Hey, I’m writing this from my heart. I’ve shared my testimony before and wasn’t going to do this again for my own reasons, but God has been pricking at my heart today at the most inopportune times. So here it is and I pray that it would warn some as well as encourage others.
I’ve been saved now for about 12 years but like any other Christian it hasn’t always been that way. I was raised in the Lord by a God-fearing, Holy Ghost filled mother and also by a father who was in and out of the house. I was in church all the time up until I turned 13 years old. You know how it is then when you hit that age – all of a sudden you think you know everything there is in the world to know and can’t nobody tell you nothing. So at that age, I started to drift away from the Lord, doing my own thing up until the age of 17 when I started getting deeper and deeper into sin. I was raised on the south side of Atlanta in the College Park/Jonesboro/Clayton County area. To me, Atlanta was my home and clubbing every weekend, getting the girls, and driving a car with rims on it was my way of life. My philosophy then was “Clothes, Hoes and Vogues”. That was my lifestyle. I can remember speaking out loud to myself one day as I was sitting at a stop light. I said to myself out loud, “This is the life,” not knowing that around the corner God had a rude awaking for me; a plan that I can look back on now and see His Hand but one in which I would never choose for myself.
You see when I got to be 18 years old I had no more of the fear of the Lord in me that I had growing up. I began to run with older guys and do things that almost took my life several times. Where I grew up there were two choices that a teenager had, not realizing there were so many more choices, the Dope Game or the Robbery Game. I grew up with 6 sisters and 4 brothers in the house so I never wanted to risk bringing any kind of drugs in my momma’s house so I listened to the wrong advice, the deceitful influence of my peers, and the music that I thought was cool and I got into robbing at the age of 18 years old. At first it was an adrenaline rush, something to do as a wild teen, but then it started doing something to me…it started to change me. It started to take away what little innocence that I had left. Continual un-confessed sin will do that to you. It will take you further than you intended to go, and make you stay longer than you intended to stay. And I began to think and act like the crime that I committed. Paranoia started to set in; every police car that was behind me was out to get me and friends who only wanted the best for me I became suspicious of. I can remember being in so many fights in clubs, guys jumping me and my home boys, high-speed chases on the highway, other crews lying in wait for me as I came out of one of my girlfriends’ houses late at night with the intentions of robbing me and Lord knows what else. I will never claim to be the baddest guy or the most thugged out, but I lived for a very short time what the rappers lie about now.
I loved this type of lifestyle for about 1 year before the Lord got a hold of me. I can truly say that He arrested my heart. I was planning one last job. I decided to quit because the paranoia, the danger, etc, had started to get to me. I wanted out but getting out wasn’t so easy. I owed people and if you’ve ever been where I’ve been and dealt with some of the things I’ve dealt with it’s not so easy to leave it alone when you owe. At this time I wanted desperately to be free from this lifestyle so I signed up for the Air Force with the intent of leaving everything behind but I needed a quick 800 dollars so that my probation officer could be “paid off” to wipe away my file so I could enlist (from petty misdemeanor crimes at a younger age). One more time…one more time, that’s all I need then I’ll be done. How many of you know that it’s the one more time that gets you caught up and that you can never do unrighteousness in order to attain righteousness?
So one more time is what I decided to do. My partner and I lied in wait on this business establishment for about two days. And on the day it happened I got caught. I remember that we were behind the false wall where they kept the money and the safe when my partner heard sirens in the background. Unknown to us, before we jumped the counter and put the owner down, they hit the alert button first. I can’t tell you everything that transpired on that day but it ended up with me lying face down on the concrete surrounded by police as they beat me to the ground yelling, “I should have killed you boy, I should have killed you!!”
18 years old, barely growing hair on my upper lip, 125 lbs soaking wet and with no experience of life I found myself lying on the floor of a cold jail cell not knowing what lie ahead. Plus I was facing 10 to 30 yrs in prison. I didn’t know what to do. I had nowhere to turn. I was in an environment where I was a boy among many seasoned criminals: rapists, child molesters and murderers. I remember a guy nicknamed “Tiger” for whatever reason. Normal to look at but you would never suspect that he was there for killing his girlfriend, cutting off her head, putting her body in the trunk and riding with her head on the dashboard. These were the people I lived with at Lovejoy jail for 9 months.
I saw the fights in jail and joined a couple of other teenagers like myself for the protection of numbers. I fought and fought and fought. And especially as a little guy, I felt like I had to be more aggressive than anyone else. I wanted to instill in my potential enemies that yes I may lose to you and yes you may win, but I will go to any length to damage you. This was my mentality then…survival.
