul. My brother and I were beaten.
We were bruised, battered, humiliated. And when I fled the coup of my aunt and uncles, I was mad. Mad at the world and I was ready to pay it back. But I really was only taking it out on myself.
If it could be smoked, I smoked it, if it could be shot up, I did it, if it was drinkable, I drank it, and if it was of value, I stole it. I ended up homeless, impoverished, no family, no money and finally in prison. I had reached the bottom. No one could have been more down, so the only way I could look was up.
A person so far down has only one way to go – and that is up. Armed only with my prayers and a sense of desperation, how could I get out of this mess I had made of my life? The answer is that God is still in the business of miracles. I am a living example of it.
When one sinner comes to faith in Jesus Christ, there is a renewal or regeneration of the mind. I needed a renewal alright. But what a powerful testimony to the power of God, that someone so far down in the depths of a living hell on earth, could be lifted up so high.
Human conversion fights through forces stronger than the forces of gravity or any power of nature. In creation, only physical matter was created and organized. In this spiritual birth (being born again), the carnal mind is regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
I was blind but now I could see, I was dead in my sins but now I was a new creation in Jesus Christ. What is the greatest miracle of all? I believe it’s that God gives us eternal life through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and a heart of stone is made into a heart of flesh by God Himself.
I went on to complete two college degrees and today I am working towards a master’s in seminary. I am a blessed father and grandfather and I know it. I make certain and tell my wife and my children every single day that I love them.
Today, I have only one left in the nest since my other children have grown and now have their own children. I went from a disaster to a pastor, but believe me, it was not by my own hand.
Miracles still happen today and in fact every Christian has gone through a regeneration and a renewal of the mind (Romans 12:1-2). That a former criminal and sinner like me could be forgiven and given the righteousness of Christ is just amazing to me.
2 Corinthians 5:21 – “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
If that’s not a miracle, what is? This is the kind of a miracle that could only be achieved by God Almighty and I believe it is the greatest miracle of all.