How Truth Changed Me From Criminal to Christian
I GREW up in a small town in Maine. I seemed to be always into some kind of minor mischief. When my father caught me in such misdemeanors, I’d get the woodshed treatment. I was lonely at times, especially after my dad died—he died on my 11th birthday.
When I moved to a larger town, I got involved in more than mere misdemeanors, more serious things like shoplifting as well as breaking and entering. I’d break into the hardware store just to see if I could. I didn’t always take very much. It was more for the thrill of it than anything else. Now that I look back, I think a lot of it was caused by too much TV viewing—I seemed to be drawn to the violent shows.
My crimes got progressively worse. The more I got away with, the more daring I became. Then I got caught. I was 15 or 16 years old, “shopping” inside a supermarket at two in the morning—hardly the right time for that. Being a juvenile, I was put on probation for six months. I learned nothing from this experience; my petty thefts continued.
By the time I was 21, they were no longer petty. One night my career in crime culminated in murder. After robbing a combination hardware store and feedstore, I loaded my haul into the back of one of their trucks, jump-started it, and took off. As I made my getaway, I was thinking what a great thing I had done. That store had been robbed many times, and the owner had made it into a fortress. No one could ever bust into that place again. But I did! I was really something!
But not for long. The truck got stuck, so I abandoned it and went to a house to look for some other transportation. A man in the house saw me prowling around and threatened to call the cops. I could not afford to have them come, since I had just robbed the store. I panicked, pulled out my pistol, and shot him. The confrontation ended with him dead and me on the run.
Beads of sweat popped out on me. I was terrified. I was numb. I first drove to Augusta, ditched the stolen car, and started walking across a bridge. I looked at the water below. ‘Jump in?’ I thought. The thought of suicide crossed my mind several times during the days that followed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I continued on the run for two years.
Finally I took a bus to Boston. By now the police had stopped looking for me, but I was still scared. On the bus, people in uniforms would get on, and I would panic. By this time I had dumped the gun. After I killed that man, I wanted nothing to do with it. When I got to Boston, I wandered around during the day and slept in dumpsters or on construction sites at night. What little money I had was soon spent for food. I resorted to shoplifting once or twice, but I wanted no more of that now. The daring spirit, the thrill, the challenge of stealing and getting away with it—that was all gone now.
I got a job, found a cheap room, used an alias, and was nervous every time I saw a policeman. If I saw one coming, I would go the other way. I was always so careful, not even jaywalking, for fear of being picked up. That was the way it was for me, the onetime thrill-seeking thief, now the guilt-ridden fugitive.
I had a small book of proverbs, and at times I read in it. Then I remembered the book of Proverbs in the Bible. I got a Bible and began to read in it. I don’t know why. We were never a religious family. When I was 13, my mother went to a few meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wanted nothing to do with that, nor did she continue with it.
Even now, reading some in the Bible, I wasn’t thinking of getting religion. But I was getting sick of running, having to look over my shoulder all the time, wondering if the authorities were waiting around the next corner to grab me. I guess deep inside I was searching for something, though I didn’t know what.
I was reading things that made me curious. I wanted to understand. Questions were crowding into my mind, and I didn’t know where to go for the answers. I guess because my mother had gone to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I decided to go there. I was nervous about it. I was not sure of the reception I would get, but I went. The reception was warm. Many welcomed me; one Witness started a Bible study with me.
In the months that followed, my conscience was resurrected. The more I learned, the more I thought, ‘I can’t go on like this. Something has to happen. Either I give up studying the Bible or I turn myself in.’ I soon realized that I could not give up my study of the Bible, but that other option was scary. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to go to prison.
It was the toughest decision I had ever had to make, but I made it. At 24 years of age, I went to one of the elders in the congregation, Willard Stargell. I told him that I’d killed a man and that I was going to give myself up.
“You’re sure that’s what you want to do?” he asked.
“I’ll help in any way I can. Would you like me to go to the police station with you?”
“I sure would.”
“Well, there is a circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses this weekend,” he reminded me. “We could attend that, then go to the police station Monday morning.”
I liked that idea. I wanted to attend the assembly, but I also dreaded the thought of going to the police station. I jumped at the chance to postpone it. So I went with him to the assembly and enjoyed it. Monday morning we went to the police station, and I turned myself in.
The police could not believe it. Not many turn themselves in—not for murder! They called the police in Bangor, Maine, to make sure. A day and a half later, I was in the county jail in Bangor. The next day a local Witness visited me. When the trial was held, Stargell came to Maine to appear as a witness in my behalf. There I confessed to theft and murder; the headline announcing the result spoke of me as “Composed as Judge Sentences Him to Life.” A month later I was in the state prison of Maine, serving 15 years to life. There Witnesses also came to visit me.
My reception by the inmates was varied. They ridiculed me for ‘being stupid enough to turn myself in,’ especially since the police had given up the search for me. When they learned that I did it because of studying the Bible, they jeered at me, calling me ‘a sheep among wolves.’ The abuse was always verbal, never physical. For the most part, I stayed separate from the inmates.
