Dr. Michael Strong spent 25 years behind bars. Today, he gives back to his community through his work with the Crime Victims' Compensation Program.
"I'm out here making a difference," says Dr. Michael Strong. "I can definitely say that God has been good."
Michael is in his late-50s. He works for the Texas attorney general's office with the Crime Victims' Compensation Program, providing aid and resources to crime victims and their families.
It can be a difficult job. Victims of crime often face long-lasting and costly consequences. They may require medical treatment, counseling, or financial support. And then there are the grieving families struggling to afford funerals for their loved ones.
"We help them rest in peace," Michael says of the victims. "It's been very helpful for me to be able to give back to the community … on a major level that has helped some of [these] families."
Working alongside lawyers and law enforcement, he recognizes the irony of his situation. The same people who today shake his hand would have once cuffed him and hauled him off to prison.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
Michael was born in California, the second of five children. His parents both worked and served faithfully in their local church. Michael served with them. People "thought I was this great kid from this good Christian family," he muses, "which I was … [but] I was that square kid, the one that was going around masking some of the negativity that I had in my life."
At 13, Michael began smoking marijuana. He kept up appearances, but one secret sin led to another. Soon the "square" Christian kid was hiding choices that could get him into serious trouble.
After high school, Michael joined the military and served in the special forces. But he kept up his double life of sin.
Eventually he couldn't hide any longer. At 22, Michael was sentenced to life in prison. But prison ultimately saved his life.
IN THE DARK
Michael had heard stories of prison's violence and gangs. With his training in the special forces, he felt some bravado—"I can pretty much take care of myself"—but life behind bars still took a toll.
"You would see the big guys—they were crying like everybody else—[they] wanted to be with their family," Michael recalls. "They say, 'Real men cry in the dark,' and that is true."
Unwilling to let that darkness consume him, Michael threw himself into furthering his education and eventually earned his doctorate. "[Other prisoners] used to laugh at me because I was always going down the hallway with books and stuff like that, and they said, 'What are you going to do? You got a doctor's degree and you've got a life sentence,'" Michael remembers. "I said, 'Let me tell you something—education is something no one can take from you. This education that I'm getting in here may help me get up out of here.'"
Michael’s thirst for education eventually led him to to become part of the prison’s church and the Prison Fellowship Academy®.
'THE ACADEMY CHANGED MY LIFE'
Michael became part of the Prison Fellowship Academy pilot at his correctional facility. The program and the faith-based dorm for participants became a refuge for Michael and other prisoners.
"The Academy changed my life," Michael says. "I grew up. I matured in the Academy."
After serving 25 years, Michael was released—better prepared for the experience of reentry by the values and life skills he gained in the Academy. For the last nine years, he has been helping others—returning citizens, Angel Tree® families, and victims of crime.
He keeps in contact with many of his friends from the Academy. "Some of them have slipped, but the majority of them—that Academy made a big difference in their life. If it wasn't for that Academy, some of them wouldn't even be here."
Michael adds, "The experience that I had in the penitentiary and the things that I went through … [they] made me the man that I am here today. It's not what you've done—it's what you've been through."
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