Three Hours That Turned My Life Around
I WAS ten years old when I received the BB gun for Christmas. I shot at bottles and tin cans but quickly graduated to more exciting game—birds, snakes, anything that moved. I notched the stock of my gun for each bird killed. Soon, 18 proud notches proclaimed my prowess as a hunter.
Then something happened that changed all of this. I was out in my backyard one day hunting birds. I saw a sparrow in the top of our cottonwood tree, took careful aim, slowly squeezed the trigger. A direct hit! Number 19!
The bird fell to the ground. I walked to where it lay, looked down at it, saw the blood on its feathers. It stirred, seemed to look up at me as if to say: ‘Who gave you the right to take my life?’ As it died, its head slowly settled to the ground. I was cut to the heart. I began to cry. I ran to my mother and told her what had happened and what I was sure the dying bird had said to me. I never shot another bird, never cut another notch on my gun. To this day I can still see that little fluff of feathers covered with blood. The lasting impact of this childhood experience made me aware of the preciousness of life, whether a sparrow’s or a person’s.
Other values were instilled in me early in life—honesty, respect for my elders, a moral sense, devotion to truth. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, but was raised in a Chicago, Illinois, suburb called Robbins. I grew up going to church, but the set of values given me as a churchgoing child faded over the years. I did not see these values reflected in the congregation or the deacons or the ministers; instead, I saw hypocrisy. Also, in society in general, such values were dismissed as impractical and were ignored. But the lesson of the preciousness of life as taught by the little sparrow’s death, that never faded.
By the time I went to high school, I had quit going to church—much to my parents’ distress. My conscience became dulled, but I do remember that when I started using profanity—everyone else did—my conscience pricked me. As my associations worsened, I drifted into drugs and immoral conduct. The Bible said that would be the case, and I fulfilled its prediction: “Do not be misled. Bad associations spoil useful habits.”—1 Corinthians 15:33.
Even so, a sense of right and wrong exercised some restraints. For example, in my third year of high school, I had two buddies that I ran with, was on the basketball team with, did everything with—up until this one night when we came across a young woman. My two friends decided to rape her. She pleaded with them not to do this, but when they proceeded to do it, she became hysterical and screamed for them to kill her instead. In spite of her struggle, they raped her. Then they wanted me to join them in this outrage against her person. Sickened and repelled, I refused to share in their cowardly violation of her. They became very angry with me and ended up calling me vile names. Our friendship ended that night.
Years later I realized that what I had experienced was another example of what the Bible said would happen: “Because you do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of you.”—1 Peter 4:4.
My final year of high school, 1965, saw an escalation of the Vietnam War, and I was faced with the dilemma of what to do after graduation. I didn’t want to be drafted and forced to kill. I still had strong feelings about taking life—either of sparrows or of people. I had an easy way out: an athletic scholarship to play basketball for a university. Instead, I joined the air force, a branch of the armed forces where I wouldn’t have to fight in the jungles and kill.
I was assigned to a MAC (Military Airlift Command) unit as an aircraft mechanic for my four years of service. After basic training, I was sent to CCK Airbase, Taiwan. That was in January 1968. Most of my buddies in the squadron were on assignments that took them to Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines. They were able to get whatever they wanted—including hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. I had begun using drugs in high school; now I began selling them. Eight months later our entire squadron was reassigned to Okinawa, Japan, which was then under U.S. administration. Our drug business flourished.
My squadron commander personally invited me to go to Vietnam for a firsthand look. Because of the money and the excitement, I jumped at the chance. I found Vietnam a beautiful country with lush greenery and white sand beaches. The Vietnamese people were so genuinely kind and hospitable. If you knocked on their door, they would take you in and feed you. I often wondered: ‘Why is this war being fought? Why are these people being slaughtered like animals?’ But in Saigon I saw so much crime, so many sordid activities, so much corruption and wanton violence! Life was so cheap. I began to have serious doubts about mankind’s ability and willingness ever to live together in peace and happiness.
