Robert knew he couldn’t waste his second chance.
I told God that I was going to do life my way and not His way. I spent 25 years working in the human service field fixing everyone else's problems. But I lacked integrity and self-esteem. As a result, I neglected to fix my own problems.
I started visiting strip clubs and paying for prostitutes. This lifestyle took a lot of money that I didn’t have, so I turned to fraud. I betrayed many people’s trust and committed crimes to feed my obsession with pleasure. In my early 40s, I went to prison on multiple counts of fraud and theft.
On the day of my sentencing, I received 130 years in the Florida Department of Corrections, never to get out again. My victims cheered in the courtroom.
Amazingly, God still had a plan for restoration and reconciliation.
A STORY OF GRACE
In prison, I finally began to reflect on the events that led to my incarceration. I was overwhelmed with regret and guilt, knowing I had taken advantage of people. It seemed like a miracle that my wife chose to stay with me, even while I was incarcerated for my shameful choices.
God got ahold of me behind bars. I learned that in order to have a clear conscience and have a pure heart, I needed to admit my wrongs. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, and He began to transform me. He put chaplains and volunteers in my path to guide me. I tried to pay it forward in prison and give the kind of grace I had received.
Over time, God touched the hearts of judges, attorneys, and people I had harmed. In October 2011, my 130-year sentence was vacated and restructured. After 16 years in prison, I walked free. Some of the victims who literally cheered at my sentencing were the ones who advocated for my release! Now, that's restoration.
I was amazed to have a second chance. I knew I couldn't waste it.
FREE TO SERVE AND ADVOCATE
Life after prison is a gift. I’m now a pastor and co-founder of Cons Helping Cons Free to Serve (CHC) in Tampa, Florida. We minister to returning citizens through mentoring, transitional housing, employment, and outreach events. CHC organizes community service projects and works with local youth. And we train formerly incarcerated men and women to mentor others who are coming out of prison. It’s so exciting to see people become effective members of society and help others succeed!
My own experiences in the justice system have also led me to get involved in advocacy work with Prison Fellowship®. I serve as a Justice Ambassador to support justice that restores and lead others to do the same. Lately, I have led small groups through Outrageous Justice®, Prison Fellowship's small-group curriculum that explores the criminal justice system from a biblical perspective.
I start off each Outrageous Justice class with this:
We're going to be talking about people who have two options. They either reintegrate back into the community, and we help them work through their issues. Or, they're going back to crime. That's the bottom line. People go back to what they know if they don't feel like they're making progress.
'THE MIRACLE BUSINESS'
Prison Fellowship equips Justice Ambassadors to develop relationships with lawmakers, leverage social media, host awareness events, and more. It's an opportunity to engage my faith within the community and focus my advocacy work in meaningful ways.
Whether people want to write a letter to their lawmakers, start a prayer group, or learn more about criminal justice reform, Prison Fellowship has great resources for volunteers like me. We all come from unique experiences, we all have a story to tell, and we all have a part to play in justice reform. It's about making a difference in real people's lives. People matter to God, so they matter to me.
As believers, we are all "ambassadors for Christ." Just as God sent Christ to reconcile us to Himself, we can now live to bring restoration to others. No matter where you are in your life journey, God is still in the miracle business.
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