“I remember being struck by the song, Ready or Not, ‘He welcomes the broken, He’s alright with your past. He’s not mad at any one of us, But He waits with open arms.’ It was like the song had been written for me.”
I had all sorts of justifications after robbing the pharmacy: “It was just a toy gun,” I told myself. I was polite. I never threatened anyone. I’m not really a criminal. I’m just desperate for a fix. Of course, no-one arrives at this point overnight. My spiral into addiction began seven years earlier, when I had 6 herniated discs in my spine over a 4-year period — probably from a life spent hunched over at the golf course. At the time, doctors recommended pain medication, which I was to be on for a few months. But months turned into years and when the pain ended, my addiction didn’t. Anytime I tried to quit, I went into withdrawal.
At one point, I found myself in pain management classes. That’s where I met people who’d say to me, “Hey man, I don’t take my meds, you can buy them from me.” I started buying prescriptions from four people on top of my own prescription of 120 pills per month. In total, I was taking 800 pills a month which I kept hidden in the garage. I gave my family lots of excuses for my erratic behaviour. “Oh, I’ve had too much coffee, or I put in an all-nighter.” I managed to compartmentalise my life and toggle between my job as an executive for a software company, a husband and father and a full blown, out-of-control addict. And while, I never had any adverse reactions to the medications, I did nod off at the wheel a few times which scared the hell out of me.
By this stage, I was a member of a local church and I had been growing spiritually. In hindsight, I should have talked to one of the pastors and sought help. Instead, I expected God to wave His magic wand and take away the addiction — but with no follow-through at my end. When opiate addictions reached epidemic levels in our country and laws changed, so too did my supply chain. At the same time, after a random drug test, my doctor discovered methadone in my system. Yet another illegal prescription. He stopped prescribing my medication. When I tried to quit, the withdrawals got bad: vomiting, sweats, no appetite. That’s when I came up with this hair-brained idea.
Wearing a mask so as not to be identified, I walked up to the counter, looked at the pharmacy clerk and said, “Do you know what this is?” I pointed to my son’s toy gun in my jacket pocket. He nodded. “So, this is what you are going to do,” I said, outlining my plan and then, with shaky hands, the guy gave me some painkillers and I walked out. A few months later, I robbed another pharmacy. In all, I robbed nine pharmacies in an eight-month period to satisfy my 200 pill a day habit. The story was on the news and a warrant was out for my arrest.
On the morning of August 11 of 2015, the jig was up. I put on my mask, drove to my local shopping centre pharmacy, and demanded Methadone and Norco painkillers. As I was leaving through the back doors, staff called 911 and as it turned out, one of the lead investigators on the first robbery was two blocks away. When I got in my car and realised an unmarked car was following me, I hit the gas. As I drove like a maniac in a quiet residential neighbourhood, I heard a small voice say, “What happens if you hit a kid? You’ll never get over that.” It was a moment of sanity. I pulled over, jumped out of my car, and waited for the cop. When he saw me, he slammed on his brakes and with sirens blaring, scrambled out of his car, pointed his gun at me and called for backup. I admitted to everything. Police were convinced I was a drug runner and searched my car, my house, my phone. They interviewed my children. My family were devastated. My attorney told me I was being charged with multiple felony robbery counts and could be facing up to 37 years in jail.
One night, I was lying on my bunk in my cell, when the weight of what I had done and the trauma I had caused others hit me. I felt compelled to pray. Literally, as soon as I dropped to my knees, I felt the tangible presence of God. I cried for about an hour. I remember saying to God, “If you are there, I need to know you’re there.” The next morning, I woke, took a shower, and made a commitment to God. “If you help me, I will walk a better path and I will lean on you.” (To be continued).
After I made that pact with God, it was kinda weird how good things started happening. Like the two guys who came to our unit to lead a bible study. At first, it was me and several other inmates and then I told other guys, and soon, we’d outgrown the room. By the time I left, we had 27 of the 30 guys in our cell block coming. It was crazy. We had whites, blacks, Hispanic – all races, all gangs —all studying the Bible together. The next miracle was my sentence. My attorney had made a plea deal, and my sentence was whittled down to eight years. Still, eight years in five prisons was a long time, and I wouldn’t have made it without being able to train service dogs and without my relationship with God.
One day, I was sitting on my bunk and listening to some songs a friend had on his MP3 player. I told him I liked What a Beautiful Name, by Hillsong and he was like, “Did you know Hillsong’s on TV?” From that moment on, the programs and the worship from Hillsong became my number one way to stay close to God. Sometimes, I would have my headphones on and be singing loudly in my cell. That’s when the other inmates would yell, “Keep it down buddy!” I was struck by the song, Ready or Not. “He welcomes the broken. He’s alright with your past. He’s not mad at any one of us. But He waits with open arms.” It was like the song had been written for me. I wasn’t the only guy impacted by Hillsong’s music. I recall one inmate in his sixties who was serving 20 years. One night, he was watching Hillsong United at Madison Square Gardens. When I heard the music, I walked over to his bunk. He just looked up at me with tears and said, “That was so awesome.”
That’s what Hillsong’s music ministry did for people. It softened the hearts of hardened criminals. I had many dark and lonely days, and I was surrounded by gang activity and violence, but the ministry of Hillsong helped me focus on God and I saw so many miracles: Divine protection, God encounters, favour, and the greatest miracle of all: Seeing my family again and being forgiven and set free.
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