The truth became a safeguard for me. In time they realized that ‘this guy’s one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He’s neutral. He’s not going to get involved with any of these internal squabbles.’ Also, they knew enough not to come to me to sell drugs or to get me to steal something for them. The administration officials also realized that I was not going to break the rules. It kept my record unblemished and allowed me more freedom.
At one time during this period, I got sidetracked from my pursuit of Bible truth. It’s not that I deliberately decided not to continue with it. It was a failure to heed Hebrews 2:1, where we are warned that we should “never drift away.” However, I did. Even in prison, materialism can ensnare you! An opportunity opened up whereby I could make some novelty items for display in the prison showroom. Visitors would buy these items, and most of the money went to the prisoners that had made them. So I got involved in making money, and my personal study suffered.
Then I started thinking to myself: ‘Why did you turn yourself in? Why did you come back and go to prison? And now you’re giving up your Bible studies? That doesn’t make sense! You might as well not have given yourself up.’ Part of my problem was that I had trouble believing that Jehovah had really forgiven me for killing a man. One of the guards was a Witness, and he saw that I was depressed about this. So he related to me some of the things that he had done when serving in Vietnam before he became a Witness.
“What makes you so special?” he asked. “Look at all the civilian lives I’m responsible for. When my squad raided Vietnamese villages, we mowed down dozens of people, many of them innocent women and children. You think that doesn’t bother me now? I can’t forget it! Yet I feel that Jehovah, the God of infinite mercy, has forgiven me. What you did was not nearly as bad as what I did. You killed one man; I don’t even begin to know how many I killed!”
It was what I needed. It got me thinking, reflecting on Jehovah’s mercy and forgiveness for those who truly repent. So I eventually dropped my materialistic occupations and got back into my schedule of Bible study. And that’s the way it’s been ever since.
Eventually, a weekly Bible study was conducted with me, and once a month I was allowed to go out with the Witnesses for outside assemblies. At one time, a couple of other prisoners and I were studying the Bible. We were trusted more and allowed more privileges. The officials knew that they did not have to keep a close watch on us. One time we were allowed to go from cell to cell giving out tracts, along with invitations to a slide show by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over 20 attended.
Jehovah, the spiritual food through his organization, and the loving help of faithful brothers have kept me going. While in prison I received many encouraging cards and letters from the Witnesses, and this was a spiritual tonic that buoyed up my spirits. All of this led to my baptism by water immersion in 1983 to symbolize my dedication to do Jehovah’s will—after seven years in Maine’s maximum-security state prison.
Two years later, after nine years in maximum security, I was transferred to a nearby minimum-security prison. A year and a half later, I was transferred to a work-release facility in Bangor. There prisoners are sent out on work projects, returning at the end of the day to the facility. Six months later I came up for my first parole hearing. None of the guards or inmates thought that I would make it. “Nobody makes it the first time up,” they said. “Nobody!”
But I did. True, very few made it the first time. The usual inmate lies and tries to con the parole board, but they have heard all of that before. They see through that. I just went before them and said, ‘This is the way I am, this is what I’ve done, this is how I’ve changed, and this is what I plan on doing.’ I told them about my studying the Bible, about the changes it had made in me, and about my becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They could see those changes.
I guess the fact that I had turned myself in, that both my behavior and my work records were good, and that the Bible principles I had studied were reflected in my attitude and conduct—all of that spoke for me. Plus I prayed to Jehovah and leaned on him. I like to think that he may have had something to do with it, and I hope that this is not presumptuous of me. At any rate, the board granted my parole. In February 1987, after 12 years in prison, I was free to go.
On April 30, 1988, I got married to one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She has three children from a previous marriage. As a family, we have our weekly Bible study. We attend all the meetings at the Kingdom Hall. We preach the good news of God’s Kingdom from house to house. We make return visits on all who are interested, and we conduct home Bible studies with those who desire it. After several years of limited preaching in prison and with hardly any meeting attendance, how wonderful it is to share “with the greatest freeness of speech” in the Christian activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses!—Acts 28:31.
All of this was possible because the accurate knowledge of God’s Word enabled me to strip off my old criminal personality and put on a new Christian one patterned after the image and likeness of Jehovah God.—Colossians 3:9, 10.
Certainly, in my case ‘the word of God was sharp and exerted the power’ to sever me from my past and rehabilitate me as a law-abiding member of society and a preacher of the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Hebrews 4:12) All praise to Jehovah, “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort.”—2 Corinthians 1:3.—Name withheld by request.
[Blurb on page 18]
One night my career in crime culminated in murder
[Blurb on page 19]
Either I give up studying the Bible or I turn myself in
[Blurb on page 20]
The police could not believe it. Not many turn themselves in—not for murder!
[Blurb on page 21]
We were allowed to go from cell to cell giving out Bible tracts