I’m writing to share something with you that happened at the end of my stay in the hole. It. was. amazing! For those of you who don’t know, on March 14th, 2019, I was taken from the camp side of Marion (where I’ve been since I began my incarceration) and put in what they call the SHU (Special Housing Unit). It’s special alright! It’s a 7’ x 9’ concrete cell with no air, a steel toilet, and a bunk made of concrete & steel. Here, inmates are locked down 24 hours a day and are fed through a slot in the iron bars. Think first-century dungeon or images you’ve seen of Alcatraz in the movies and you’ll be close.
The time I spent in the SHU – called “the hole” by us inmates – was the most painful of my life. But there were also some of the greatest spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. God seems to outdo the enemy’s every effort to hurt me by turning it around for good. I led my celly to Christ the first week I was there. He’s been “down” (incarcerated) for 10 years and has been shot 3 times. The Lord had prepared him for that moment. I also got to share with an Odin-worshipper and another celly who had been down almost 30 years, both of whom desperately needed to hear the gospel. But there’s one experience I want to share that is head-and-shoulders above every experience I’ve had in prison:
There was a guy in the hole named “Karen.” His cell was a few down from mine most of the time. He was the head transsexual at the medium prison but was in the hole. He was in the middle of pursuing a sex change, was the leading pimp on the compound, and was, by far, the most vile and obscene person I have ever met. I have never overheard so much disgusting language used in conversation.
One day, I heard him say that he’d written ten churches asking for help understanding the Bible and that only one had written back. He also said he had a ten-year-old son who had committed suicide two years ago while at a mental hospital. Both these things broke my heart and I started praying for him. I wrote him a note telling him I would be more than happy to help him with the Bible if he really wanted help. He replied, “more than anything in the world.” Our physical situation prevented us from talking in person, so I just prayed. One time, as I was praying, I saw a vision of him crying on a bus. The next day the staff surprised three of us when, at 4 AM, they told us to get ready to be shipped. Two hours later, out of the 36 guys on our range, we were two of the three people who would be on the bus that day. “Karen” sat right behind me.
He started to ask me questions within minutes. He told me that, deep down, he hated his lifestyle and wanted help. He told me that one week before I showed up in the SHU he got on his knees and asked God, if He was out there, to help him. I replied, “So it’s your fault I got sent to the hole!” We both laughed. Within 20 minutes, my vision came true. Tears were streaming down his face. He tried to allow his long hair to cover his face so the other guys wouldn’t see what was going on, but it was too late. The Holy Spirit had touched him in an incredible way. He kept asking, “Jim, why can’t I stop crying? I can’t control it. What’s happening to me?” I just laughed and told Him that he was experiencing the love of a real Father, that God was hugging him. I shared the gospel with him all the way to the airport, but we ran out of time. My heart sank because I didn’t think I would ever see him again. Moments later we were separated as 150 guys loaded onto Con-Air, complete with shackled hands and feet.
I lost sight of him as we touched down into the OKC Transfer Center. I didn’t see him until the very end of our arrival. Miraculously, we ended up in the same bullpen where over 100 men were standing shoulder to shoulder like sardines, waiting to be assigned to a floor. We connected and I started sharing with him again, this time at the near top of my lungs since I had to compete with the noise in the room. After a bit I felt a strong wave of the Spirit stop me but I didn’t know why. I asked him to hold on a minute while I closed my eyes and asked God what He was saying. The Lord told me to lead him to Christ. I asked, “Here? Now? Are You sure?” It could not have been a more awkward place. I opened my eyes and told “Karen” that the Father said that now was the time for him to give his life to Christ, that today was the day of salvation. He said he was ready, so we dropped to the floor, I put my hand on his shoulder, and we prayed. He repeated after me with tears falling from his face and then said one of the most beautiful salvation prayers I’ve ever heard. It was as if we were the only ones in the room. Less than two minutes later, his name was called and I never saw him again.
The Spirit knew the time was short and it became clear why He prodded me to stop flapping my jaws and to lead “Karen” in prayer. It was, by far, the most incredible moment of salvation I have ever had the privilege of being part of. What an INCREDIBLE God we serve! While in the natural I was sent to the SHU because of a thank you card and a box of chocolates, it’s clear that the Lord was simply calling me to go on a mission trip. If it was all just for this hurting individual named “Karen,” I would do it all over again. Three people gave their lives to Christ during the time I was being transferred, including a guy in MCC Chicago who broke down in tears, asking God to forgive him for his sinful, compromising life. It may have been the most insane journey of my life, but it was also the most rewarding. I now understand what James means when he says to “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.” Your trial may not be all about you but about what you can do through it to bring Him more glory.
Although my fiery trial was difficult and extremely humbling, it was worth every tear. As the Father continues to strip me of my pride and carnal flesh, He is also allowing me to experience His goodness with every step. And there has been a noticeable shift where His favor has been increasing and I can feel the light at the end of the tunnel. I believe He will open up a way for me to return home to my family soon, but in the meantime I will continue to praise Him in the storm. At this point, being formed in His image is the most important goal for me.
Right now, “Karen,” whose birth name is Timothy, is being held at USP Tucson and, as you can imagine, is in the midst of the lion’s den as a new believer. He was there before and there are many people who know him and expect him to be a certain way. PLEASE pray for his spiritual growth and that the Father would produce a testimony in him that will lead many others to Christ. Scripture implores us to remember those who are in prison and to be the hands and feet of Christ to them.
Update 1-9-23 – please continue to pray for Timothy.