My father taught me that if you get lost you should stop and ask for directions. For much of my life, I didn’t see myself as lost.
As I grew older and got married, I considered myself to have a respectable life. I tried to be of service to my community by sitting on boards and commissions, volunteering, and giving what I could. Slowly and unconsciously, however, I drifted away from God. My church attendance dwindled as other responsibilities got in the way.
I made excuses and fought against the nagging guilt that I was letting down my parents, who wanted me to have a strong faith life. Their approval was more important to me than my actual relationship with Jesus! My values became distorted to the point that I carelessly broke the law to satisfy my own selfish whims. I was caught and sentenced to federal prison. What had become of the life I worked so hard to construct? I had no idea.
Changing Directions. Here in prison many men grind out long, lonely days running from their mistakes and their demons. I wanted to take a different route, spending my time building and reflecting. That’s where my father’s advice came in. Prison life made it painfully obvious that I was indeed lost. I decided to “ask for directions” in the prison chapel. This spiritual support, and ultimately my relationship with the Lord, became the GPS of sorts for my life’s journey. I found the Sunday services to be uplifting and the chaplains to be caring men of God. But I found myself missing the sense of spiritual family that had embraced me in my youth.
I grew up in a rural middle-class neighborhood in the 1960s. My mother and father both worked to support my sister with special needs and me. Church was a central part of our community, and I spent nearly every Sunday in the pews singing the hymns and learning the prayers and creeds. From the church members’ interactions with my Down Syndrome sister, you could tell they loved her. Their acceptance showed me the power of love. But I never really drew a connection between the church members’ acts of kindness and God’s love for people.
One day, I heard about a special class that was being held at the prison in conjunction with the Easter season: Jesus’ Journey to the Cross. Through the encouragement of a good friend who was also the class facilitator, I signed up. I thought that if nothing else, it would give me something to do for an hour every Wednesday afternoon.
Jesus Makes a Difference. What resulted was the turnaround that I so desperately needed. God’s word served as the cornerstone of our lessons and sparked deep discussion and internal examination. Every man in our circle who was willing to take a real and honest look at himself experienced this. God’s presence was palpable in our midst. We talked about the sacrifices that Jesus made for us and the difference that gift can make in our lives.
As part of our classwork, we were encouraged to share our faith and search for ways to serve others in need here on the prison compound. It was through that exercise that the full weight of what God expects of me began to take root. Through these classes, I reflected on the eloquent example of Jesus himself who took on the burden of my sins. In the past, I had failed to grasp the importance of reflecting God’s mercy in my interactions with others. Now I realize that God wants me to offer mercy to the people around me every day as an ambassador for Jesus, just like the members of my home church loved my sister.
My father’s advice led me to the chapel, which led me to Jesus’ Journey to the Cross. That’s where my personal journey with Jesus began. This new road—and my closer walk with Jesus—changed my desires. I want God to use me for his purposes here in prison. Each night in my prayers, I thank God for his blessings, including the hidden one of sending me to prison, where I discovered his mercy and love. For more information about how the prison Bible study started, read the main article: Good Enough for God.