"I did everything but join a gang," Roderick McNeely remembers. "I was trying to kill myself."
In grade school, Roderick was often left in the care of his aunt. She would bribe Roderick and his cousins with marijuana, pills, and alcohol so they would keep quiet about her habit—a habit Roderick picked up before long. Eventually he was stealing, cheating, doing whatever he could to sustain his lifestyle.
Roderick once had a heart attack while on crack cocaine. He was found three days later, barely hanging on.
In 1989, Roderick went to prison for the first time. He was 31 and faced a two-year sentence.
Within one week of his release, he was charged again and returned to prison for five years. His third sentence came after two aggravated assaults with a deadly weapon and one count of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon—all drug-related.
COMING CLEANRoderick didn't know what it meant to be set free until he found himself behind bars at the George Beto Unit in Texas. There, he intersected with Prison Fellowship® staff in a faith-based wing. They welcomed him into Christian discipleship and prayer groups, gave him opportunities to serve, and showed him the difference between knowing about God, and knowing God. His faith became real to him, and he was baptized.
Roderick entered the Carol Vance Unit near Houston, Texas, in 2008. While there, he spent 24 months in a Prison Fellowship Academy™, receiving intensive leadership training and life-skills courses.
"I learned how to be a father," explains Roderick, whose young son was living with a relative while Roderick was incarcerated. "I learned how things from my past affected my future."
From substance abuse recovery to biblical manhood, the program covered topics in ways Roderick will never forget.
Like the time he and his classmates washed each other's feet to follow the example of Jesus.
"It was the most humbling experience," he remembers. "If my Lord and Savior can do it, who am I to not be of service to someone?"
LIVING WITH OPEN HANDS
Roderick walked out of prison for the last time on August 2, 2010. He fell to his knees, kissed the ground, and gave thanks to God.
Roderick is often back in prison as a volunteer with Prison Fellowship to share the message of Christ's hope. He teaches classes on reentry, anger management, relationships, and more.
"I thank Prison Fellowship for sending in mentors that truly care about a person's life," says Roderick, who remains friends with four of his mentors. He is now an associate pastor, and he loves to teach the importance of living in Christ-centered community.
Roderick also volunteers for Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship, which connects prisoners and their children through gifts given on behalf of the incarcerated parent. Angel Tree's Christmas program had touched his own son's life while Roderick was behind bars. It would later become just one more way that Roderick couldn't wait to give back and share the Gospel.
His reason is simple: "There are a lot of people who are suffering in the world and don't have a lot of help," says Roderick, "and you might be the one that God sends to help them."
Today, he has a life full of purpose and hope, not regret. "I don't regret one thing I have been through," he says, "because I know God gets the glory."