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Faced with five life sentences, inmate finds redemption

I used to be an over-the-road truck driver.

Have you ever found yourself driving at night on a long unfamiliar stretch of highway in a place you’ve never been?

After miles and miles, the reality that you’re lost sets in; by then, you’ve been lost for so long you can’t recall how many miles and how much time has passed.

You start to wonder where you made your mistake, where you made your wrong turn. You ask yourself, “How can I turn around and find my way home?

This is my story of a lost man finding his way home.

As a child, I lived with two different realities: tenderness, torture, joy and pain. Some days were pleasant and normal like any childhood, and some days were like a war zone, as we tried to maneuver through the day without triggering the temper of an abusive father which led to terrible consequences.

Sometimes minor infractions for my siblings and me would lead to very harsh beatings and punishment. As time passed, our father became more creative in his art of discipline, making us strip and using his hands, belts, electrical cords or whatever he could get his hands on.

Eventually, when he grew tired of beating us, his wrath would turn upon our mother, who took many of those beatings just to spare her children. Being so young, weak and unable to protect our mother, each one of us shattered in different ways.

This went on for years, until one day he just packed up and walked out of our lives. But by then each of us was damaged to some degree, emotionally and mentally crippled and left to limp along in life and fend for ourselves as best we could.

I can only imagine what my mother’s broken heart went through to experience the sorrow, loss and loneliness. She must have felt as if her dreams of a wonderful life had turned into a nightmare.

My mother was a strong, beautiful woman who had married young and now was in her thirties with four boys to raise and no husband.

She was asked to perform a difficult task raising four boys in the rough city of Detroit with no help from their dad. But she did it as best and as long as she could. Even though we were vulnerable to the streets, she held us together and did it.

Some children never survive childhood. They become so bruised and damaged mentally and physically and emotionally that something breaks in them, and they’re just never the same again.

I spent part of my teenage years living with my grandparents, but by then the emotional and psychological wounds, the rage and turmoil I experienced living with my father had poisoned me to some degree.

I met my lovely young lady, and my first son was born while I was still in high school. I quit high school, joined the military and had a second son. I married their mother, who became my first love or the closest thing to love as I knew it.

I was doing grown man things and trying to live a grown man’s life, but really I was just going through the motions. I didn’t know what a real man was supposed to be, nor did I have the tools to be a good husband, leader, teacher, provider or just a good dad.

I’ve learned since then that you can’t teach what you don’t know, and you can’t give what you don’t have.

During my marriage I started becoming just like my father, the man I so much despised. I tried hard to forget but looking in the mirror I saw the man I never wanted to be.

I had unconsciously inherited my father’s habits, and those habits destroyed my marriage and my career to the point that everything and everyone was gone.

There was a great emptiness within me, and I was drowning in a sea of misery. In truth I was dying on the inside, and I didn’t even know it. I thought that alcohol, drugs and sex could ease the pain so I turned to them more and more.

As the years went by, I had maybe one or two men I could call true friends. But the rest were fake and empty friendships based on the fact that we had similar drug habits and the same criminal life style, a life style that for 20 years revolved around drugs, gangs, bank robberies and kidnapping.

I later fathered two more children, girls, by two different women. They were two of many who said that they loved me and even tried to love me. But by then I was much too cold, too empty, too selfish and much too addicted to be able to receive love, much less give it.

I became angry, evil, manipulative and abusive in much the same way as my father. I had no way of building a loving and trusting connection with these women and the only needs I was able to fulfill with them were sexual needs, and, of course, those relationships failed.

Over the years I became trapped in a pattern of self-destructive behavior and spent the next 20 years addicted to drugs and alcohol. I tried just about every kind of drug that came my way: weed, acid, speed and heroin, but of all the drugs the worst of these was crack cocaine.

I spent every dime or dollar I could earn or hustle on crack. In my behavior, I became so outrageous and treacherous that even the crack house hated to see me coming.

There was a brief time I found a wonderful local church to join, Eureka Baptist Church, where people welcomed me into their lives and offered me unlimited help.

While attending this church I began to have hope of rebuilding my life and career and just doing all the wonderful things that normal people do with their lives. But I got too bold and too comfortable.

I relapsed, and, instead of seeking the church’s help, I walked away, and with each passing day I fell farther and farther away. The more I ran, the more life seemed to pass me by, and I returned to my former ways.

Back on the streets I was robbed and beaten up and was caught in a string of robberies where  innocent people were hurt. Finally, I landed back in jail facing five life sentences.

I found out that in those circumstances if you don’t know God the devil will try to convince you that suicide is the only way. Taking my life was my plan, but little did I know that God had His own plan for me. (Jeremiah 19:11-14).

Many of you have had a childhood full of pain and many of you have known those feelings of emptiness and loneliness. We try to fill it with anything that will stop or ease the pain for just a little while but it never stops, it only gets worse.

I have learned that where there are drugs there can be no love and there can be no family. Drugs rob every person — man, woman and child — of their beauty. Drugs turn people into animals who can only respond to their instincts in circumstances. Drugs are so powerful they eliminate the God in both the taker and the giver.

It was only after many years of suffering that God led me to the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) program, and I was introduced to it’s six core values: integrity, restoration, community, responsibility, productivity and affirmation, the building blocks in this program.

From a Biblical standpoint, this program has helped me develop a personal loving relationship with God, and, as a result, God has begun to fill the emptiness with a love that doesn’t hurt. For God is the only place where I can go for all the right answers, for He is the one true God who will never steer me wrong.

As I apply the teachings of IFI to my life I have found that change must start with me. A change of heart, a change of mind, a change of habit, can bring about a new change of circumstances in a man’s or woman’s life.

Every addict has a story, some more gruesome than others, but we have to get over them no matter how bad the circumstances might be. Then we have to recreate our chain of thoughts to rebuild our dreams and seek a change starting from the inside.

There are times when it may get hard, it may seem hopeless, we may get depressed, but we have to move on.  Not because we have to, but because it is what God requires from us.

So, to the reader of this story and to all my brothers and sisters in IFI and in Christ everywhere: When you have tried as hard as you can try and feel like you have reached the very end and it’s late, you’re tired and you feel like you can’t go on anymore, if you just reach out to God He will come to you and rescue you.

Even when you think God is not watching, He is. Even if you think He doesn’t care, He does. Even if you think He cannot save you, He can. Even if you think that He won’t, He will.

I leave you with John 14:23. Jesus said that if anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.

Please. Lost man come home!

Editor’s note: Gregory Brewer is an inmate at Tucker prison, and sent his testimony for publication hoping that it would help someone else. He also completed a pilot survey conducted by One Day at a Time last year to guide us in our efforts to reduce recidivism in prison by offering inmates hope and encouragement. We currently distribute 10,000 copies of the paper in the prison system.