A Societal Castaway: How I Found Hope and Purpose
Updated: Feb 12
I was driving home after replacing a head on an engine when I heard something that seemed like divine intervention. A group of pastors was going to be meeting at a church that night to discuss ways to minister to inmates. The announcement invited those interested to join them. I had only just given my life to Christ a few months prior, but somehow I felt God telling me to go this meeting.
I stopped at my pastor's house to ask for directions and had just enough time to make it to the meeting. As soon as I walked in, I stuck out like an outlaw biker in a room full of preachers. I guess that's because that was true.
I had been an outlaw biker for the last twenty years, and now here I stood with a long beard and hair, tattoos on my face, and greasy coveralls in a room full of pastors in suits and ties. I was scouting for the farthest seat in the back when a man approached me.
"What brought you to the meeting tonight?" he asked.
I felt myself shuffle uncomfortably. He was probably thinking, "Why is this outcast here?" I spotted an empty seat in the back. "I heard about it on the radio and felt God telling me to come here," I said.
He looked at me puzzled. "We didn't advertise this meeting on the radio."
Great, not only do I stick out like a sore thumb, but now he thinks I'm crazy.
"Well, then I'm supposed to be here because I just heard it on the radio. Anyway, when I was in prison we didn't have any ministry and we really could have used one."
I knew how it felt to feel like an outcast. I knew that lost feeling. I knew how these inmates felt and I knew I could help them. Even if these pastors still saw me as an outlaw, I knew something was different on the inside.
I nodded politely to the man and hurried up to take my seat. One of the pastors began speaking. He explained that it would be necessary for everyone to go through a training program before going into the prison, and that they would need a pastor to lead and teach these classes.
"But always remember," he continued, "it's important to tell the inmates you know how they feel."
Was he serious? How could these suits and ties possibly know how we felt?
I felt years of anger and rejection begin to boil up inside of me. These pastors couldn't possibly know what it was like to feel like society had given up on you. I tried to hold back, but it came rushing forth like an exploding volacano.
"My old lady is sleeping around, my house was robbed, my mother is dying, and you think you know how I feel? Don't ever try to con a con!" The whole room went silent and every wide eye was on me.
So much for the inconspicuous back seat. I blew it. The old me had returned. Who was I fooling to think I could help someone. I couldn't even control my temper in a pastor's meeting.
The lead pastor stood up and pointed at me.
Here it goes, he's going to ask me to leave.
"Pastors, right there is your teacher."
I couldn't believe it. They wanted the outlaw biker in the greasy coveralls who just blew his lid to teach these pastors? Maybe that radio announcement was divine intervention after all.
After three months we completed the training. For the next three and a half years I worked with the Chuck Colson Prison Fellowship Ministry. This turned out to be an excellent ministry that gave me some great training to minister to inmates. I went on to work with another prison ministry that was started by Bill Glass, who used to be a Cleveland Brown's football player.
I remember on a particular visit to a North Carolina correctional facility. I was with the Bill Glass Champions for Life ministry. It was a cold, rainy day, and we were going to be speaking outside in the yard. Their speaker system let us be heard throughout the prison.
One of the ministry leaders tapped me on the shoulder. "Why don't you give your testimony today Santo?" I could feel my heart begin to race. I wasn't scheduled to speak. I walked out to the platform. The yard was empty except for a few disgruntled looking men and the other teammates. "Lord," I prayed, "give me the words to get these men's attention."
I picked up the microphone and the words came booming out. "Let's all get out here and get naked!" If that didn't get their attention I didn't know what would. Men began filling into the yard. "I'm not talking about taking our clothes off. I'm talking about baring our souls before God."
I began sharing my story. "I've been a drug dealer and I've been an addict. I've been stabbed twenty-six times and declared dead three times. I've been betrayed and I've been the betrayer. I know what it's like to hit rock bottom and feel like there is nothing left to live for."
The yard was now full and it was silent with all the men's pain staring back at me. "But I want you to know about someone who can give you a reason to hope, a reason to live, and a way to change: Jesus Christ, my Lord and personal savior." On that weekend an empty yard turned into over 700 men giving their lives to Christ.
I've spent many years going in and out of prisons preaching the Gospel and whether I'm speaking at a prison or sharing in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there's always a common message I try to teach.
Identify the source of pain:
Through counseling I realized I had some unidentified and unresolved sources of pain from my past. I was molested by my uncle at a young age. I had a very controlling father, and I was severely picked on throughout school.
I was hurt, angry and felt powerless. This fed my desire to control people, and the unresolved hurt turned to anger, which ended up hurting others.
I often use this example. I fill a bucket with ice water and ask for a volunteer. I then begin to tell my life story. Each time someone has hurt or offended me, I hand a ping-pong ball to the volunteer and ask them to hold it under water. As we keep adding balls it becomes harder to keep them under water.
Eventually, one of the balls will pop up and I'll ask them to identify which offense that ball represents. They always say, "I don't know. They all look the same." I'll say, "Exactly. And that's what happens when we get angry or something sets us off. We can't identify what it is we're mad about, but it's usually something that reminds us of that offense or hurt."
Forgive the offender:
I then ask them to take one hand and try to hold all these balls under water, and then take their other hand and take care of their wife, children and job. Meanwhile, balls keep popping up.
I tell them it's hard to keep trying to hold on to all these offenses and past hurts and still maintain healthy relationships in life. You have to forgive those who have hurt you. Otherwise, just like these balls, they'll keep popping up in your life when you least expect it and cause you to react to others in anger, who have nothing to do with your problem.
Accept responsibility and move on:
Once you've forgiven the offender, don't blame them for your choices. I had to realize even though I had been hurt by my uncle, father and schoolmates, causing me a lot of pain and anger, I still had to accept responsibility for the bad choices I made, and to deal with the hurt and anger.
We have a right to our feelings and there are no wrong feelings. It's how we deal with those feelings that become right or wrong.
When I was a suicidal addict, that at one point got up to a $2,000 a day habit; going in and out of prisons, and at times being surrounded by S.W.A.T. teams, I never dreamed I would one day be helping people instead of hurting them.
For so many years I had searched for happiness in vain. But now nothing can compare to the joy I feel when I tell the hopeless about the change God made in a societal castaway like me, and watch hope return to their lives.
My motto is "Love God. Love people."
Story written by Julie Busby who resides in Dayton, Ohio, as told to her by Santo Landerer.