After my honorable discharge from the air force in late July 1970, I went back to my hometown of Robbins, Illinois. I got a job and tried to settle down, but things were different. People and places had changed. Yes, and I had changed too. Home wasn’t home anymore. My thoughts focused on the Far East, dwelt on memories etched in my mind. My desire to return to the Orient was overwhelming. Eight months after my military discharge, I bought a one-way plane ticket back to Okinawa, Japan.
My first night back, I went to one of my old hangouts, a fast-paced club called Tina’s Bar and Lounge. To my great surprise, there sitting at the bar was one of my old drug-business buddies. We were happy to see each other and immediately devised a plan to smuggle drugs out of Thailand. We impersonated military personnel to get to Thailand, as we had phony ID cards, leave papers, uniforms, and so forth. Thus we made our way from the airport to Bangkok.
From there we made contact with our prearranged guide, who took us by dugout canoe through the dark waterways and swamps of the jungle to an isolated island. We were greeted by one of the kingpins of the drug trade in Thailand. He was such a gracious and hospitable host that we never suspected that he would inform the authorities of our activity. But he did. It was a trade-off to get them to ignore some of his illegal activities.
The authorities were waiting for us at the bus station in Bangkok—and I was carrying a suitcase with 65 pounds [29 kg] of drugs in it! As I entered the door of the bus station, I felt the chill of cold steel on the back of my neck. A colonel in the Thai police force was holding a .38 revolver to my head and said very calmly, “Please, do not try to resist me.” We were arrested and herded off to police headquarters.
We were to meet an accomplice in Okinawa, who would have three shoe boxes of heroin. By pooling our supplies, we figured to control the drug trade in Okinawa. The accomplice arrived there with the heroin, and when the boxes came out on the baggage belt, the police were there with their dog that sniffed out the heroin. He lost the heroin, I lost the suitcase full of marijuana and speed, and our business was shut down before it began. We ended up in Klong Prem prison. Conditions were primitive. Food was scarce. Our daily diet consisted of small salted fish and rice twice each day. During the two months there, I lost a hundred pounds [45 kg].
While we were in prison, a tall distinguished-looking gentleman came to visit us, stating that he was from the U.S. consulate. He said that he wanted to help us but needed more information. We didn’t trust him. After going back and forth for a while, he finally revealed that he was the chief narcotics investigator for the entire Southeast Asia area, and he was trying to establish that we were smuggling drugs out of the country. The next day, he returned to speak to me privately.
“Level with me,” the investigator said. “If you don’t, I promise that you will rot right here in this prison.” So I leveled. I told the truth. He next asked: “How would you like to work for me as a special agent?” I was caught totally off guard, but I finally agreed to work these sting operations with him.
Eventually, I was released from prison and returned to Okinawa to start my new life as a special drug-enforcement agent. My assignment was to set up drug deals with the intent of arresting suppliers involved in the drug trade. I worked in that position for about a year and a half and then quit.
In time, my partner and I were running a tavern called Papa Joe’s. We had bar girls working for us as hostesses, whose job was to get the GIs to buy as much liquor as possible. One night a man sitting at the bar asked me: “You’re Jimmy-san, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You’re doing pretty good here, aren’t you?”
“I’m doing OK. Why do you ask?”
“My advice to you is, Don’t come back out on the street. You do, and we’re gonna catch you and put you away.”
I realized then that he was a narcotics agent and that I was being watched. I knew too much, and they were warning me to keep off the streets. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t out selling on the streets now anyway. I had cut back on the degrading life-style I had been living.
Also, at this time I was trying to find out the meaning of life by investigating the Eastern religions. I soon realized that they were just as mysterious and confusing as Christendom’s Trinity teaching. They didn’t make sense either.
Then, one day while I was at home alone, there was a knock on the door. An elderly Japanese woman was there, a warm smile on her face. But what really commanded my attention was her eyes. They seemed to be gleaming. It was as if I could tell by her eyes that she was upright and pure, that she wasn’t there to hustle me for anything. I had a strong feeling that I should listen to her. I couldn’t explain it, but I couldn’t ignore it either. So I invited her in.
