I was a staunch atheist for many years. I enjoyed reading the great skeptics like Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, and Bertrand Russell. I thought, like all atheists ignorant of the experiential truth of Christ, that religion was the root of all the evil I saw in the world. I argued with Christians. I defiled a monument in Texas. I debated believers, including my mother, relishing my victories with self-adulation and a snickering disregard for their deepest held beliefs.
I had to go to prison for things to change. God more or less got me in a corner, against the ropes. His subtle beckoning had turned into a full-scale recovery effort. Here’s the story:
In 2011 I went to prison for an assault. I was sentenced to five years (of which I served four). Things were going smoothly at first. I was housed at a minimum institution in Madras, Oregon. I worked out in the community, on a forestry crew and as a firefighter. I lived in a dorm setting. I slept and ate my meals at the prison, but otherwise it didn’t really feel like prison.
I was eventually transferred to an unfenced, minimum custody forest camp in Tillamook. I went out to work four days a week planting trees and running chainsaw. The camp was small, the food was good, and we lived in 12 man cabins. Things were going well. I was reading a lot of classic literature, thinking I was changing and becoming enlightened. Then God showed up.
One morning, when the crews were being called over the speakers to report to their respective forestry assignments, they told me I was being held in. I had had nightmares all night, and the night before. Around noon I was called to Control. Two investigators were there. They told me to take a seat.
To make a long story short I was being indicted for very old criminal charges in another state. These charges, due to their circumstances, carried a five to ten year prison sentence. My heart fell into my stomach. Not that I was guilty, per se, but had seen how much help a public defender was in my assault case and I feared the result of having another one. It felt like my world imploded. I had left two children out there without me. I hadn’t seen them since I went to prison and their mother wasn’t talking to me, wasn’t letting them even receive my letters. I was already sorry to the point of self-hatred for having left them and coming to prison. I was sodden with remorse. Four years seemed like a marathon with no finish line. Now five more years? There was no way…
I was shackled and taken out of my pristine forest camp to a maximum facility. The penitentiary, where I awaited paperwork on the charges. Meanwhile, I was adjusting not so well to the new, hardcore prison environment I found myself in. I got beat up over my wanting to retain my autonomy. I had to reset my two front teeth in my gums. The yard was bleak, and there were big concrete walls, and gun towers. The walls, which were built in the late 19th century, told the tale of over a hundred and fifty years of misery and violence. Bullet holes scarred the walls.
I was beginning to fall into depression. I traded my classic novels for books on astral projection and other occult practices. I got books of lucid dreaming and thought magic. I began my search for the infinite.
While I was at the penitentiary I submitted my own paperwork giving the offended state 180 days to come get me or drop the charges. This would put a fire under their butts to come get me. Or so I understood it. But I was wrong. An incident occurred where I had to be transported yet again to another med/max security yard in Eastern Oregon, hundreds of miles from my family.
The paperwork was still in progress and the offended state was reviewing it. I was still under the delusion that the offended state had to drop the charges at the 180 day mark. It was now Novemeber. I had submitted the paperwork in May.
I met with a counselor who was dealing with the paperwork. During this meeting she clarified the fact that the offended state does NOT have to come get me or drop the charges in 180 days. It’s more of an informal courtesy. Not a law.
I was already at a breaking point when I got this news. After I left her office I could feel my soul literally being drug around by my body like an anvil. I started to feel dizzy. I didn’t want to go back to my cell. I had recently gotten a new cellmate who was a gang member. He was volatile and aggressive.
Instead of going back to my housing unit I went to medical where I sat down in a chair and began to cry. I sobbed for more than an hour. I sobbed for my children who would have to be without their Dad for another five to ten years, if he survived. I sobbed because I had completely and utterly ruined my life. I broke down.
The nurse asked me if I was feeling suicidal. I told her, yes. And I was escorted to solitary confinement, suicide watch.
I spent a total of 90 days in solitary confinement on 23 hour lock-down. At first I loved it. It was a welcome break from all the BS that happens in general population. I sang to myself. I read books on dreaming. I kept a journal on scraps of paper. I ordered manuals on Buddhism and Thelema from the chapel library. I figured I’d learn how to meditate.
I practiced astral projection techniques, with some success. I have reservations about posting about this subject as I feel that some might consider me a lunatic. But I figure that believers on this forum are acquainted with the supernatural if they believe in the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection, etc., so I will continue. During my astral projection experiments (self-induced out-of-body travel) I successfully pierced the veil. And it was terrifying. And I believe it opened the door for demonic attacks.
