Being accused of a white-collar crime, it was January 23, 2015, when I was sentenced for a minimum of 11-1/2 to a maximum of 23-1/2 months in the Union County Prison. As I was being escorted from the courtroom to the prison, without even being able to say goodbye to my wife and family, I realized that my life would never…never be the same. Little did I know how much my life would change.
I was escorted to the “Sally Port”, an area of the prison where you remove your street clothes, which are put into storage, and you’re searched from head to toe for any type of contraband that you may have hidden in your ears, mouth, nose, arms, feet, or any other small crevice or area of your body. Once the guards are satisfied with your body search, you’re given prison clothes and a pair of “Bo Bo’s”, which are a pair of shoes worn in prison. After the guards gave me my toiletries, I was escorted to the cellblock area of the prison. To see and hear that large steel-barred door, the one that locks and separates the inmates from the general public, was an experience I’ll never forget. At that time, I realized, I was going prison. A place where I couldn’t talk to and hold my wife, chat with my three great kids and their wonderful wives and husband, or play and tease my grandkids, I was in prison, I was incarcerated!
I can’t explain the emotions and thoughts that raced through my mind. Who’s going to take care of my wife? Who’s going to console my kids when they need someone to talk to or get advice from and who’s going to hold my grandkids when they fall off their bikes or take them to the local ice cream shop for our weekly family ice cream run? Who will take my place to manage the businesses that God had blessed me with? Who…who will take my place? As I look out into the audience, I sense, by your facial expressions, that some of you have been incarcerated or at least know someone who has been. You and only you know what I’m describing. Being incarcerated strips you of your self worth and your personal identity. I frequently asked myself, “Is this a dream?” This can’t be happening to me…but it was. Since I was never incarcerated before, this was a whole new experience. Fortunately, God was looking out for me from the first day to the last day of my incarceration. He had a plan for my life! One that I never would have ever imagined He would have used me for.
It was approximately a week into my incarceration when I sensed myself slipping into a deep state of depression. I was concerned, because I knew this feeling from an event that had happened to our family previously, when my oldest daughter was taken home to be with Jesus at the early age of 24. This intense depression, if allowed to reach its ultimate level, could make an individual react to present life challenges in a manner that would lead to a place of no return! That night I went back to my cell early from the “Day Room”. That’s an area where we, the inmates, would have our meals and watch television. I quickly fell asleep.
As I was sleeping, I started to dream. When reading the Bible, we see many examples where God will use dreams to communicate with you. Many times God will warn us of something or someone. Other times He will give us an answer to a prayer we’ve been waiting for and then even other times, He will show us where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do with our lives from that point on. That’s what happened to me. In my dream, I was walking on a road. As I was walking along, the road split in two separate directions. Looking down the one direction, I saw a road filled with anger, self-pity, and earthly reasons why I should blame God for my present situation. But the other direction seemed peaceful, a road that didn’t have all the answers to life, but a road where I felt God’s presence and protection. I chose the peaceful road, the direction where God was. A road that didn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be challenges ahead, but a road that assured me that no matter what life would have for me, God would ultimately protect and direct my every move.
At 59 years old, I thought that I had lived a good portion of my life. That night, I realized that my life was just about to begin! The emotions I felt that evening were fear, out-of-control, dependency rather than independence, but I also felt peace. That’s right…peace! Something I had never truly felt in my life before. Up to that point, I always had to be in control, but now all self control was stripped away from me and the only one I could look to…was Jesus. Sure, I’ve always been taught that we must lean on God entirely, but do any of us truly do that? I know I didn’t. In fact, many times I would move forward in life and only ask for God’s help when I was in trouble. Now I didn’t have a choice. Either I would follow Satan down his crooked and deceitful road or trust God to lead me in the direction that would give Him All The Glory. Something I never truly understood before, until that night.
