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Peace Only Came Through Jesus

“I was doing such harsh crimes at such an early age - they sent me to the tougher institutions,” said Tony. “Kids got raped, you know, kids got killed, just like you hear about adult prisons.”

Tony's cycle of incarceration began at only eleven years old with his first stint in juvie after being arrested for a series of armed robberies.

He grew up with a tough, truck driver father, rough, criminal older siblings, and little hope.

“Growing up listening to tough-guy stories coming from my father and his friends, set us on a journey of being tough kids,” Tony said. “I ended up becoming one of the top three worst juveniles in the entire state of Ohio.”

At 17 he was sent to his first prison. And as his rap sheet grew, so did his anger.

“I blamed and hated the word,” Tony said. “I seen a lot of injustice in the criminal justice system, but it justified, why I was who I was. And it caused me to hate even more.”

Tony spent the next 15 years bouncing from prison to prison, earning a reputation as someone to be feared and respected. Anger, violence, and hatred fueled him.

“I was respected because I could hurt people. I was respected because I did hurt people.” Tony explained, “I took on a warrior mindset early on. Survival of the fittest is human nature. ‘If I have to put my hands on you, you deserve to die.’"

Tony was in and out of incarceration, and despite taking pride in being an outlaw, he felt his anger growing out of control.

“I would black out and wake up with blood on me and bruises, and not know what I did. I began fearing what I would so when I got angry,” Tony said soberly. “I'd been seeking peace. I got this tornado going on inside of me, this constant rage. What I had on my walls was pictures of sceneries, of beautiful sceneries, landscapes and oceans and rivers and bodies of water. And I'd just sit there and escape.”

In 2000, while back in jail for parole violation, Tony felt lasting peace was unattainable. It was then he decided he would attempt ‘suicide by guard-killing’. But before he could carry out his plan, something stopped him in his tracks.

“I was going to fake a seizure, and when the guard come in attempt to take his life,” Tony remembered. “Looked up in the shower and there was a light in the shower, you know, a regular light. When I looked up it was as if God was looking at me saying, ‘Don't.’ Cause my response to that was ‘Then DO something because I can't.’ Right as soon as I said that somebody out in the cell said, ‘Who wants this Bible?’”

Tony spent the remaining two years of his sentence studying the Bible and praying to God, but never addressing his anger. Upon his release in 2002, Tony tried to live a better life. Instead, he began an eight-year binge-purge cycle where he would fall back into a life of crime, then try and seek God again.

“Each time I'd come back I'd dig in God's Word but I wasn't growing spiritually. I wasn't dealing with convictions; I was concealing them.” Tony continued, “You've got this rage in you and you've got this bitterness, or this hate, and you don't deal with it, you just hide it, it don't go away. I began hating my life.”

By 2010, Tony had lost his family’s care, fifty pounds from drug use, and respect. Three years into a 21-year sentence, Tony reached his lowest point.

“They put me in solitary. That rage came. That death by suicide by cop killing, come back alive.” Tony said soberly, “And God just let my mind flash back to that day in that shower, and He said, ‘I saved you from that; is that what you want?’ It was like He just grabbed my shoulders and He pinned me down in that bed, He said, ‘Is that what you want?’ (I) Looked up and said, ‘I don't care what You take from me, I'm not letting You go. You didn't save me for me to keep falling.’ I set it in my heart that I wasn't letting Him go.”

There in that prison cell, Tony began to finally let go of his anger, as he held on to Christ.

“Through all my years of coming to God and falling, coming to God and falling, I didn't truly have a relationship with Him,” Tony admitted. “I would learn of Him, I would learn scripture, I could quote scripture, I could teach the scripture, but I wasn't walking the Scripture. Now with Christ, He gave me something I could do about the anger.”

Tony spent the next few years experiencing a transformation of his heart and mind.

He received early parole in January of 2017 and kept true to his promise to God, and ‘didn’t let go’. Tony got married that year, and he and his wife do full-time ministry for those incarcerated. He’s no longer proud to be an outlaw, but instead proud to be living fully for Christ.

“If you seek Him with everything you've got,” said Tony, “if you surrender everything to Him and remember He wants all of you - there is freedom in Christ. I was lost in darkness and hate. I met Christ and He set me free.”

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