I was two when my mother was sent to prison. My father was not in my life. I went to live with my grandparents who adopted me, involved me in activities, and taught me a good work ethic. They did their best to spoil me rotten, too.

They loved me very much, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mom. I longed to be with her. Finally, when I was nine, Mom was released, and I got to go live with her. It was a dream come true… until she started drinking. Our home grew violent, and I went back to live with Grandma, who was now a widow. She decided to move us to Florida for a fresh start.

After the move, I became rebellious and pushed people away. My heart just hurt so much. I felt like I was drowning in pain.

By 13, I was using drugs and smoking. I got to see my mom again that summer in Louisiana, but a stepdad was now in the picture, and heavy drugs and alcohol were present in the home. I became more messed up and rebellious.

At 18, I moved to New Jersey, lived with my girlfriend, and jumped into the fast life. I stayed there for three years and partied hard. Then my mom showed up and wanted to live with me. So I broke up with my girlfriend, and Mom and I moved back to Florida to live with Grandma. I couldn’t have been happier.

A few years later, however, Mom grew very sick. I was the only one with her, and hospital authorities advised me to take her off life support. I finally had my mom, and I was supposed to sign her death warrant? I can’t tell you how much guilt and self-hate I felt. She died, and I dove into drugs. All I wanted was to destroy my life. I almost succeeded.

One night at a party, I had a sexual encounter with a minor. She became pregnant and had a daughter. I was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor. I served one year and a day in prison.

I did well for a while after I was released, until I decided I could handle a few pills. I was in control. Then I met a girl who introduced me to methadone, and I was soon out of control.

I refused to provide a required urine sample to my probation officer, and I was sent back to jail for ten more years. Eighteen months into my sentence, a lightbulb finally went off in my mind. If I wanted to leave prison different than I was when I came in, then I needed to make serious changes. I entered a trade program and began to learn new things. I also looked for a new set of friends. I knew I couldn’t move forward if I continued to hang out with people who had no intention of changing.

But God is always faithful and, even in prison, He put people in my path who showed me a better way.

One day, I got a phone call asking me to give up my rights as a father so my daughter’s maternal grandmother could care for her. I considered signing those papers, but my conscience weighed heavily on me.

I remembered the hole in my heart that had come from my parents abandoning me. Why would I do that to my child? It was time I grew up, quit running from difficult issues, and took responsibility for my life and actions. I needed to be a father.

I called the lawyer and said I would not sign the papers. I wanted to be a father to my child to the best of my ability. The classification officer smiled and gave me a big thumbs-up. Since then, I’ve spent time intentionally building a relationship with my daughter, and I now have a wonderful relationship with her, her mother, and her mother’s family. Today, my daughter tells people that she’s proud of me and encourages them to give others a second chance. To be a faithful father, I had to do some genuine soul searching with God. It’s great to learn trades and get an education, but external achievements could not heal the brokenness of my soul. I had deep wounds that needed serious attention.

I started meeting with a couple who volunteered at the prison. Dave and Cheryl helped me unload the pain of my youth with a mental exercise. They told me to visualize two baggage trains that represented the emotional and mental wounds I was carrying through life. They told me to fill those trains with past moments of pain, rejection, abandonment, fear, guilt, shame, and the unforgiveness I harbored.

Unforgiveness took up a lot of space on those trains! I was so angry with my mother and father for choosing drugs and alcohol over me. I also hated myself for my mother’s death. And I still felt guilty for signing those papers.

After three hours of filling those train cars with my pain, Dave and Cheryl told me to mentally haul them to the foot of the cross and leave them there. I learned that Jesus had not only died to save my soul, but also to heal my emotional pain and set me free from destructive behavior. (See Isaiah 53:5.)

Turning my pain over to Jesus enabled me to be free. Although I had become a believer in Jesus Christ in prison, I still had a lot of baggage I needed to cut loose if I wanted to move forward with God and experience His plans for my life. (See Hebrews 12:1–2.)

I served my full ten-year sentence, but I left prison with a Biblical studies degree, an associate degree in business management, and a slew of trade certifications. More importantly, I left with Christ in my heart. I was a changed man, inside and out! Transitioning from prison to free society, however, wasn’t easy. Having a sexual offender charge makes it especially difficult, as people don’t want to rent to or hire sexual offenders. Leaving prison, I had to trust God completely for a place to live and work.

But God wasn’t worried. He provided everything I needed through a prison ministry volunteer named Roger Rash. (See his story on page 28.) When Roger learned I didn’t have a place to live, he invited me to stay on his property. He and his wife, Donna, made sure I had everything I needed to get started in my new life. I will forever be grateful.

Today, I have a thriving business, own my own vehicle, and enjoy spending time with my daughter. I look forward to one day returning to prison as a volunteer. Like Roger, I want to share my story of God’s faithfulness with other people and help them discover the love of God. In the meantime, I trust Him to use this article to reach men and women, both in and out of prison. I want them to know His love can set them free. I want you to know, it will set you free.

Do you need relief from the loads of baggage you carry? Take your train of pain to the cross and cast your burdens on Jesus, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Then simply ask Him to help you forgive others and yourself, and move forward. His love is bigger than your obstacles and your pain. It’s bigger than your past or your present. Let Him be your future.