I hold in my hand my final release paper: 5 years of prison, followed by 5 years of parole. An epic 10+ year odyssey of incarceration -- a journey out of darkness into light. A crucible that began with 11.5 months in solitary confinement: a process of rebirth and restoration, the inception of which was repentance and faith. Faith in God, through Christ Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Who would have thought God had a plan for me and others in and through it all? The men of True Freedom Ministry knew. Like Mike Swiger says, “God never wastes a hurt.”
My first experience with TFM was at Belmont Correctional, after my conversion, while serving as an assistant to the dual chaplaincy of Dr. Leonard M. Payne and Dr. Jefferey A. Burger. I witnessed the work of faith with power: the divine tag team of Mr. Frank Sinito and big Gary “Homey don’t ya’ know me” Koly. These men effectively shared their winsome testimonies -- transformed lives because of the indwelling Christ -- through their dynamic personas. Prison was not the end, it was a new beginning of God’s plan. In Christ and the Spirit’s power, these cats body slammed the enemy off to seg (segregation) every time they came to Belmont. A double high-five hope shot! A real talk, real walk, living faith with works.
I continued to serve God at Belmont as He used me as a G.E.D. tutor in the education department -- all while pointing men to Jesus -- by telling them of my spiritual, cognitive, emotional, and physical transformation. Finally, as God promised me during our 5 years of quiet time, He made my release a reality.
Like many men after incarceration, I had no place to live, yet. Although I was prepared, strong, and courageous -- it was Christmastime -- and I was at the 2100 men’s shelter, distant from my few family members. I was lying on my bunk and staring at the ceiling. Frankly, I was kind of feeling sorry for myself. God’s spirit spoke to my spirit: “My savior came into the world a homeless baby.” I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that there was a Tuesday night Bible study being held. I went -- and that is where I first met Dave Sudnick.
Dave’s knowledge of God’s word, combined with his unmistakably genuine demeanor, conversational communication style, upbeat sense of humor -- his love of the homeless and ex-prisoners -- affected me deeply. Additionally, Dave helped me dress for success in the employment process from the TFM clothing room he painstakingly manages. A real talk, real walk, living faith with works.
Dave also introduced me to Mike Swiger. I had been blessed to read Mike’s testimonial story of his conversion and God-ordained vision for TFM in the Our Daily Bread Discovery series. I am not easily impressed: Mike Swiger blew me away. Mike made time for me after an already very long day. Not only did he actively listen as I was transparent about my background, he offered godly and relevant feedback. He went the extra mile to encourage me with networking contacts for employment opportunities. A real talk, real walk, living faith with works.
I have been blessed to continue fellowship and relationship with Dave Sudnick and TFM. I have come to realize that this is a form of discipleship. I know we need a right relationship with God and each other. I even have the monthly pleasure and privilege of dining with Dave and his wife, Maryann. She is a wonderfully artistic, uniquely charismatic, and brilliantly humorous sister-in-Christ who fills my heart with healing, joyful hope. I enjoy greatly sharing with them about my growing, healing, restored relationship with my gifts from God: my daughter, Alicia, and grandson, Jacob.
I have been helped by God through the uniquely created, infinitely valuable people of TFM. I am
growing, and I will be continuing on the transformative path of Christ -- paying it forward -- by seeking Him first and serving and helping others within the context of the body of Christ...the Church. A real talk, real walk, living faith with works. I am and I will be truly...free indeed.