Billy had always known violence as a way of life. His father was a Viet Nam vet and all his uncles had been soldiers. They taught him that to be a man he’d have to be able to “stick up for himself”. Billy learned that meant that you always had to be ready to fight, whether it was during a war or at the local bar. Every time Billy came home from fighting at school, his father praised him for “not taking no sh*t.” So Billy got into lots of fights, and learned that he received respect from the people who feared him.
So it was no surprise when he got into a violent fight when he was 14, and was sent away for a couple of years at a youth facility. He still didn’t stop the violence there and ended up going to prison. More violence there brought more time. He ended up with 37 stabbing cases in prison which extended his stay from a couple of years to more than 24 years. He had been “brought up” by prison, and now that was the only way of life he knew.
When I met Billy, he was recently out of prison and staying at a camp down on the Ohio River. Everyone knew he was quick to fight, and when he fought there were no holds barred. He suffered from the “fastest gun in the west” syndrome, where every new kid around would try to fight and beat him. So he always carried a weapon, and was always alert and ready for a fight. We talked a few times but he didn’t trust me and kept an eye on me to try to figure out my angle. After a while he realized that I really did care about him, and just wanted to introduce him to a better way to live. We had long conversations, and he started coming to church with me a few times. I could tell he really did want to change. The first test came when his girlfriend betrayed him. In the past, everyone would have steered clear, knowing he could take it out on anyone. But I was the only one around when he got the call. He stopped speaking, and put the phone down. I could tell he was seething mad, but he just gritted his teeth. After a minute he pounded a wall.
That was it! For the first time in his life, Billy had controlled his temper. And afterwards, he was proud of himself and said what a new feeling that was for him. Later, several other challenges came up that would have ordinarily made Billy go wild with anger. But each time, he gained more and more control. He began to understand the peace that comes with turning things over to God. He understood his anger had just been another way of trying to control things which he had no control over. He began to trust God and understand that things happen for a reason when you give control to Him. Billy gave his life to Jesus, and promised to try to follow Him.
Billy had an outstanding warrant from a year or so before. So when the police appeared and handcuffed him, he was not surprised. But it was a surprise for the police. They had been warned that he was violent and would not come willingly. But Billy didn’t even fuss, and even smiled and talked pleasantly to the police, who had to double check to make sure they had the right guy. They took him down to the Justice Center, where he had been “red-flagged” as violent, and the staff was fully prepared for the struggle. But when they brought him in, Billy smiled to himself when he saw their jaws drop to see how docile he was. Not only the staff, but the other inmates were amazed. Some questioned him, trying to figure out what his game was, but soon found that he was sincere. He was the real thing. He told the other inmates about how he’d let God into his life and now he was truly changed.
He went to court and faced the judge, having John 19:11 to comfort him. “Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above."” He trusted that God knew what was best for him, and if God needed him in prison, He knew what he was doing. Billy accepted his sentence peacefully and was sent to CRC in Orient Ohio, where he waits until he gets sent to a prison to do his 18 months.
Today I received this letter from him:
“I’ve asked a lot of people where they think I’d do the most good. Everyone has agreed with my decision to go to Lebanon or Lucasville (prison). They think I’m doing a great job so far. They don’t realize I took pages out of your book to get to people. You buy cigs and stuff to give to people that need it and then show God’s love. Well, you sent me 10 stamps… I gave 5 of them out to people that needed them to write family… and told them the envelopes were from God. I am doing everything in my power to show love and mercy. I haven’t shown any anger or doubt in what I’m doing. Everyone has given me credit on my changes. I like it! … I just want people to see that there is a better way than violence. There are a couple of people that have tried to get me to blow up, but I’m not going to do it. I pray a lot and read my bible… and ask myself “what would Jesus do?.. I’m not a real good talker, so I just let people see how I’m handling things and the options that we all have.“
What an amazing God we have!!!