At an early age, Lee’s parents separated, and his home became a toxic environment of drinking and violence. Resentful of Lee’s father, Lee’s mom was physically and emotionally abusive toward her son and ended up abandoning Lee when he was only eight years old.
He lived with his father for only two weeks before his father was arrested, and Lee then was taken to live with his great-grandmother. The trauma of his childhood made it difficult for him to connect with and trust her, so Lee began to act out.
“By twelve, I was a daily-drinking, alcoholic bootlegger who wouldn’t go to school,” Lee said.
While his great-grandmother was a kind woman of faith, her constant fire-and-brimstone admonitions disheartened Lee. “I heard that so much I decided no one would rule my life. I would make enough money so I wouldn’t need anyone. Grownups let me down and God sounded scary with constant threats of hell and negative consequences by a disapproving God.”
Eventually Lee did “climb the ladder to make money,” but it didn’t bring him happiness. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he was drinking from the moment he woke up until his head hit the pillow. “No water, milk, coffee. Just nearly five gallons of alcohol every day,” Lee wrote.
Living across the street from a large Baptist church, Lee spent his Sunday mornings with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other as cars streamed in and out of the parking lot. While on his porch fighting the urge to cross the street and walk through the church doors, he often found himself thinking back to a promise he made to his great-grandmother that he would read the Bible.
When he was thirty, Lee’s five-year-old daughter and her mother were killed by a drunk driver. Overwhelmed with grief, he began searching for his family only to be rejected by his mother once again.
Over the next few years, Lee continued to battle alcoholism, maxed out his credit cards and lost his home and business, ending up in jail for crimes he couldn’t remember committing.
After ten years in prison, he finally heard from his father. “He was sober and had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior,” Lee wrote. “I viewed my dad’s finding me as a gift from God but had too much pride to ask for my own forgiveness.” For eight years, Lee and his father were able to rebuild their relationship until his father received a cancer diagnosis. “I panicked at the thought of being in prison alone again,” he explained.
It was then that Lee remembered the church he had lived across the street from twenty-four years earlier and he decided to send them a letter. Steve, an associate pastor at the church, wrote him back. “He was kind, wanting to help, telling me of God without judging or even asking how I ended up in prison,” Lee said.
“When my father died in 2004, Steve continued to write me, guide me and answer questions I had about God. In him I saw a Christian example of being caring, humble. And seventeen years later, I think of Steve as a friend, nearly family to me. Along the way, he introduced me to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today, I realize God put Steve in my life to guide me to Him.”
As Lee reflects on his life, he can see that God has always been there, even when Lee ignored Him and chose to run away. God had constantly been placing people and circumstances in his life to lead him to “more Christians who care about [him].” This included another man in his unit who told him about Crossroads and the many mentors who he has written over the past three years.
“My mentors have been very kind,” he wrote. “[Through Crossroads,] my relationship with God has grown, along with my empathy and compassion for others. And it is God’s light that now allows me to see the needs of others before my own. It is God’s will that I love others as I love myself. The stress of prison is a lot to handle, thirty-four years of it. When I feel depressed, I help someone else, or walk around saying good morning to everyone else. I am rewarded by a feeling of peace for doing so.”
While Lee isn’t sure what his future holds, He knows that God will be there, and he is excited to use his life to serve others.
For thousands of men and women in prison, Crossroads mentors guide and answer the questions their students ask just as Steve did for Lee. The simple act of writing a letter communicates grace, peace and hope in places filled with shame, anxiety and deep loneliness.
Would you like to be a Steve to someone like Lee? Consider signing up to mentor men and women in prison through Crossroads!