I spent 20 years in prison on what I call the installment plan. I’d be incarcerated for a while, get out and try to do right, then mess up and head right back. Breaking this cycle seemed impossible.
Life started out pretty good for me, but then my parents split up. Mom took me and my siblings and moved to New York. She did the best she could, but a single mom raising three kids alone in Queens, New York, isn’t a good situation. I was 11 and thought I was tough. It wasn’t long before she lost me to the streets.
As I grew up, sin gained a strong hold on my life. I followed the impulses of my heart and flesh with no regard of what it might cost to me or anyone else. Sometimes I realized my need to make better choices, but I never set myself up to actually make them. I stayed in the same circle of friends and hung out in the same places on the street…and without fail, I did stupid again.
In 2014, I found myself back in Florida and in the Duvall county jail, facing serious time because of my past record. While I was there in the jail pod, an inmate told me about his plans to participate in a program at the Trinity Rescue Mission in Jacksonville, Florida, when he completed his time. Soon after that, we were each transferred to separate facilities within the Florida Department of Corrections. I didn’t see him again until 2018, when I got out of prison.
Once released, I set out to start my life over. Again.
I was going to be a truck driver. I had earned my certificate of completion for a Florida commercial driver’s license while in prison. I had an excellent driving record, so I thought this career path would be a perfect fit for me—I could make good money, and I’d get to travel.
I soon found out, however, that my certificate and excellent driving record couldn’t compete with my rap sheet. Every time a company discovered my past criminal record, I was turned away as a liability. I can understand their position, but the constant rejection was hard to take.
For 90 days, I tried to get a job, with no success. I was frustrated. I wanted to do the right thing—and I was trying to do it—but it wasn’t working out. I was just about to give up, when the Lord intervened in my life.
I borrowed a friend’s car for a week and drove aimlessly around Jacksonville. One day, I found myself parked in a field across from a building. A lot of people were waiting for the building to open so they could get food. I had no idea at the time that it was the Trinity Rescue Mission that fellow inmate had told me about.
I walked across the street to get a bite to eat, and much to my surprise, there on the porch was the guy I had met in jail in 2014. He didn’t recognize me, but the next day when he saw me, he called out, “Stan Pinochle.”
Stan was my first name. Pinochle was the card game I had taught him in jail. Man, was he ever terrible at that game! We shook hands and marveled at seeing each other again. I sat down on the porch and started telling him how I was struggling. I had been out of prison for 90 days and still couldn’t get it together. I was about to give up like I’d done so many other times before. It just seemed easier to go back to prison than to keep trying to make it on the outside. But deep inside, I didn’t want to go back. I wanted a different life.
My friend told me to go inside and ask to be part of the program. I remembered that’s what he had done when he got out. As I turned to go inside, he said, “Stan, whatever you do, don’t leave the program.” Then he told me it wouldn’t be easy, but if I stuck with it, I could make a lasting change.
I started the program and soon realized why I hadn’t been able to change all those other times—I’d never brought God into the equation of my life. Every time, I had attempted to change in my own strength. Even though I believed in God and had even accepted Jesus as my Savior 18 years before in New River prison, I’d never thought to bring Him into my life. I had kept Him at a distance, never realizing He could help me change. And I had kept godly people at a distance too.
I hadn’t realized the importance of surrounding myself with people who would help redirect my sinful thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors or who would teach me about God. Trying to change without God and the godly example of others doesn’t work. I’m proof of that.
I entered the program and met a Jewish believer named Barry Luxenberg, the director of the Freedom Farm. Usually you have to be at the mission for 90 days before you can go to the farm, but after 25 days, Barry invited me to move up. I wanted to go, but I knew I needed to finish the full 90 days at the mission first. He thought I was crazy, but I had never finished anything in my life. My completing what I’d started was crucial to my future success.
I completed the program and went to the farm. Barry recognized leadership qualities in me and put me where I could develop them. It felt good to have someone who believed in me. Barry spoke into my life in ways no one else had ever done, except my mom and sister. For years, they had tried to tell me the importance of having God in my life and making better choices, but I wouldn’t listen to them.
Thankfully, God sent other people like Barry to open my ears and show me how to live a life of godliness. Barry and others at the farm are answers to my momma’s lifelong prayers.
I’ve spent so much time with Barry now that I’ve picked up many of his characteristics. The guys at the farm have given me the nickname, Black Barry. We’ve all had a good laugh over this, but it serves as a great reminder that we become like those we hang out with. When I surrounded myself with people drawn to sin, I became like them. But when I chose to draw close to God, and when I surrounded myself with godly influences, my behavior finally changed. Sin no longer had a hold on me.
Perhaps you’re ready for a different life. You’re ready to break the cycle of what e ver has been holding you back. If that’s you, bring God into the equation of your life and surround yourself with people who will help you walk in freedom.
With His help and theirs—and honest commitment on your part—you can finally do it the right way. †