Matt, SCI Pine Grove

June 4, 2012

My name is Matt. I am 18 years old and am currently serving a prison sentence of 4 to 8 years for armed robbery. I grew up with two deaf parents and a brother six years older than me. Our family was dysfunctional. My father was abusive to my mother and occasionally to me and once to my brother. He passed away from lung cancer when I was twelve years old.

My family was part of the Catholic Church although we only went on Easter and Christmas Eve. The only time we prayed was before we ate and it was a “standard” prayer. My parents sent me to CCD classes but I don’t remember much. I made my first Communion but that was as far as I made it in the Catholic Church.

Because of my father’s abuse, my mother contacted CYS (Children and Youth Services). They were there to protect us and they got us involved in family counseling. The family counseling was not effective. My father wasn’t interested and I was rebellious. Due to my rebellion, I listened to no one. CYS felt they could correct my problem by removing me from the home when I failed to comply with the household rules. This happened from the time I was seven until I was twelve. I am not sure how many times I was placed in foster care to correct me but obviously it was to no avail.

When I was 12, I was arrested for terrorist threats and was put in a detention center then sent to Adelphi Village. I was put on a 45-day evaluation to see what kind of treatment I needed. I spent the next eleven months in a group home then I was released back to my mother.

Before I was put in placement I was already getting high on weed and dropping acid (LSD). I was eight the first time I got high and twelve the first time I used LSD. Placement didn’t help needless to say. A month after release, I was getting high again and back into my old ways. My life was spiraling out of control and I was hanging out with people in the same predicament. I didn’t care about anyone or anything, especially God. I, along with one of my grimy friends, was breaking into houses, sometimes for no other reason than just to do it. I was also putting myself at high risk by having unprotected sex. I didn’t value life, mine or anyone else’s. I wasn’t suicidal but I certainly put myself in situations where I could have been killed and made to see my creator in whom I didn’t believe. I cursed God and wanted nothing to do with anything or anyone that would impede my selfish ambitions.

In March 2000, I committed armed robbery at the age of 15. Later that night I was apprehended and put in front of a judge early the next morning. I was informed that due to the violent nature of my crime I would be going to court as an adult. I was sent to the county jail and waited to get bailed out. I was bailed out 2 weeks later and went home to my mom. But my attitude didn’t change. I wasn’t scared straight and as a matter of fact I was on the verge of getting into more trouble. While I was out on bail, I was almost thrown back in jail because I was pulled over at 1:00 am with the trunk filled with booze and drunken companions in the car with me. I was the designated driver. Remember I was fifteen and had no license. I was fined and released. Because of this incident, I was brought back before the judge and given one more chance. I was placed on intensive pre-trial supervision. I was assigned a probation officer and was told to stay out of trouble. I didn’t. I continued to skip school and act up. I made it to my first hearing. There juvenile probation announced they were arresting me for a burglary I committed prior to the armed robbery. I have been incarcerated ever since May 2000.

The first six months I spent in a juvenile detention center and was always in trouble. The next six months I was sent to a maximum security juvenile facility. I was constantly in trouble there and made no improvements in my behavior. On April 4, 2001, I was brought before the judge to be sentenced on my armed robbery. I was given four4-8 years and was sent to Camp Hill, an adult prison. then transfered to Pine Grove. In my first 30 days, I was put into the Hole for fighting. I spent 48 days in the Hole. This ended up being the start of a turning point in my life.

This is my testimony of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, transformed my life. You have read a brief excerpt of my life without Jesus. The first time I heard about being born again and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior was about six months before I committed the robbery. That wasn’t the last time I was to hear of the gift of eternal life. All through out my incarceration I was given the opportunity to make the choice to accept or reject Jesus as my Lord. While I was at the juvenile detention center, I prayed to God to forgive me of my sins and I accepted Christ. But I had a misunderstanding of what would happen after I got saved. I had it in my head that everything would be a bed of roses. I thought the swearing would be supernaturally taken away, the temptations immediately removed etc. I failed to read the Bible and get an understanding of the God who loved me so much that He put up with me for so long and not only that but died for me so I could live with Him forever. I wasn’t interested in making an effort to change so I continued in my selfish ways. I came here to Pine Grove and went into the hole. While in the hole (confinement in a cell 23/1) I had a lot of time to think.

