2. My parents were still together when my half-sister first introduced me to the "Organization." I became much more involved following my parents' divorce, eventually getting baptized at age 13. I began breaking away sometime after turning 16, and I never went back after joining the military at age 17. (My half-sister made her escape several years prior to my own.)
3. Like most cults, a major appeal of the Witnesses is the eagerness and enthusiasm with which they welcome newcomers. It is no exaggeration to say that the Witnesses became a surrogate family to me, and I spent an enormous amount of time with a handful of Witness families in particular.
4. Eventually I learned that the Witnesses are a cult that denies the most basic tenets of historic, orthodox Christianity. (See this page [pdf] for more info.)
4.1. I actually dropped out of the 10th grade twice. I went half a year, dropped out, reenrolled the next year, and again dropped out halfway through. Because I had "10 complete years of education," I was later allowed to enlist in the military with the proviso that I obtain my G.E.D.
5. By this time I had broken away from the Witnesses. I was no longer attending meetings, doing field service (= going house to house), etc.
5.1. Basic training lasted 11.5 weeks. I went in weighing over 200 pounds, and I came out weighing 165 pounds.
5.2. I was originally promised a job as a jet engine mechanic. Just prior to being sworn in, however, I was told that that particular job field was full, and I was offered a job with crash crew (airport fire & rescue). It was at Meridian that my MOS was changed for a third and final time.
6. The Witnesses could not disfellowship me for joining the military, since doing so could have been seen as an act against the government. Instead, they simply waited until I came home on leave and was spotted drinking, smoking marijuana, etc. Then I was disfellowshipped for "conduct unbecoming a Christian."
6.1. I was never a moderate or social drinker; from the very beginning I drank to get drunk, period. Illegal drug use was a natural extension of my drinking, and included marijuana, barbiturates, amphetamines, and hallucinogens.
7. Article 15 Non-judicial Punishment (NJP) is one step below a court-martial. To get one was considered very serious, and two would almost certainly mean a discharge. By the end of my enlistment, I had a total of five. (I received my first one in basic training, through no fault of my own.)
8. I received an administrative discharge of Under Other Than Honorable Conditions. It was not a dishonorable discharge, but it did/does make me ineligible for military veteran government benefits. Many years later I tried having my discharge upgraded to Honorable but was denied based on the fact that I had been offered alcohol treatment/rehab while in the Corps. (Alcohol had been a factor in all of my disciplinary problems.)
8.1. My life at this point was an absolute disaster. I was drinking and drugging almost constantly. I couldn't hold down a job. I told myself that I was a societal outcast, and so society's rules/laws did not apply to me. That's how I justified the extremely reckless decision to commit armed-robbery ("robbery with a dangerous weapon").
9. My dad and stepmom gave me an NIV Study Bible as a Christmas present, and I read from it daily. The inmate who led me to Christ petitioned his former church, and they began sponsoring me for correspondence courses from Moody Bible Institute. I read Christian books. I listened to the Insight for Living Christian radio program and received their study guides. And I prayed almost constantly.
9.1. As I learned later, the instant I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior I was born again (see the comments by Bruce Milne at You must be born again: John 3:3). The more I grew in my Christian faith, the more my life changed for the better. As the apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Galatia: "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23a, NLT).
10. Inmates perform the bulk of manual labor work in exchange for a reduced sentence. Each inmate has a regular, full-time day job, plus he/she also dresses up and plays waiter/waitress during the many evening and weekend social functions. My day job involved all aspects of lawn maintenance: watering (via a sprinkler system), mowing and blowing, edging/trimming, fertilizing, seeding, and sodding.
11. Since I had gone through alcohol rehab while in the military, I was already familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, including its 12-step program and group support meetings. The halfway house was a godsend. It forced me to accept the fact that alcohol is completely off limits for me, and the support of fellow residents was tremendously helpful.
11.1 As of the beginning of 2017, it has been slightly more than 30 years since I was sent to prison. And yet despite the evidence that I truly was born again in prison, was a model inmate, and have been a productive member of society for some 25 years now, still there are people -- even some Christians -- who will hold my criminal past against me for the rest of my life. However, because my incarceration remains an indispensable part of my Christian testimony I can neither deny it nor try to hide it. And while I am certainly not proud of my criminal actions, I remain grateful beyond words for Jesus Christ and the forgiveness and new life he gave me -- in the process transforming the lowest point of my life into the highest point of my life.
11.2. Several months after being paroled from prison I found myself being severely tested. I was out of work and facing eviction due to being unable to pay the rent. But I refused to believe that God had brought me this far just to let me slip through the cracks now. And he didn't. The church to which I belonged at the time and another ministry paid my rent for a month. Then through a Christian singles ministry I found a roommate. Friends offered me both odd jobs and lots of encouragement. Then a pastor in my church put his reputation on the line to help me get a full-time job at a company he had co-founded, as well as personally loaned me the money for a used car. I praise God for his working both through other people and in me to bring me safely through that difficult period.
12. When I first met her, Sharon was very busy finishing up work on her doctorate degree (in plant pathology = the study of plant diseases). She was not interested in dating, but we did spend a lot of time together in group settings with other single Christian friends. This actually worked out well, since it allowed us to form a solid foundation of friendship before we started dating.
13. In his excellent commentary on the Bible book of Acts, John Stott notes how a person's conversion is only the beginning: "[W]e should never be satisfied with a person’s conversion. That is only the beginning. The same grace which brings a person to new birth is able to transform him or her into Christ’s image. Every new convert becomes a changed person, and has new titles to prove it, namely
If these three relationships -- to God, the church and the world -- are not seen in professed converts, we have good reason to question the reality of their conversion. But whenever they are visibly present, we have good reason to magnify the grace of God. [ref]