The Man Who Thinks He Can

I was raised in Los Angeles, California by my mother and a host of friends and family. I now realize that these people who God put into my life were to become my teachers and mentors.

If my father was to walk through this door right now, I wouldn't recognize him. As a man now, I don't feel, nor have ever felt that I've been neglected As a child, I was afforded the opportunity to be anything that I wanted to be.

I was raised around entrepreneurs and was able to get a first hand experience on how to run your own business. Yes, I've had many fathers and mothers over the years that have seeded into my life, but, because of bad choices that I made, I had to pay my dues to the system, and travel a rough road.

At the age of 48, I hit rock bottom. Having been previously incarcerated six times before for various criminal activities, here I was again facing a charge that carried a one to five year prison term. I thought I was slick, cool, but not slick enough apparently, because here I was on my way to prison, again.

I was sent to a facility in Saint Louis, Michigan to serve out my sentence. With no family support to speak of, and few friends, I saw myself having two clear choices. I concluded that I could continue to go in and out of prison for the rest of my life, or get myself together and change the direction I was going. I chose the latter.

While incarcerated, I began to study the Bible on my own, and to read a daily devotional called Our Daily Bread. Shortly thereafter, I met Chaplain Thompson and he gave me a book to read entitled, Who Moved the Cheese.

I was so inspired by that one little book that I became motivated to read other books. So, I went back to Chaplain Thompson and asked him if he might suggest other inspirational reading that would keep me encouraged.

He then challenged me to “step outside the box” and continue to read, but not limit myself to just religious literature only. This was a valuable suggestion and I'm still grateful to him to this day for it.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Alpha Prison Ministries. I attended their Bible Studies and it had a tremendous impact on my life. A few days later, I had a dream. In this dream, I was assured that even though I was in prison, I would be safe, and nothing bad would happen to me.

One week after the dream, I attended a scheduled paroled board hearing. At the hearing I received a flop, which was a twelve-month additional add-on to my original sentence. I was told that this was due to my past criminal record. They scheduled another parole hearing for me in six months.

It was during this time I accepted Christ in my life and began to live by a new set of standards. My new life was not without its challenges though. Being a Christian in prison did not come easy for me. In spite of all that, I remained faithful to the new commitment I made to God. He surrounded me with a new set of positive minded friends who encouraged me to stay strong.

Before my next parole board hearing, the 12 month “flop” originally added on to my sentence was miraculously dropped!

Through attending APM Bible studies, I was made aware that they offered transitional housing to ex-offenders who were getting ready to be released.

During this time, I was on a mission to find a program or someone to let me use their address to parole to. I was starting to get very discouraged because no one responded to my letters. When I wrote a letter to Leon, within ten days he wrote me back telling me that I was accepted. Hallelujah! I was paroled January 10, 2004.

After moving to Alpha House, I started looking for a church home. Ron, my mentor, had given me his phone number, and a few days later I called and asked him if he would pick me up. I began to attend church with him and eventually became a member.

It was then that God began to move in my life. Leon became a wonderful friend and mentor, along with Ron, and Mark, another volunteer for Alpha who would faithfully come and minister to me in prison weekly. Once I was released, he would come to Grand Rapids and visit me at Alpha House. He was instrumental in helping me stay focus and encouraged.

Encouraging people today comes very easy for me, because when I think back on how many people helped me along this path, it just comes natural. Through Alpha Prison Ministries, I learned how to process resources, and Leon introduced me to programs and organizations that were beneficial in helping in my “new life.”

Psalms 37:23 says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighted in his way.” For the first time in my life I started to feel the favor of God working in my life.

At 50 years old and limited work experience, and having a disability and numerous felonies on my record, finding a job was not an easy task. But through prayer and a lot of disappointments, I finally got a job as a telemarketer. This, as I later found out, afforded me the opportunity to sharpen my communication skills.

In 2005, I had the desire to start my own business which I still do today. I want everyone reading this to know that change is not easy, it takes effort, but God is faithful. I like to joke with people telling them that I graduated from Street University, with honors. I am now a student of Christ University.

James -- Originally published in March 2012