While in the hole, I was forced to look at my life. I wasn’t happy and the things I did all my life including drugs and sex and attention getting through bad behavior were only temporary. I didn’t want to spend my life in and out of prison and always getting into trouble. I didn’t want to keep hurting those who love me especially my mom. I wasn’t sure what to do. Ever since I can remember, I was getting into trouble. I wanted to change like I did many other times in my life but I knew that was unlikely. For no matter how bad I wanted to change in times past, I couldn’t. I’d last for a month at the most and give up and go back to my old ways of running from reality. Counseling couldn’t change me, placements and prison couldn’t change me. My love for my mother couldn’t change me. It seemed like nothing made me really want to change. I wanted to break free from the chains that were holding me but I just didn’t have the will power and the desire to break the chains came and left. When the desire to be free wasn’t in me I felt content in my bondage. But when the desire to break free arose, I was uncomfortable with what was revealed to me. I indeed felt like Paul in Romans 7:19, “for the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” I was not in control of my life. My sinful desires of the flesh were. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. Because I knew I wasn’t in control of my life and wasn’t sure how my life became like that I was confused and forced it out of my head denying the conviction. Even while I was high or drunk I would be convicted or feel trapped and confused. I knew my life was a wreck and I would desire to be sober and have real happiness. During these fleeting moments of self-examination, I would ask myself what I was doing, why was I doing this to myself. I would think of my mom, knowing she was w worried sick about me since I hadn’t come home. I would think in my altered state of mind that this isn’t fun. I felt helpless to stop it. But of course I pushed it out of my mind and tried to just forget about it.

As these memories were brought into my mind while in the hole, I started to realize, life as I am living it will never be truly enjoyable. There would be no real peace or happiness and anything I experienced would be temporary. I would be a failure. This is the time I really started to think about God and Jesus and the Bible. I remembered my prayer for forgiveness while in the juvenile detention center. I remember the things I was told about Jesus. I knew that if I wanted to change I should at least give God a try. I didn’t come to this conclusion in one day. But I decided I would attend church services when I got out of the hole. I read a little bit of the Bible and while in the hole I started Crossroad Bible studies which is a correspondence course for inmates. When I got out of the hole, I went to church and decided I would live my life for Jesus. I re-committed my life to Jesus in the month of September 2001. I have since been walking with the Lord. I attend church services weekly and attend Bible study groups at least five times a week. I have learned much about Jesus and the hope He has give me. After I made my choice to follow Christ I didn’t want to do wrong any longer. I felt different. I had a sense of hope and peace which I never had before. Now that hope and peace is as strong as ever as I learned what I believe and what great things Jesus has done for me. I love reading the Bible and fellowshipping with other Christians who really want to live their lives for Jesus.

Jesus Christ has changed my life tremendously. I know the change in my attitude and behavior and even my desires can only be accredited to the transformation that took place when I re-dedicated my life to Him and decided I would life for Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things pass away, behold all things become new.” I may say with great confidence that I am indeed a new creation. I no longer want to do the things I used to because the Holy Spirit has come to live within me and enable me to hate the works of my old self. I often look back and scratch my head because I am in awe of how much my relationship with Jesus has changed me. I now have the things which I attempted to get through vanity, that is, peace, joy-real true joy that is sometimes beyond understanding and explanation. I no longer have a guilty conscience and now have confidence where I will be when I depart from this body. Not only that but I have been assured that I can stand before God knowing that all my sins are forgiven. He has removed them from me as far as the East is from the West! It is all because Jesus loved me even though I was His enemy and died upon the cross for my sins that they could be erased from my record. I most certainly can’t claim that I turned over a new leaf. The change that has taken place was not me changing my actions but the Holy Spirit changing my heart. I know that the only reason I am going to be in eternity with God is because “For grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” I know I didn’t earn eternal life, I certainly do not deserve it, but that is what is so awesome about the only God of the Universe. He made a way, because no one deserves it, “As it is written: there is none righteous, no not one.” All mankind is in the same boat and it is sinking quickly. God has cast Himself into the waters of our sins and has provided a life saver for us. Will you grab on? What do you have to lose? Your soul is what you would lose. If you do not grab on and have faith and believe in Jesus Christ to free you from your sea of sin, you will drown in them. As long as you depend on yourself and your own strength to keep you a float in your sea of sin you will never make it.

If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior and are traveling down the same road that I was on, now is your chance to repent of your rebellion against God and receive His full pardon. It is that easy. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9) “Behold, now is the accepted time, behold, now is the day of salvation.” Jesus has changed my life and He wants to change yours and give you eternal life but you must make the choice. He will not force anything upon you. Now then I am an ambassador for Christ, as though God were pleading through me: I implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. Jesus wants nothing but the best for you here on earth and in eternity. The devil wants nothing but the worst for you. Jesus said in John 10:10, “the thief (the devil) does not come except to stea~ kill and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they (those who will believe on Him) may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly”.

To those of you who already belong to the fold of Jesus, I pray, this testimony which He has given me will be an encouragement to you. Especially to my fellow youth brother and sisters, with God, all things are possible, let us stand up today in the wicked and lost generation and proclaim Christ is Risen to all who will hear whether they are young or old. Do not believe the devil’s lie that you are too young for God to use you. Get grounded in the word of God, memorize scripture, and “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly living the word of truth.” I pray God would spark a fire for Him in your hearts. Let us heed Paul’s words to young Timothy, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. “Stand strong in the Lord.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you in all fullness.