I was tormented by the guy in the cell over who would knock on the wall all day and all night. I am convinced this individual was oppressed by a demonic spirit. He would yell obscenities at other people all day through his cell door. He would decline his sleeping pills so he could stay awake all night knocking on the wall that separated us. It was mentally and emotionally difficult to be alone in a cell all day. I began to feel trapped for the first time when I became the object of his attacks. I finally retaliated, staying up all night and knocking my knuckles raw until he flooded his cell in order to be moved.
Time wore on in solitary. After he was moved I got back into my routine of reading, writing and meditating. It was the beginning of January when a thought came to my mind, a thought the likes of which hadn’t came into my mind for a decade. Pick up a bible. I’m sure now it was god putting it on my heart. I fought it at first, but it kept coming to mind. Pick up a bible! pick up a bible! So when the book cart came around on it’s weekly trip past my cell, I grabbed the only bible on the cart and opened it to Matthew.
I read most of Matthew, not without some tears in my eyes. When I reached the chapter about Jesus’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, all defenses crumbled. I cried and cried. Jesus prayed: ‘Father, take from me this cup of suffering.’ This line lodged in my brain. Something that was simmering inside me came to a rolling boil.
I was heartbroken. Devastated. I felt hopeless. Hated. Guilty. Irredeemable. Abandoned. I felt like all of my friends and family had turned their backs on me. Solitary confinement was merely an outward expression of an internal reality. For the first time in years, I dropped to my knees at the end of my bunk and I prayed to god. I prayed the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden. Take away from me this cup of suffering, I told him, and I will dedicate my life to you. I will live the rest of my life serving others.’ I prayed this prayer on the 21st of January, 2014. The morning afterward I wrote it down in my scrap-paper journal.
The next day, January 22nd, a piece of mail arrived through the slot in my cell door. It was a letter from the public defender from the offended state. I trembled as I read the following words: ‘I have good news. The district attorney is thinking about dismissing the case. He doesn’t feel it is worth it to bring you out here.’
No words can express the way I felt in that cell. It was as if a breeze of electricity blew through my cell. I tingled all over, I shook with joy. I said, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ Pointing to the ceiling of my cell. Pointing to heaven.
God knew the lengths he had to go to to recover me, and he took me there. The brink of complete moral, emotional and spiritual destitution. A place where everyone had turned their backs. So he could show me his face. He knew how deep my skepticism ran. He orchestrated the destruction of my life so he could give me a new one. He knew it would take a miracle this overt, this in my face.
And what a life. Since then he has worked miracle after miracle in my life, and the lives of my family. A year after my deliverance I was back at forest camp in Tillamook fighting forest fire and preparing for my release, which happened on the 15th of November, 2015. Four weeks ago.
My last year in prison was punctuated with large doses of god’s presence and tutoring. The Holy Spirit developed in me an insatiable appetite for god, the bible, and fellowship. It’s supernatural. I played guitar in the Celebrate Recovery band and created a Christian comic book series for my children to help them cope with and understand my absence and the nature of incarceration. The comic was such a hit with them, and helped them so much, that I am currently adapting it to a more generalized format to reach other children of incarcerated parents. I am hoping for the best, as I am crowdfunding right now for the resources to make this project a reality so we can distribute copies to inmates and their families free of charge (See project here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/242812407/the-adventures-of-ninja-boy-and-unicorn-girl ).
I am currently in the beginning stages of rebuilding my life from the ground up. Making the right decisions. Being the dad I should have always been. Balancing mandatory classes with finding work, with finding time to spend writing and drawing. It is a process and sometimes I find myself overheating from all the stimulus. My greatest wish is that god will use me and my story and skills to touch the lives of others, keeping true to my prayer – the contract that I made with god in that solitary confinement cell. I know that Jesus’s message is not about works, but grace. But a grateful heart wants to repay the kindness done to it. I want to serve god because of who he is, and what he has done for me, not what he could do to me.
I’ll end it here. It has been a great relief getting this out of my system. I haven’t had the chance yet to write about my prison experience in detail like this and I feel a lot better now. I’ll end this testimony with a quote that sums up my experiences in prison:
“Some things are only found by the desperate.”
– Bill Johnson, pastor
I am very glad I found this forum. I hope my testimony can open up dialogue. Feel free to contact me for any reason.