I was only 14 years old when the police came and arrested me and my friend. He was much older and I’d learned to steal cars, motors, transmissions, and anything we wanted — until we got caught.
The judge sentenced me to a foster home with jail time on weekends. But that didn’t last long. I was eventually sent to St. Anthony’s, the hardest juvenile prison in the state of Idaho at the time where I spent 6 months and 3 weeks. I was angry at my parents and the world at large. Left alone, anger eventually turns into hatred and soon I hated myself and everyone else around me.
After I was released on strict parole, I worked for my father and got my own car. But I continued in my path of destruction and went back to my lifestyle. This time I started using harder drugs such as crack cocaine which is highly addictive. Every time I got drunk I wanted it and would do whatever it took to get it.
I had no purpose in life other than to get high. Using the drugs numbed the pain in my heart and for however long it lasted it helped me escape my reality. One day when I was about 23, I met a guy in a pub in Idaho who wanted me to help him rob some drug dealers in Maryland. I agreed.
When we got to Maryland we found the drug dealers and ransacked their house, took their money and used crack cocaine for several days. We then kidnapped the drug dealers and used their credit cards to stay at a hotel smoking crack the whole time.
What we didn’t know was that the police had been watching these dealers for a while, and we were soon arrested and locked up at the Montgomery County Detention Center, in Rockville, Md.
The charges against me included kidnapping, armed robbery, robbery and handgun charges. Suddenly, I was facing a total of 350 years in prison for all my crimes with a half-million dollar bail.
By now, I had become a violent, hardened criminal and being in jail did not bother me as it had when I was younger. I gambled and even ran a 2 for 1 store on the inside where I bought and sold stolen stuff from the kitchen. Drugs were also fairly easy to get.
The inmates called me “Freddy Kruger” and I used my scars to intimidate them and often got into fights.
It was here where the late, cold prison food had set me off and I ended up sitting in solitary confinement. And maybe for the first time, I began to realize how low I’d reached.
The kindness of a little old man
An elderly man who visited the county jail came by my prison cell. I’d seen him before and remembered how the inmates would mock him, insult him, spit on him and even throw their urine on him. But he kept coming week after week. I think at the time I met him, Brother Tabler was in his 70s.
That day when I was sitting alone in my cell, he stopped and asked if he could pray for me. I had nothing to lose and so I said, “Sure, why not?”
He told me that God loved me and that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for my sins and that I could have a relationship with Him. He prayed for me and then, he asked if I’d like to pray for myself? Repeating what he said, I prayed a simple prayer asking God to forgive me of my sins and to come into my life.
I had seen religious people all my life but what I saw in Brother Tabler were eyes of love. He had nothing to personally gain from coming to the county jail but he came faithfully whether anyone listened to him or not.
The Bible says that the kindness of God leads to repentance. The kindness of God through that little old man lead me to repentance. No one had to tell me that I was a criminal. I already knew that. What I didn’t know was that God loved criminals like me so much that He sent His one and only Son into the world.
That day in the county jail, March 6, 1990, when I prayed that prayer with all my heart, God began a work in me that He is continuing to this day. I had never known what love was and for the first time, I knew that someone loved me – that God loved me just as I was.
That was nearly 30 years ago and were it not for the grace of God, I’d be lying dead in a gutter somewhere or be locked up in some state penitentiary. But God in His infinite love, had mercy on me and gave me a new life — one full of hope, joy and love.
I’ve had the privilege of sharing the Good News of Jesus just as Brother Tabler did with me — in prisons, in children’s homes, in hospitals, on the streets and wherever God opens doors. And I’ve had the joy of seeing precious souls come into the Kingdom of God.
Fifteen years ago, God blessed me with a wife who fears the Lord, and we have three amazing kids.
Friend, you may not be sitting in a physical prison cell but perhaps you live in prison of fear, shame, rejection, bitterness or unforgiveness. Christmas is about Jesus who came to set the captives free! I pray today would be the day that you begin your new life with Him.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Jn. 8:36
To God be the glory!
This post has been adapted from our booklet, The Freak, which you can buy on Amazon (click here).