Whatever It Takes

As I ponder the years leading up to the present day, a short assignment given to my ninth grade English class makes its way to the front of my mind’s eye. It was nothing significant, really. In fact, I don’t recall the teacher even grading the paper. But I do remember each student being handed a questionnaire entitled, “Where will you be in ten years?” We were then instructed to answer this question, along with several other related questions, concerning student expectations and prospects of potential status at the conclusion of the decade. Though I cannot say for sure exactly what I wrote, one thing is certain: Never in a thousand lifetimes would I have anticipated I’d be serving a 53 year prison sentence for murder in a state prison.
Obviously, a lot has happened since that carefree day in advanced freshman English class. I can hardly believe that more than ten years have come and gone. It is a truism that our earthly lives are but a vapor that “appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (Jas.4:14). Had I known then what I know now, I could have spared myself a great many days of evil. Only by the grace of God am I alive to tell my story. I was raised in church from a very young age. Like most other kids, I went because I had to. I never felt any special connection to God as a child, nor did I in my teenage years. The allures of this world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life ruled my young soul. I became sexually active, stopped going to church, and by age 16 was smoking a half pack of Newports a day. A pernicious marijuana habit progressively developed, followed by a raging sex addiction that involved both girlfriends and a steady diet of internet pornography. After high school, I got a job at a large musical instrument retailer and decided to pursue my dream of achieving rock stardom in the entertainment industry. I reasoned that I was smart enough to go to college later if the band didn’t work out. In my own mind, I had all the time in the world.
My outgoing personality, strong work ethic, and musical talent helped me become a top sales associate. This in turn afforded me the disposable income needed to live the fast life of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll that I so eagerly embraced. I supplemented my marijuana use with alcohol, oxycodone, and vicodin. I occasionally experimented with cocaine. Before I knew it, I was going to a clinic each week to be treated with prescription drugs for opiate dependency. By the world’s standard, I had everything a 20 year old could want: nice clothes, a new truck, a good job, a successful local band, various female sex partners, etc. However, I was hopelessly miserable. It may have looked good on the outside, like I had it together. Inside, I was dying.
In August of 2006, my poor lifestyle choices launched me into a deep depression that would forever change the course of my life. On top of the opiate “blocker” Suboxone (which actually got me just as high as the street drugs), the alcohol, and the marijuana, I had been abusing anabolic steroids for several months. When I stopped taking the shots, the crash was so bad I could hardly get out of bed. I actually wanted to die. One day at work, I became so irritated I decided to walk out on my boss, along with my band mate, friend, and fellow employee. All of this after he got angry over a minor fray with the store manager. Within a few weeks, I got a job working the door at a strip club. A couple of months later, I left there to do part-time construction. Shortly after, that door closed when the boss withdrew from the job site to pursue other endeavors.
It was somewhere around late October/early November when I met Ashley. She was a beautiful blonde 18 year old working as a stripper at a local club. We connected instantly, and within one week were having sex every day. I fell for her so hard it was almost supernatural, as though my will were taken captive under the power of a spell. I wanted to marry her, stop doing drugs, and enjoy a normal life. However, I was no match for the forces working against me. We used drugs together every day and planned to get married in the near future.
As the weeks passed, I became more and more disturbed by her occupation. She had already agreed to get another job, but we had just moved into an apartment together. I had many bills backed up from my interim between jobs. I felt utterly emasculated being dependent on a woman for income. The feelings of inadequacy dealt a serious blow to my manhood.This drove me further into drugs and alcohol. I landed a job at a mortgage company as a loan officer. I didn’t like it, quit, and got another job as a car salesman. Through the influence of a co-worker, an unseen force spawned in me a waxing interest in witchcraft and the occult. I began to “see” things in the spiritual realm and was on the verge of becoming a practicing warlock when the prayer finally came.
Drowning in a festering cesspool of depression, drugs, and sexual immorality- all alone, I knelt before the crucifix on my wall. Solemnly, with my head bowed, I said to God, “God, please do whatever it takes to fix my life.” That was it. That was all I knew to say. Three days later, I found myself in a solitary confinement cell charged with first degree murder.
Of course, I am in no way suggesting God caused me to respond the way I did. I have come to understand that sometimes God must allow us to act outside of His will of desire to honor His law of free will. Terrible atrocities not actively caused by God are often used by Him for a greater good. I do have contrition in my heart, and if there were any way to undo what was done, Lord knows I would. Never would I have planned or purposed to do such evil to another human being - two gunshot wounds to the head, multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest, throat lacerations, the victim’s corpse dumped in an alley. The whole ordeal was horrifying beyond belief. I felt like I was living a person’s worst nightmare.
The evening before the incident, Ashley and I had been doing ecstasy and cocaine (along with a host of other substances) at our apartment. Later, we were joined by the dealer from whom we had obtained the drugs. He spent the night on the couch. When I awoke the next day, I was confronted by Ashley in the hallway. She started to cry, as we went back into the bedroom. She told me the dealer had raped her while I slept. Things get a little hazy at this point. Though I could say much more, it is not the time to recount the lurid details.
One week after my arrest, I lost the will to live. I took a piece of broken glass from a light fixture in my cell and punctured my left ante-cubical vein. I lost over four pints of blood before I began lapsing out of consciousness.
My whole body began to tingle, and it became very hard to breathe. Within minutes, I would be dead. But as fate would have it, it wasn’t my time to go. Somehow jail staff discovered me in time. I was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where I received a blood transfusion and spent the night in intensive care.
