When Chris Padgett was 14 years old, his sister was diagnosed with cancer. Exactly two months before she passed away, Chris watched as a minister visited her in the hospital and led her to the Lord.
A few months later – with a softened heart from the loss of his sister – Chris accepted Jesus into his life, too.
Chris went on to attend college and serve in the Missouri Army National Guard for six years. After, he took a job as a security guard at a hospital. He recalls several times when he stopped to pray with patients who were hurting.
“I was truly compassionate,” he remembers.
But soon Chris began working as a corrections officer in a medium-high security prison, and he started to feel himself changing – slowly losing his compassion for others.
“It’s a hard field if you don’t guard your heart,” he says.
It wasn’t long before Chris found himself snowballing into an eight-year lie that would land him on the other side of the prison bars and, at the same time, propel him into a journey toward spiritual freedom.
A Life of Luxury
Two years after becoming a corrections officer, Chris married his wife, Missy. As they began their family over the next few years, Missy became a stay-at-home mom to their daughter and son. But it was a struggle for one salary to support the exorbitant spending habits their family had acquired – a big home, Chris’ motorcycle, the new truck he bought every two years.
“I was trying to find happiness through material things,” he recalls.
In 2001, Chris had the opportunity to become a safety specialist for the Bureau of Prisons. Even though it meant he could no longer get overtime or holiday pay, he took the offer for a more regular schedule and a less “cynical” environment.
As he depleted his income and the bills stacked up, Chris turned to stealing to fund his family’s lifestyle. As the treasurer for his union, taking money from its account without anyone knowing was easy.
For eight years, Chris was able to hide his continual theft from the union, his wife, and the church where he served as a deacon.
“I had everything together on the outside,” he says, “but on the inside I was a train wreck because of my sin.”
Knowing he would soon be found out, Chris left his job and took a position in security for a steel corporation.
Finally, Chris learned he was going to be indicted, and because his crime was financial, he would lose his home and all the other material things he had valued so highly. Just a few days before Christmas in 2008, Chris had to explain to his wife everything that had happened.
After coming to terms with the situation, Missy forgave Chris and the couple began to work through the struggles of incarceration together.
Chris predicted he’d be dealt a tough prison sentence since he had been in the corrections field himself. But when his trial came, the judge dispensed a shorter term than expected: 21 months in a federal prison in Virginia.
Although Chris was devastated to leave his 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, he recognized God at work in his life.
“I was relying on myself to be the bread winner,” he says, remembering the years he took matters into his own hands to pay the bills.
But now, 850 miles from home, working an in-prison job paying 12 cents an hour, Chris saw that God was the ultimate provider for his family. He realized he should have been depending on the Lord all along.
The Padgetts’ church assisted with finances during the 16 months Chris served, and Missy and the kids were able to visit Chris twice thanks to Missy’s parents who helped them make the trips.
In the meantime, Chris spent his wages on stamps to send letters to his children.
“A lot of the healing happened when I was gone,” he says.
Chris had heard about Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program when he worked as a corrections officer. While serving his sentence, Chris filled out the application so his children could receive Christmas gifts on his behalf.
Volunteers from a town 20 miles away delivered clothes and Legos to Chris’ kids.
“The [kids] had gone through so much so they were pretty blown away,” he says. “The people were really gracious … They were just trying to show Jesus’ love.”
While in prison, Chris was able to grow as a man of God through church services, a Prison Fellowship class, and in-prison mentors who encouraged him to live out what he believed.
Chris saw many prisoners without Jesus made bitter by their entrapment, but he was thankful prison opened his eyes to the joy of living for the Lord instead of for material things.
“I’d rather live in a physical prison than a spiritual prison where I was at,” Chris says.
When Chris returned home from prison five months early, he was eager to seek biblical counseling to help his family transition into their new way of life. Chris was thankful God had shielded his children from much of the negativity that comes with having an incarcerated parent, and he and Missy worked together to rebuild their home securely on the principles of faith and trust.
Now Chris works as a housekeeper at a hospital. While it may not be his ideal job, God always brings him people with whom he can share his story. When he meets someone who feels like their past is too messy for God to handle, Chris assures them he knows firsthand that God can restore any life.
Through their church, Chris and Missy are taking classes to become ministers. Chris says he’s not sure what God has next for them, but they are preparing as they feel led to do and trusting the Lord to direct them toward his perfect plan.
“I thank God for second, well, millionth chance,” he says. “In Christ you’re a new creation.”