I think I was in jail for six months then when one night I was lying on my mat on the cold floor and I couldn’t sleep. The weight of my future was pressing in on me, the looming fear of prison starting to consume me. Plus I had heard the stories of rape and stabbings from men who had been there before. I heard the stories of what you may have seen on the Discovery Channel, and I begin to cry – I had a prodigal son moment. You know after he left his father’s house and spent all his money, he found himself in a pig pen so hungry that he wanted to eat the scraps given to the pigs. The Bible states in the Kings James Version that “when he came onto himself…” he remembered his father’s house. That means that when the full weight of what he had done, when the reality of his situation knocked him in the head, he remembered his Father’s House. Oh, glory to God I can feel the Spirit move right now as I type this.
That night, as I covered my face with my blanket to hide my tears because “I didn’t want any weakness to show”, I began to think about the old Bible stories that my mother used to tell, about the Jesus that the pastor talked about, and about how far I had come from the innocent boy I used to be. And I cried out to Jesus to save me. I didn’t know any scriptures and there was nobody there to say repeat after me. I simply prayed to the God who I knew was up there somewhere and I said, “God I’m sorry for what I’ve done, for who I’ve become now, make me a Christian because I know that’s the right way.” That’s all I said that night. The Book of Psalms states that weeping may endure for a night, but joy, hallelujah, comes in the morning. That morning I woke up still in the same jail, still with the sentence of 10-30 years hanging over my head, but I woke up with a joy that I can’t describe and with a weight (felt like a physical one) lifted off my shoulders. I woke up…..I woke up…I woke up. But truly it was JESUS who woke up in me. That night God started the process of changing me. I still got into trouble but now I had Jesus and I was his project.
I began to read my Bible, pray, and go to church but during prayer God asked me something one day. He said,” Alex, will you still serve me if you wind up doing 10 years in prison? Will you still serve me?” You see after I got saved I did what everybody who’s in jail does: they pray to get free. Freedom is the main prayer, not God’s will, but freedom. You see God was testing me then… I could not answer that question for sometime but one day I came to the point of surrender that I said God even if I have to do 10 years in prison I will still serve you. My faith is in you God.
So this is where it gets crazy. I called my lawyer that my mother and father had paid for and I told him that I had gotten saved a few months back and that I could no longer continue lying saying “not guilty” when I was. Keep in mind that my lawyer knew that I was guilty but since he has being paid he was going to try to trip up the defense by various methods. He was shocked and told me to not say anything to anybody and that he was on his way to see me right then.
To make a long story short, I stood by my word and pled guilty. I wish I could tell you that I did that with a full assurance of faith, that I had no fear but the truth is I was scared out of my mind and as I stood there in front of the judge and he shook his head and said “you’re so young. I don’t want to give you 10 years but I’m required by law to do this or I’ll lose my job” (Bill 411 under GA law).
I was shaking uncontrollably and I said I understand but may I speak. He said yes. I said “Judge I’ve sinned against God and society and I’ve repented to him, the only thing I ask is for mercy”. He broke down on the stand and stated the same thing as before and announced that I would be sentenced to 10 years for armed robbery and weapon possession. I turned to my family since my mother and her friend who were in the audience and I looked at my mother and she stood up and said nothing…she just raised her arm and pointed to the sky…and the unspoken words were “son look up” so I pointed to the sky as well in confirmation as I accepted my time. Yes, whoever is reading this, from April 22nd 1998 until April 2008, I was in prison. I did all 10 years in prison, but God was with me like He was with Joseph.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Bible states that when they were told by the king to bow down or else be thrown into the fiery furnace they replied that “our God is able to deliver us but if He decides not to then we still will not bow down.” That’s the faith that I had even if God does not have mercy on me by setting me free before 10 years I still will serve Him because He’s already been merciful enough.
Well I was sent to prison and I will spare you every incident and every gruesome fact. It’s enough to say that my heart was torn at times from seeing men stabbed, from fighting to keep from getting raped, to getting my head busted with a concrete block (the scar on the back of my head is sill there to remind me), and from the extreme loneliness that comes from being in there for such a long time. I remember praying and fasting so much that I would one day be free, that I would one day be able to work, that I would one day have a wife, etc. It seemed like then at times that God wasn’t hearing me but then I thought back to his question: “Alex will you still serve me?” And I see that God remained faithful to me even at times when my actions were not faithful to him.
How many of you know that we serve a faithful God, that even when we sin, He still doesn’t abandon us! He doesn’t look at the outward, He looks at the heart. So as time went on and with good behavior I began to be allowed to work at an outside detail. Then others started seeing the Christ in me (not me but Him, all our righteousness is as filthy rags before the Lord) and I got a job as the prison chaplain aide. I set up church services, sang in the choir and then God called me to preach. Yes little ol’ me. (That’s another story within itself.)
So I began doing that on the prison yard and even for 1 year the guard would allow me to preach and teach in the cafeteria once a week. Time went on and then one day as I was walking back from the Chaplin I told God that I love working for the Chaplin but I am going to need something one day that is going to benefit me when I get out. The only thing I saw then was the Prisoner Volunteer Fire Dept. I had no desire to do this but it was the only thing I saw then so I prayed and prayed that I would be accepted and God worked a miracle and I got accepted to be on the Prisoner Fire Dept at Hancock State Prison under Chief Shirley Maddox.
