I write this article from prison. My life is now directed by people who don't know me, don't really care about me and, for that matter, don't even care if I change or not. I am told when to eat, when to shower, when I can have visitors. I have many other restrictions—in short, I have very few rights or privileges.
This is an open letter to the young people in God's Church, to show the choices one should not make.
A pattern of bad choices
Before I was even a teenager I made bad choices that affected my life negatively. My birth father left my mother before I was born. I had an abusive stepfather; and in order to stay away from him and avoid going home, I would break the law so the authorities would take me out of my home. I was jailed and put in foster homes.
This became a pattern for me. After a while, anytime something didn't go right for me or something came up that I didn't want to do, I would run away and commit some other offense. When I was 15, my stepfather was beating my mother, and I threatened to kill him. That cost me three years in reform school.
Shortly after being released and turning 18, I continued the same pattern. When things didn't go right, I would commit crimes. I allowed peer pressure to affect my decisions and to determine my choices. Eventually, those choices cost me the best years of my life. I ended up spending 28 years in state prison. I lost family members, and I lost the respect of my family and people I grew up with.
After 28 years in prison I was paroled and then struggled to find a job—a search made even harder because I am legally barred from certain jobs, such as work in the criminal justice system, education, security, health care and many other fields. I couldn't find even a simple job like stocking store shelves. I had by this point decided I wanted to find a job that didn't conflict with the Sabbath, and that made the search even harder.
Wherever I looked I had to experience the contempt and condemnation of others every time I had to check that box on the employment application regarding whether I had been convicted of a crime.
I did find a job, a place to live and had wonderful Church members who tried to help me in my new life. Looking back, I see God's blessings in the job I found, the apartment I was able to live in and the Church family who took me under their wing. But looking back doesn't move you forward.
I thought I had learned my lesson, but I quickly fell back into some old habits. I then distanced myself from God and His people who were trying to help me. I started drinking and hanging out with people who were not interested in what was best for me. I lost control and got distracted from what was important because I let go of my prayer and Bible study. I ended up justifying wrong choices again and was put back in prison with additional time added to my original sentencing. I never felt so low in my life.
I had again let down the people I cared about the most. I thought for sure God would give up on me, as well as the Church members who had invested so much concern and care in helping me. I very nearly gave up on myself.
God did not give up on me, however, and so He wouldn't let me give up.
Choices and consequences
There is no glory in bad choices. When you are confronted with choices, take the time to stop and think of the consequences. Just one bad choice can affect and change your life forever. Do not let others tease or bully you into making bad choices. If in doubt, stop and ask your parents or someone in authority. Remember that God is also a good authority to ask! (Proverbs 3:5 Proverbs 3:5Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding.
American King James Version×).
I write this in the hope that you will stop and consider your own choices—and never become what I have become. Choose to live your life well, and within God's laws.
I didn't have the opportunity to learn God's way in my youth, but I did once I was in prison. I should have remembered that training, but I let myself get caught up in the cares and pleasures of life (Luke 8:14 Luke 8:14And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.
American King James Version×) instead of keeping my eyes on the prize (Philippians 3:14 Philippians 3:14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×). I have now recommitted myself to being grounded even more fully in God's instruction in order to break the pattern of bad choices.
By the time I am able to be released again, I will have spent 33 years in prison, and I will still be on parole for five years after that. I know that God has not given up on me and that I still have much to learn.
I encourage you to look in the Bible at the examples of people who made various choices and to follow those who made right choices. Hebrews 11 is a great reference regarding choices made by Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Noah, Moses, David, Joshua, Ruth and many other men and women.
I also encourage you to observe those individuals you see making good choices and talk to them about what thought goes into those decisions. Ask God for wisdom in making good choices and for His guidance.
The alternative is demonstrated by my past. Don't let it be you. VT