I remember waking up early that morning, about 2:00 to 3:00 am. All the other inmates were still sleeping. I felt as if God was sitting right beside me! The peace I mentioned earlier was even stronger, stronger than I ever felt before in my life! Can you imagine…finding peace in prison? I did. Apparently, God needed to get my attention.
Years ago, God asked me to give my heart to Him and serve Him full-time. I gave Him my heart, but I never was willing to commit my entire life to Him to serve and honor Him and do what He had planned for me. Well, I guess God got tired of waiting for me and it took me going to prison to wake up and pay attention to what He really needed and wanted me to do. During that early morning, I finally gave my entire life to God and asked Him to use me as He wished.
The next morning came. I thought it would be a normal day, but boy was I wrong. My one cellmate whose nickname was “Cup Cake” immediately started telling me his entire life’s story. He told me how his father was never there and then when his mother and dad finally got divorced, his life began a downward spiral. Shortly after the divorce, Cup Cake was introduced to his mother’s new boyfriend. “This is the man who is suppose to take my father’s place?”, Cup Cake asked himself. Well, as in many divorced families, the kids are affected the most. Cup Cake didn’t feel part of the family anymore, in fact at one point, his “new dad” told him he had to sleep outside of the house since he was now paying the bills. How would you feel being thrown out of the only home you had ever known? Affairs with other men, drugs, and drinking parties became Cup Cake’s new family, lifestyle, and home. He told me that he felt like he was in prison. Nowhere to go and feeling trapped in his new horrendous life style, he was incarcerated.
That same day, one of the other inmates asked to talk to me. He shared with me how his addiction to heroin forced him to commit 47 retail thefts throughout Pennsylvania to support his daily habit. His habit was costing him $250 to $300 a day. With tears in his eyes, he asked me if I could show him a way to quit. He also felt trapped and incarcerated, before ever stepping inside a prison.
Within days another one of the inmates disclosed his homosexual tendencies to me. He was drugged by a local businessman on a weekly basis, then was driven to New York City and sold each night for $1,000 to wealthy New York businessmen, as a male prostitute. He felt suicide was his only option to be released from his personal prison.
I shared with these men that they were at this specific prison, at this specific time, for a specific reason. That reason was to find Jesus Christ. God was quickly showing me the need to share his forgiving and eternal salvation with these men. I finally realized that my life had purpose, I was God’s messenger in the Union County Prison. As the days became weeks and the weeks became months, inmates began to parade to my cell, a place that wouldn’t judge them of their past sins, but a place where they could come to hear about the joy and peace that only Jesus can offer. Counseling for several hours a day became my new purpose. Most of the men felt they could finally trust someone to share their most personal secrets, fears, and concerns.
Early during my incarceration, I met a 20-year old inmate that I felt had a church background. I would say hello, without him knowing me at that time. I watched how he was always concerned that each of the guys was doing the best they could under the circumstances. He was always there to give a helping hand. One day as I was walking to the “Day Room” and I was passing this inmate’s cell, I noticed he was on his knees praying. I didn’t want him to open his eyes and see me staring, so I kept on walking. Several days later, right after breakfast, I was walking by his cell again and noticed he had a Bible in his hands and had his head bowed in prayer. This time, I made up my mind I was going to stand there quietly until he was finished with his prayer. When he finished praying, he opened his eyes and saw me quietly waiting. By this time, he knew my name and I knew his, but to protect his identity I’ll call him Alan. He asked if he could help me. I told him how I had passed his cell several days before and noticed him praying. He told me how he started praying everyday for the last several months for each of the inmates, their families, the guards, courthouse employees, their families, and that God would use him to make a major change within the Union County Prison. He said that he was beginning to feel that his prayers weren’t being answered, so he asked God to send someone to help him with this mission.
Well, I don’t know if I was that person in his prayers, but I do know from that point on, Alan became like a son to me. Everyday, we would pray together. I felt God was telling me to mentor this man, because God had a greater plan for him. God would show me scriptures that would pertain to a new Christian’s growth. I would share and explain each scripture and how I thought God was using His word to mature this young man to become a great man of God. I quickly realized that revival would never have taken place in the Union County Prison if one young man, Alan, wouldn’t have got on his knees and humbled himself before the Lord. Prayer is always the first ingredient to ALL blessings and miracles from God.