It was only after we sat down at the kitchen table that I really began to hear what she was saying. I had been to church many times in my youth, but never had I heard anything right out of the Bible like this. She showed why there was so much wickedness, that Satan was the god of this world, and that all of this was a sign of the last days. Soon God would rise up to end all wickedness and usher in a clean new world of righteousness. I had often wondered why we were here, whether there was any meaning to life, any purpose for this beautiful earth. The answers were in the Bible—had always been there.—Psalm 92:7; Ecclesiastes 1:4; Isaiah 45:18; Daniel 2:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; 2 Peter 3:13.
As she talked, the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle began to fall into place. Like seeds that lie dormant for years but sprout when moisture comes, so thoughts about God that had lain dormant in my mind suddenly came to life as the waters of truth from the Bible washed over them.—Ephesians 5:26; Revelation 7:17.
Living forever, not in some far-off heaven, but right here on a paradise earth. The whole earth a garden of Eden. A resurrection that would bring untold millions of the dead back for an opportunity to live forever in this Edenic earthly Paradise. No pain, no tears, no suffering, no crime, no disease, no death—many scriptures proclaiming these blessings to come under Jehovah’s Kingdom under Christ painted glowing pictures in my mind of what God has in store for obedient mankind.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Proverbs 2:21, 22; John 5:28, 29; 17:3; Revelation 21:1, 4, 5.
Too good to be true? Well, she proved from the Bible every statement she made. As she talked, for the first time the Bible became crystal clear, made sense, came alive to me. I realized two things: First, this was the pure truth from God’s Word, uncontaminated by the false creeds and doctrines of Christendom’s religions; and, second, that I had changes to make in my life to conform to God’s laws and standards.—Psalm 119:105; Romans 12:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Colossians 3:9, 10.
We talked for three hours, three hours that turned my life around. Before Haruko Isegawa—that was her name—left, she told me where I could attend meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She also started coming weekly to study the Bible with me. The following week, I attended my first meeting with Jehovah’s Witnesses. What I was learning had a profound effect on my thinking and conduct. Rapid changes were made almost overnight. For many of my old friends, this was too much too soon, causing a parting of company. I lost some old friends, but I gained many more new ones, just as Jesus had promised. (Matthew 19:29) Ten months after the initial visit by Sister Isegawa, I was baptized on August 30, 1974, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The following month I returned to the United States and began to associate with the Robbins Congregation in my hometown. The following year I visited the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, called Bethel, meaning “House of God.” Today, three thousand volunteer workers are there, another thousand work at Watchtower Farms in upstate New York, printing the Bible literature that’s distributed earth wide. The visit increased my intense desire to serve there, and Jehovah did grant me that fine privilege in September 1979.
A few months after I arrived, another brother was assigned to the department where I worked. There was something about him that was familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. After getting better acquainted, we discovered that we were both in Okinawa at the same time, lived in the same housing complex, and were both drug dealers. We had a joyful reunion. Both he and his wife now serve as special full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Micronesian Islands.
In 1981 Jehovah blessed me with a loving wife, Bonnie, and we’ve enjoyed many rich blessings while serving together here at Bethel. I feel like the psalmist King David, as he expressed himself in the 23rd Psalm, Ps 23 verse 6: “Surely goodness and loving-kindness themselves will pursue me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of Jehovah to the length of days.”
One day I read Matthew 10:29, 31. It took me back to my childhood: “Do not two sparrows sell for a coin of small value? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” Did Jehovah know about the sparrow I had killed? I was relieved as I read on: “Have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.”—As told by James Dyson.
[Blurb on page 19]
‘Why are these people being slaughtered like animals?’
[Blurb on page 20]
I felt the chill of cold steel on the back of my neck
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The police were there with their dog that sniffed out the heroin
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I had a strong feeling that I should listen to her
[Picture on page 23]
With my wife, Bonnie