When the lure of drinking and drugs wore thin, Epifanio “Pefee” Arzapalo decided he needed a change and enlisted in the Army. But the foxholes of the desert didn’t prevent Pefee from being sucked back into the black hole of his sinful habits.
Pefee Arzapalo saw the writing on the wall that October in 1975. “Uncle Sam wants you,” the shiny poster beckoned. The 20-year-old had had enough of his old ways and longed for some structure—and a chance to change. He signed his future over to the military and left for training without telling his wife or two children.
A SOLDIER’S LIE
No gun or uniform could camouflage the life Pefee led while in the service. The Army may have provided him with structure, but the inner change he sought proved elusive.
“I took all my bad habits with me. The adultery, the drinking, the spending money. It was just a mess, and I wrapped my children and my wife back up in the mess I thought I had left in Grand Junction [in Colorado].”
For over 16 years, Pefee bounced from one base to another, living as though he had no family
“I didn’t know God. I chose not to know God. It drove my family farther away instead of bringing them closer,” he admits.
By 1990 Pefee had served in and survived Operation Desert Storm. He carried home some deep wounds in the form of a hip injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He returned to the States a man damaged by war, and searched for relief at the bottom of a bottle.
DOORS OPEN FOR A NEW LIFE
A few years later, Pefee sat in a drunken haze in a holding cell, knowing that he was facing a long prison sentence for attempted murder. “Lord, you get me out of this situation,” he slurred, “and I will let everybody know that it was You. I’ll go to church. I’ll read Your Bible.”
A voice interrupted Pefee’s attempted bribery. “You’re going to prison, but you will not be alone.” Pefee remembers the exact words with tears in his eyes. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior that day.
For years Pefee was incarcerated in Nebraska, where he spent time delving deep into God’s Word for hours a day. And then he learned about a Prison Fellowship program for inmates at Four Mile Correctional Facility in Cañon City, Colorado. He applied for a transfer to the program in Colorado, and waited.
On April 1, the chaplain at Four Mile contacted Pefee and told him he had been accepted into the program. “I thought it was an April Fool’s joke!” Pefee laughs. “But, I realized that God opens doors that man wants to shut.”
A SOLDIER FOR CHRIST
A new chapter in Pefee’s life began when he met his new mentor, Prison Fellowship volunteer Ron Mangus. Ron was, like Pefee, a veteran, having served in Vietnam. Following his return to the United States, Ron lost both legs in a helicopter accident, but he did not let that deter him from following God’s calling to reach out to those behind bars.
“Pefee was walking in a tough place,” Ron recalls. Through prayer, Bible studies, and reminders to be on his guard against temptation, “I tried to get him to be a productive citizen and walk a Christian life,” Ron says.
And Pefee took to heart the advice Ron gave him.
For six months, Ron faithfully visited Pefee once a week for fellowship and mentorship, preparing Pefee for reentry into society as his sentence was coming to a close.
Thanks to the help of Prison Fellowship supporters and volunteers like Ron, Pefee has continued to walk with the Lord since his release from prison in October 2011, staying actively involved in church and taking steps to reconcile with the family he once walked away from.