The funny thing is that God sometimes confirms that you’re in His Will by outside situations. He confirmed this to me in the same week that I got accepted onto the prison Fire Dept, it was the same week of Sept 11th. It is a tragedy that will be with this country forever but also that same week God gave me another purpose besides preaching Jesus is Savior. He gave me the purpose of becoming a firefighter. Georgia Law states that a rehabilitated felon can work as a firefighter upon his release if he gets accepted while incarcerated. What they don’t tell you is that the reason they need inmate firefighters in rural areas is because they are expendable. We were the guys who risked our lives over and over again at anytime of day or night, in any weather for no pay and no glory from the public in which we served. At night or after the fire was put out, or whatever incident we were at, we would be brought back to prison and put back on the same prison clothes we had on before. But you know what I loved every minute of it: every long night, every fire, and every wreck because I was doing something to help someone else. It didn’t matter if I was told thank you, I did it with honor because I knew then as I know now that it was my calling, not just a job.
10 years in prison with almost 8 of those serving as a volunteer inmate firefighter before my day of release finally came. I remember my chief put on her best uniform and told me how proud she was of me and how much I had meant to Hancock Station 11 Fire Dept and told me that she wanted to walk with me outside the prison gates.
I put on jeans for the 1st time in 10 years that my sis Jonnie had bought me. They were kind of like skinny jeans, but I put them on with some Nike Air Force Ones and a Lacoste shirt and begin to walk outside those prison gates after 10 years of incarceration. And as the gates closed behind me and I stood as a free man for the 1st time in 10 years, I remembered a promise I made to God years before. I told the Lord, “Lord, if you set me free and protect me during this time I will honor you for the rest of my life and before I take 5 steps outside of the prison gates I will kneel on my knees and point my hand to the sky and thank you for what you have done!” Glory to God in the Highest! Jesus!!
I told Chief to hold on a minute, I have to keep my promise to the Lord and I knelt down and gave Him thanks as my mother screamed “Jesus! Thank you for bringing out my first-born son that I dedicated to the Lord!” And as my brothers and sisters, all 10 of them, hollered my name and embraced me after 10 years, I could do nothing but give God the praise for it is He that did it all.
I can’t tell you all the miracles that God has done for me since I’ve been out for 3 years now because it would take too much time. I could tell you how I couldn’t get a job at any fire dept that I applied to for years; I couldn’t even get a job bagging groceries at Kroger. I could tell you how He touched the head of the State of GA EMS to give me a chance. I could tell you how He’s placed wonderful men in my path to take a chance on me to give me a job at Public Works and then with my chief at Morrow Fire Dept. I could tell you how I sacrificed and ate ramen noodle soups and cans of tuna fish because I couldn’t afford anything else. I could tell you how I graduated EMT school, worked a fulltime job in the heat everyday, and volunteered at the Fire Dept until I could get hired. I could tell you how this former prisoner is able to go back to the prisons now to tell others about Jesus. I couldn’t begin to tell you all the things that the Lord God has done for me but what I can tell you is that God has worked in my life not for my glory but for His.
Listen, God will bless you. Whoever you are that reads this but He will only bless you when He knows that you will give HIM (Jesus) the Glory. He will withhold from you until you submit to Him and say “God my life is yours and I give up control of it to you. Do with me as You will and I will serve you regardless of the consequences”, then He will bless you. God sent his Son Jesus Christ to Earth so save humanity’s soul. I have made a lot of mistakes in the past, in the present, and will make some in the future but know this, I am saved and have eternal security in Heaven when I die because Jesus already died for me, and guess what, for YOU.
There is no sin that God can’t forgive, and although you, whoever you are, may feel unforgivable and that you can’t be saved, God can and will save you. All you have to do is say Lord I’m done – You take control. Also for the Christian that reads this I encourage you to keep submitting to the Lord’s will, when you fall get your behind back up, dust yourself off and resubmit to Him because He loves you for you. He accepts you just the way you are but died so that you wouldn’t have to stay that way. Remember that prodigal son example I gave you earlier, when the son realized his situation and came to himself and remembered his father’s house, he got up out of that muddy pit and made his way back home. The Bible says that the father saw him coming from afar off and ran to meet him. He didn’t wait until the son made it all the way to the house (He didn’t wait until the son was perfect, without sin) but He ran to His son and He hugged him, I said that He hugged him in all his filth with the same dirty clothes (sin) that he had on when he left the pig pen and He brought him home. That’s what God wants to do with you; He wants to bring you home to Him. All you have to do is get up wherever you’re at and head back to Him. He’s waiting with unconditional forgiveness and He waits with open arms. Be blessed y’all, this testimony is true. No Hollywood, no fabrication, this is the testimony of a Christian in need of forgiveness every day. All Glory to the Father and His son Jesus Christ, I am nothing He is All.