Ronnie Kirkconnell wears long sleeves to cover the tattooed forearms that hint at his past, but he’s not afraid to bare the love of God that’s inked upon his heart.
Customers receive more than average service when they walk into Stamp Therapy in Kentwood, Michigan. With a Bible on the counter and a Jesus fish hanging in the window, prayer pervades the stamp shop owned by Ronnie’s wife, Jan.
“Right there, on the floor, we bring up God. We have some wounded ladies coming in and we stop right there and pray,” says Ronnie, who works in the shop with Jan.
Stained by the Past
Ronnie would have never stepped foot into a stamp shop 20 years ago. Growing up in California, he was introduced to a life filled with drugs and violence.
“I kept running away, and [that] led to getting high, selling drugs, and [living] a narcissistic life. Everything was about me,” he says, remembering the years that he went around with a needle in his arm and a gun in his hand.
Despite surviving gunshot wounds and overdoses, Ronnie didn’t change his ways. Instead, he moved to Michigan, where he continued selling drugs while working odd jobs. Just 22 years old, Ronnie was busted at a friend’s party for possessing methamphetamines and committing a violent crime. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 15 to 40 years in a Michigan prison.
Prison life didn’t shield Ronnie from the drugs and violence. “Where I was at behind the walls, it was do or die. I didn’t have love for nobody. I was always protecting myself,” he says.
But Ronnie noticed something different about his cellmate, Dave, who was a Christian.
“Why are you always so calm?” he asked him.
“I’m reading the Word, brother,” Dave told Ronnie. “I’ve been an armed robber and crackhead all my life. This gives me peace right here, and this will give you peace.”
One day, Prison Fellowship® volunteers came inside the walls. Touched by the example of his cellmate Dave, Ronnie joined them. As he sat with a group of inmates and volunteers, Ronnie was asked to write his sins on a piece of paper to be burned.
“That’s what broke me,” Ronnie says, “when I was in there and the Word was taught simply to me.”
At another Prison Fellowship Bible study he attended with Dave, Ronnie first met longtime PF volunteer Dan Pearson.
“He was a sight,” Dan says of Ronnie. “Tattoos from the waist up, long hair down the middle of his back.”
But Ronnie’s hardened appearance belied the changes going on inside him.
“Prison Fellowship gave me the opportunity to meet Christ in [prison],” Ronnie says. “My spirit took off! Here I am, carrying a songbook across the compound to our worship services and not going to the yard to smoke weed or gamble.”
When Dan and Ronnie met, Ronnie had served 11 years of his 14-year sentence and had just been turned down by the parole board. But God continued to use that time behind bars, transforming Ronnie’s heart and strengthening his relationship with Dan.
When Ronnie was released on parole, he sought Dan’s guidance as he considered the challenges facing him upon reentry into society.
At Dan’s prompting, Ronnie decided to remain in Michigan instead of returning home to California. It was a “spirit-led decision” he says. He began to attend church with Dan. He even cut his long hair.
“For Ron, it was a symbol of turning his life around,” Dan says.
For his first Christmas on the outside, Ronnie delivered Angel Tree® gifts to hurting prisoners’ families with his friend Jan, who would become his wife several years later.
“I thank the Lord that he brought [Jan and Ronnie] together,” says Dan, who has continued to see Ronnie’s faith mature over the years. “He had ambition, and he worked hard. Behind it all was his faith in the Lord and prayer.”
Imprint of Grace
Thanks to Dan, Ronnie enrolled in a program called Transitional Training to Trusting Him, which gave him a job building low-income houses. He endured periods of unemployment due to the economy, but through it all, Ronnie remained faithful to God’s plan for his life.
Two years ago, Ronnie and Jan married, and Jan opened up Stamp Therapy where Ronnie works full-time and shares his story with customers. “My wife’s store is just a place of witnessing,” he says.
Jan agrees. “He’s not afraid to reach out to anybody,” she observes. “Customers might have something going on in their life, and he says ‘Why don’t we pray about it right now?’”
The man who once carried a gun and lived in fear now arms himself with a Bible, spreading the Gospel instead of drugs, and though the tattoos remain on his skin, it’s clear that God has put His own stamp much deeper – on Ronnie’s heart.