Charles grew up in an abusive and dysfunctional home, witnessing his father mistreat his mother.
After enduring years of abuse, his mom crossed state lines to a domestic violence shelter with Charles and his three siblings in tow. Yet life was far from stable, and they often found themselves without a permanent home.
Several years later, Charles moved back in with his dad, stepmom, and half sister. Things seemed better for a while, but his semblance of stability crumbled as quickly as his dad’s second marriage.
“After that, we always seemed to struggle, and I think my dad blamed me for ruining that part of his life. He was always hard on me after that,” Charles said. “The words he abused me with hurt far more than any of the physical abuse I endured.”
Over the years, Charles heard tales of his father’s criminal past and stints in prison. In an attempt to win his father’s approval, he began adopting a tough exterior. “I think on some level I tried to relate to my father and be a man of whom he would be proud,” he said.
At twelve, weary of the abuse he had received, Charles began running away and had his first encounters with the law.
Charles embraced Christianity at fourteen, initially learning about it through at-risk youth programs and his great-grandmother. He yearned for the kind of love he had heard about, a love “beyond comprehension.” However, he quickly fell away from his faith.
“I spent almost all of my teenage years locked up or on the run. I started my first prison term when I was eighteen,” he said. “It’s crazy how lost and blind I was in that season of my life. I was a part of this world and living in so much darkness. And that darkness was staining my soul.”
Caught in the depths of that darkness, Charles made the grave choice that resulted in his current life sentence. For much of the past nineteen years, he has been held in solitary confinement.
Yet that grim, isolated place is where Charles’s life transformed.
“I believe God got me back there in that hole so He could get my attention. He wanted me somewhere quiet so I could hear His voice,” he said.
In April 2020, with no escape from his isolation, Charles began reflecting on his life, the pain he had caused, and the losses he had experienced. He felt convicted and lost, but amidst the turmoil, he remembered his earlier decision to follow Christ.
“Throughout my life, He was always there, trying to get my attention, but I just didn’t have the courage to truly live my life for Him . . . always ashamed of this God who loves, always afraid of appearing weak for needing Him, for wanting Him in my life,” Charles said.
As he sat in his cell, Charles realized he had it backward: going to church and living for Christ was an act of strength, not weakness.
“I was worried about my reputation, about what other people thought about me,” he said. “God showed me that I was actually being a coward. . . . And that to live my life for Him was true courage. . . . This revelation rocked me to the core, and I spent a couple of months ruminating and soul-searching.”
Three months later, Charles fell to his knees in repentance and rededicated his life to Jesus. From then on, he immersed himself in reading the Bible, discovering healing, encouragement, and strength within its pages.
Charles shared that the hope he found in Christ replaced the thoughts of suicide that had plagued him for so long, leaving him with “indescribable gratitude.”
His newfound faith brought about unexpected changes. Charles chose to step away from his former gang affiliations, reaching out to his former comrades with the news of his transformation. To his surprise, instead of violence, he received love and understanding.
“I knew God was calling me . . . but it was my whole heart or nothing! I went all in, regardless of what it might cost me and its consequences. I didn’t want to walk any longer in any darkness [or] exist in anything but the truth,” Charles said. “Everything that I had considered important and worthwhile in my past I now counted nothing compared to knowing my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! I expected a short life because of my decision. I honestly expected death, but I was content, knowing that I’d be with Jesus if that came to pass. . . . INSTEAD, God has given me abundant life!”
As a new believer, Charles shared that there aren’t many opportunities for Christian fellowship at his facility, and there hasn’t been a church service in their yard for more than two years. Seeking the encouragement of other believers, he enrolled in the Crossroads program in the fall of 2020 and was recently assigned a Tier 2 mentor, who will walk alongside him in his faith journey one-on-one.
“I’ve never looked back with regret; only wish I would have made this choice sooner,” Charles said. “But it took all that and this to bring me to this point in life. If this was the only way to get me to a place of complete surrender, then even if I could, I wouldn’t change a thing in my life, except the life I took.”
Like Charles, many people in prison are looking for encouragement, fellowship, and support in their faith journeys. Would you consider walking alongside them as a Crossroads mentor or making a donation on their behalf?
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