Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I was born in 1956 and lived on a farm with my parents and two sisters. My parents were sort of sharecroppers. Our rent was free but my dad had to farm the land, and my mom had to do all the ironing and work that normally black people did back then.
We moved to Lexington, Kentucky, when I was about five or six. I got into a lot of trouble at school because I had a speech problem. I stuttered really bad and people made fun of me, which caused fights. The teacher would always call on me to read, knowing I had a speech problem. I hated going to school. One day the teacher sent me home with homework, and I asked my mom and dad if they could help me. They told me they couldn’t read and write. I thought if they could make it without being able to read and write, then I didn’t need to go to school. I dropped out in the seventh grade because I got into trouble fighting.
I started hanging with guys in the streets when I was about 10. They were driving big Cadillacs. I didn’t realize what they were doing to get those cars. A couple of older guys liked me. They would give me silver dollars to watch the girls. They made their money on prostitutes and drugs. That was the only role models we had in those days. Drug dealers, pimps and thieves.
I was about 13 years old when I started stealing and robbing. I ended up going to about every juvenile institution in the state. At about 14 or 15, I was sent to Woodsbend Boys Camp. A young man lost his life there. They tried to charge me and another boy with the murder, but it didn’t happen the way they said it did. I wasn’t convicted, but that young man’s death haunted me for years. That was the first time I had been around somebody who died. When I got out of Woodsbend, I went back to stealing in the streets. My parents didn’t have much money and were struggling. I felt bad for them and I wanted to help them. There was a lot of racial tension and blacks were trying to find to their place in society. I still remember when a food train came into the city to give out food to people who couldn’t afford to buy it. I went with my mom and two sisters to get some food. My mom was next in line, but a white lady got in front and told my mom to go to the back of the line. That lady called my mom all kinds of names.
When I turned 18, I was charged with theft by unlawful taking and detaining a female. The young lady had been babysitting my sisters, and I picked her up to take her home. She told her mom that I made her do things but this was not true. They sentenced me to four years in prison, and I did 13 months. I got out in 1977. I went back to the streets doing all the wrong things. In 1979, I ended up with a five-year sentence for possession of a forged instrument. I got out in 1981; then got another charge for robbery and assault.
I was given a life sentence because of the new persistent felony offender law. I was told I would never get out of prison or see the outside world again. I was sent to a maximum security prison and saw a couple of people get killed. That changed my life. Something clicked in me. I thought about my mom and dad and that they never had an education. I thought, “I’ve got all this time. I should at least get my GED.” I didn’t get into any trouble. I studied and got my GED, then they transferred me to another prison for good conduct. I decided to try a college course and eventually got an associate degree. I got another degree for hotel management. I also learned a trade in furniture upholstery. The way I viewed people and life was changing. I was at this prison for 10 years before I was eligible for parole. They denied my parole and told me I would never be allowed to return to Lexington.
In 1992, I was transferred to Bell County Forestry Camp for good behavior. This was almost like a halfway house getting me ready to return to society. While I was there, I met a young lady and we began corresponding with one another. I explained to her that I couldn’t return to Lexington, which is where she lived. I asked if she would move to Frankfort, which is close to Lexington, and she agreed. I had been saving money all those years. I sent her money to get an apartment. She got the apartment and got in touch with a parole office in Frankfort telling him that I was going up for parole. He said that he wasn’t willing to allow me to come to Frankfort with my criminal record. She continued to talk to him and he agreed that I could come to Frankfort, but he wasn’t willing to let me move in with her without getting married.
I went to the chaplain at Bell County Forestry Camp, but he said he couldn’t marry us because they didn’t believe in interracial marriages. They let us go to another church to get married. We ended up being married for 21 years. During this time, we had a home and I had a good job where I worked for 17 years. But I got comfortable and complacent, thinking I wasn’t going to make a mistake. I ended up getting a DUI that violated my parole. I went back to prison for a year. I was out for another seven years, but then I got another DUI and went back to prison again for two years.
I got back out and it was hard to pick up the pieces. I went to a halfway house. My wife asked me for a divorce, which I could understand. I got a new job working at a factory. My nephew came to the factory and told me my mom had died. I left work but told my supervisor my mom had died before I left. We were trying to make arrangements for the funeral. On Monday my supervisor told me I no longer had a job. I lost my mom, my job and my wife all in one week. I was devastated and started drinking a lot. I don’t know, maybe I was trying to commit suicide by drinking myself to death.
In 2018 I got sent back to prison for absconding, which means I didn’t report to my parole officer. The parole board gave me 15 months. This time I was at Blackburn State Prison. I started attending a program called Alpha. I was told by some people that the people at Alpha would help me find a home. The first person I met was Greg (story #193). I told him that I wanted help finding a home. He said, “We don’t do that. But you can come and listen to what we are talking about.” I went back and then continued to go to the Alpha meetings every time they were there. I had never met any group of people who were so humble. They weren’t judgmental. They would sit and listen. Greg asked me if I had a Bible. I told him I had had a few Bibles in my life but never opened one. Some of the films they would show in Alpha had me in tears. I was really being touched inside by something. I didn’t understand it. I kept reflecting over my life and my childhood. I was the only one left alive from the people I grew up with. I thought about being told that I would never get out of prison. The Alpha program showed me that I might not have believed in God, but God believed in me. They taught me that God has me here on earth for a reason. I began to see how God was working in my life. Honestly, going to prison saved my life. I wouldn’t have gotten an education or training. I would have been dead. Somebody in the street would have killed me or I would have killed myself doing something crazy. And I wouldn’t have gone to Alpha. God changed my life through the Alpha program.
I am out of prison now. I feel good about who I am and where I am in life. I have a new job, which is a great blessing. I know many people are out of work these days because of the coronavirus. I still connect with the guys from Alpha every day, and I read my Bible every day. They are some of the greatest people I have ever met. They have become my best friends. They have mentored me and helped me to understand so many things.
I don’t know why it has taken me so many years to realize that God loves me, even if nobody else does. God is forever loving. God is all-knowing. One of the hardest things for me to do was to change my way of thinking. God has renewed my mind. If God can change me, He can change anybody. Every day I try to help someone out. I didn’t do that before. I am in great pain when I see someone suffer. I’m not saying I am perfect — by no means. I am a work in progress and God is leading me every step of the way. Sometimes I open up the Bible and don’t understand what I read. I ask God to help me to learn what He wants me to learn, and then I come back later to the Bible and I do understand it.
I am happy for the first time in my life. I mean really happy. I really don’t have anything. But I have God in my life, and I am peaceful. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on yourself. Your life is a gift from God.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Romans 8:18–19 (NLT)
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.