One night, I had another dream. In the dream, God showed me how Alan was standing before a great multitude preaching and teaching His word. I awoke early that morning and I couldn’t wait until the lights came on to go to Alan’s cell and ask him an important question. As soon as I could, I rushed to his cell and told him to sit down. I explained to him the dream I had the previous night and how God had shown me the great multitude of people that he, Alan, was speaking to. By this time, he was crying. I continued to share with him how I felt that I was God’s messenger and that I had to ask him question. I looked him straight in his eyes and asked, “Has God ever asked you to become a pastor and/or an evangelist?” With tears flowing down his face, head down, I heard a soft response, “Yes.” He explained how years before, he was at a church youth gathering. There, God asked him to follow Him, for He had great things that needed to be done. But in Alan’s youth he wasn’t ready to make that commitment. Within months, he was arrested for drug and alcohol abuse. From that point on, his life took him to where he was today…in prison, he was incarcerated! He was in the county prison, waiting for his final sentencing. I knew then that God had orchestrated this specific place, this specific time, with this specific man to start a ministry never before seen in the Union County Prison.
During the next several months, Alan and I organized Bible studies behind the bars. We had a “foot washing” ceremony using my plastic clothing tote to hold the water, demonstrating the humility that Jesus had and wants us to have towards our fellow man. We had the first baptism and communion service using powered cherry drink and bread saved from our dinner trays, that the jail had ever experienced. 2015 Easter service is one I’ll never forget. Eleven inmates either accepted Jesus as their personal Savior for the first time or recommitted themselves to Him! After lights were out Easter evening, the inmate in the cell next to me, at approximately 2:00 a.m. in the morning, reached around the 6″ block wall separating our individual cells and asked me to pray with him. He saw how the other inmates, many of which he knew for years, accepted Jesus that night and he wanted the same peace. That evening, he accepted Jesus Christ as his eternal Savior for the first time! Each of these men was incarcerated in some way before they were ever sentenced to prison. Drugs, alcohol abuse, smoking, sex, pornography, disloyalty to a loved one, rape, stealing, murder, lying, greed, arrogance, cheating, covetousness, workaholic, gluttony, anorexia, bulimia, desire to be famous no matter the cost, are just a few incarcerations that they were experiencing.
It was like a bolt of lightning had just hit me! I realized that I’ve been incarcerated most of my life, long before the day I was ever sentenced to prison! My work consumed all my time and I never realized it! I thought how I would plan vacations around specific places just so I could see what business opportunities may be available. I would make reservations with my wife and family at restaurants in the communities where one of my companies had a building we were constructing. I would look at my cell phone during church so I wouldn’t miss any of my emails or texts and the list goes on. I was a workaholic! I had an addiction. I realized I had been incarcerated for many years and had never stepped inside of a prison. Life had placed me in shackles! I immediately began to cry, asking God to help release me from these chains that had me in bondage!
That day God started to show me how He would remove my shackles, one by one, if I would only follow Him entirely.
Do you have an addiction, does life have you in shackles, and do you feel incarcerated?
Then I realized that many individuals like you are also incarcerated and don’t even realize it!
Our prison ministry exploded from that day on! Before I was ever incarcerated at the Union County Prison, the Warden, who is a great man that truly cares for the inmates, had permitted three different religious groups to have Bible studies in the prison. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, the other inmates and I would attend the three Bible studies. It wasn’t long after I started to get involved in the weekly Bible studies, that God showed me another way to free me from my past bondage. By helping others with their personal, emotional, and spiritual needs, God was slowing freeing my chains of imprisonment!