Soon after returning to the jail, I was ready to pray. I knelt in my cell in front of the iron-barred window and poured out my heart to God. I told Him how sorry I was, and I meant it. I told him He could have me and that I would do whatever He wanted if He would only help me with my situation. Then it happened. A numinous power surged through my body, as the glorious presence of the Holy Spirit enveloped me in a wave of heavenly love. It was as though the Lord Himself were standing invisibly before me. I could not see Him, but I could feel Him. I felt loved unconditionally as a supernatural peace that transcends understanding rested on me. For the first time, I beheld with my spirit the face of infinite love, and I would never be the same again.
A copy of the New Testament made its way to my cell. As I read the four Gospels, the Living Christ stepped out of the pages and into my heart. He has been enthroned and reigning supreme in my life for over 5 years. I was appalled at the filthiness of my sin. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of the need for forgiveness and uncompromisingly resolute in my knowledge of the necessity of Jesus’s atoning death as the only means of procuring that forgiveness. This was so profound to me because I was previously convinced that the New Age school of thought – that there are many roads to God and that no single belief system is better than any other – was the right one. However, my encounter with the “One True God” left an indelible mark on my soul that would forever change my secular worldview. I believe with all my heart that Jesus was and is, in fact, the way, the truth, and the life. He is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. No one comes to the Father except through Him.
I know this not only because the Bible says so, but because I know Him personally. The veil has been lifted, and my faith has now become empirical knowledge. I have no need to place trust in a mere possibility, relying on anecdotal evidence and wistful sentiments of hope that “there might be a God out there somewhere.” The Lord Christ is real. He is not merely a psychological crutch summoned from the figments of an overactive imagination. He is the eternal son of the Most High, the Faithful and True Witness, and the Omnipotent Sovereign of the universe. He is to be feared exceedingly.
Sadly, many today have forgotten the power of the cross. The reality is that without the cross, there is no forgiveness, no life, and no hope. There is only death. Every day I depend on His might for the will to persevere in such a dark place. He is my rock and my salvation, my only source of hope. Without Him, I can do nothing. With Him, I can do all things.
Prison life is not easy. Yet, resting in the shadow of the almighty, I have watched divine providence guard me time and time again. In my 5 years of incarceration, I’ve been through a riot, endured numerous lockdowns, and spent extended periods in solitary confinement. I have endured sickness, intense heat, bitter cold, and hunger. I’ve watched beatings, stabbings, and robberies, I have nearly been in too many fights to count, all of which were avoided only through a divine impartation of restraining grace.
In spite of the difficulties, I was able to earn an Associate’s Degree in Biblical Studies through the Prison. I study my Bible regularly, enjoy memorizing scripture, and am presently composing an exhaustive theological treatise on the biblical doctrine of death and the afterlife.
I just became a lay leader at the Saturday afternoon worship service and am now living under the best conditions possible at a correctional institution. I always have plenty to eat and no longer suffer the extreme emotional and physical discomfort plaguing my first 3 to 4 years of incarceration. I now hate those things I used to love and love those things I used to hate. I desire holiness and conformity to the image of Christ. I have my heart fixed on attaining wise counsel and on being a positive influence in the lives of those around me. God is teaching me to love all men and to be patient with those who have not yet come to the knowledge of the truth.
My patience has been stretched to limits I never thought possible. I’ve learned to be kind to some of the most intractable, hard-to-love people. I’ve learned that there are times that I am hard to love too. God has delivered me from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, a proud heart, a filthy mouth, and all selfish ambition. I now live for the cause of Christ and His everlasting Gospel, to share with others the love and mercy He shared with me. There is no turning back now. Christ owns my soul. God has already shown me that prison is not the end of my story. In His perfect timing, the Lord will release me into my destiny, for He alone searches hearts and minds. God knows that I never meant for things to happen as they did. However, I understand that although God forgives, this forgiveness does not abrogate the earthly consequences of sin. Thus, I will bear my earthly judgment until the Lord sees fit to release me. Yet I receive much comfort in knowing that these few years of suffering are not even worthy to be compared with the glory that awaits us. It does not matter what we have done in this life. All that matters is what we believe about Jesus Christ: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).
Friend, my prayer for you is that you will allow God to build your platform with your pain. He will give you beauty for your ashes and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. We are all going to feel pain in this life. Do not let that pain go to waste. Pain is intended to cure us of our foolishness. Too many of us allow our pain to make us bitter instead of allowing it to serve its true purpose, which is to turn us from ungodly living. I had to learn the hard way what the apostle meant when he wrote, “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Peter 4:1, NKJV).
Sin is only fun for a season. It will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Often we are unable to free ourselves from the iron manacles of sin’s power once it takes root in our hearts. Satan has created an enticing world system. It is a system that mercilessly tantalizes, intoxicates, and panders to the depravity of our sinful nature. It is a lie and a deathtrap. There is no good to be gained by engaging in premarital sex, abusing drugs and alcohol, and viewing ribald entertainment. The fleeting pleasures of sin are not worth the untold suffering it will almost certainly bring, both now in this life, and in the life to come. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:23, NKJV).
“Beloved, do not be deceived. It is the fool who has said in his heart, ‘there is no God’”(Ps.14:1). This present world is coming to a sudden and dreadful end. Only those who are willfully blind fail to discern that we are living in the final hour of earth’s history. One day soon, the Lord Jesus Christ will split the eastern sky, and what person is then, is what he will always be (Rev.22:11). His holy apostles did not follow cunningly devised fables when they made known to us His power and coming.
The good news is that if you are reading this, it’s not too late for you. Ask Jesus to manifest Himself to you. He loves you, and He’s waiting for you with arms wide open. He will take you as you are. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He gave His life that you might live forever with Him. He will give you a new heart, a new mind, and life more abundantly. You will never be the same. Amen!