I believe in miracles—not just the ones the Bible tells us about, but the ones that happen today that are most often labeled coincidence. I can’t tell this story of faith, hope, and love without giving credit to my heavenly Father.

More than 20 years ago, I was a middle school teacher in a small town with its fair share of troubled youth. I had a passion to help these students, and it’s one that still burns within me. But the day Anthony Conyers, a small, unkempt boy, walked into my classroom was the beginning of a life-changing journey that brought him from a shy student to my loving son.

Any teacher will tell you, if you get a student in the middle of January, there’s a story that comes with the kid. Tony had been placed in foster care, and the first miracle we experienced was that our lives crossed in the first place. He was from a town 15 miles away, and he was only in my class for three months. But that was long enough for him to burrow deep into my heart.

I knew life had been horrible for this little boy, but it wasn’t until many years later that I learned just how bad things had been for him. He tried hard to hide his past, but he was keen enough to know my concern was genuine. I found the foster home he was in to be lacking many of his and his brother’s basic needs, but he tried to hide that, so they could stay there.

Tony and I bonded tightly in the few months we had and continued to keep in contact through letters we exchanged through a guidance counselor at his school.

I lost contact with Tony the next school year, because he withdrew from school and moved to another county when his mom was released from prison. I thought about him often and was shocked when I received a phone call a year or so later, telling me Tony had been arrested. Our school resource officer had also bonded with this child and had heard on the local news that four youths—including Tony—had been arrested for a murder in a neighboring town. I couldn’t believe it until I turned on the television and saw him, handcuffed, being led into the back of a police station.

I can’t explain the emotions I felt that day, but I knew I had to contact Tony. I assumed that no one else would be there for him, and I was right. He was a 14-year-old kid who’d been with the wrong people at the wrong time. I didn’t know the details, but I knew I had to let him know that someone still cared. I was not allowed to visit the juvenile facility he was in, but I could write him letters. We wrote back and forth for a short while. He was adjudicated as an adult because of the seriousness of his charges and was soon transferred to our county jail. At that point, I began weekly visits and maintained them for more than three years before he went to trial.

As we talked on filthy phones through Plexiglas etched with initials and doodles from years of jailhouse visits, I got to know how amazing this kid really was. I couldn’t help but compare how seldom he complained, compared to my students at school and even my own two teens at home. We were given one hour to visit, and sometimes I struggled with things to talk about to get his mind out of incarceration and back into the world I was in. I read several books to him, and he remembers them even today, including the voices I used when reading The Indian in the Cupboard.

We laughed a lot. I watched him grow from that 14-year-old boy to a young man heading toward his 18th birthday during those visits. I experienced much frustration, as door after door was slammed in my face while I tried to help this kid. He wasn’t charged with killing anyone, but he was charged with being there when someone else did.

We never discussed what happened. I knew we were being recorded every visit, and I didn’t want to jeopardize his case. I only knew what I heard on the news and read in the papers. Tony was charged with principle to murder. He was with three older boys when they broke into a home they said they assumed was unoccupied. But there was someone in the home. An elderly gentleman lost his life that night. I was told that Tony was on the porch when this all happened and that he didn’t know about it until later that evening. To be honest, I didn’t know what to believe, but I couldn’t give up on the kid I sat across from week after week.