Soon the teachers and pastors that were coming in for the Bible studies each week started to tell us how they could see a revival starting to happen within the prison. Some of these pastors had been coming into the prison for over 15 years and had never seen God work as He was at this time. They asked if there was anything else they and their church members could do. I immediately told them to pray for the inmates, the guards, and the courthouse and prison employees. So that night, they promised that every time one of them or their church members would pass by the prison or drive into Lewisburg, they would stop and take a moment to pray for God’s supernatural blessing. I knew then, it was time to put our “Jail House Church” into overdrive!
After one of our Bible studies, I went back to my cell and started to pray. I never went to sleep that evening. I prayed all night until God showed me what I should do next. He showed me how He wanted me to ask the inmates who were attending our Bible studies behind the bars to start leading Bible studies themselves. Early that morning I felt another level of peace and another form of bondage was forever released from me!
You see, when you ask God to forgive you of your sins, He doesn’t just forgive you, He asks you to help others, which in turn helps you! The next morning when Alan and I met for our daily talk and prayer time, I shared with him what I felt God had told me. He was excited! So, we wasted no time. We started to review the inmates’ names that were attending our Bible studies and made a list of those names that we felt would agree to study and then teach a specific Biblical topic. The next thing Alan and I did was to come up with various topics from the Bible that each lesson could be taught on. Folks… that’s when God opened the doors to Heaven within the Union County Prison! Each week we would have one, then two, and sometimes three or four Bible studies behind the bars! It seemed as if the guys couldn’t get enough of what Jesus had to say to them by reading and teaching from the Bible!
I thought it couldn’t get any better, until one night, before lights out, I heard a man praying loudly and with confidence, a prayer that only could be spoken through the direction and blessing of the Holy Spirit. As I walked closer to the voice, I saw one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen! There before my eyes was one of the new converts who just weeks before was considering suicide, and now filled with the Holy Spirit, was kneeling along side of another inmate, praying the Sinner’s Prayer with him! It was like Jesus was standing right beside me with the key to unlock my last shackle that I had felt for so many years!
Are you starting to see how God works? I realized that God is not only concerned about you and I, He’s concerned about the millions of folks who are lost and need to hear about the amazing free gift of salvation. Every time you share the gospel with someone else, God rewards you with peace, self worth, and freedom. You can be sentenced for life in prison, and be the freest man or woman alive if you have Jesus in your heart! Our Bible studies became more detailed and blessed as the inmates and I dug deeper and deeper into the Word.
Maybe I should stop here and explain something. God has blessed my wife and I with four beautiful children and two beautiful daughter-in-laws and one son-in-law. We have also been blessed with nine grandchildren. But, let me inform you, since I’ve been incarcerated at the county prison, God has blessed me with more sons, which I refer to as my “Boys”. My “Boys” or the other inmates who I learned to love as sons are going to make a difference in this world someday because of the commitment they made to Jesus Christ as their personal Savior while in prison. God showed me, that until I gave Him everything and dedicated my whole life to Him, I would never, I mean never be totally released of my incarcerations. It wasn’t until the last several months of my stay at the county prison that God finally released me from ALL of my self-made imprisonments.
Are you incarcerated today?
Over the years, have you been sentenced to life’s prison? Has God asked you to do something else with your life and you looked the other way? Let me give you some advice. Don’t wait until it’s too late like I did and be sentenced to man’s prison. Let Jesus show you how He can wash ALL your sins away and release you from those shackles and chains of life today! Knowing that when you die, you will be free forever!
So let me ask you, are you addicted to drugs, do you have a problem with alcohol, smoking, sex, pornography, are you disloyal to a loved one, have you been raped, have you stolen from someone, have you murdered before, is lying, greed, arrogance, cheating, love of money, covetousness a daily problem, are you a workaholic or a sport-a-holic, a glutton, anorexic, bulimic, or do you desire to be famous no matter the cost? If you answered, “Yes” to any of these questions, you are incarcerated! Let Jesus today give you the key to release you from life’s shackles, forevermore freeing you of incarceration and finally give you total peace.