The water reddened from my wounds as I slid into the tub. A friend of a friend walked into the bathroom and thrust a bottle of Jack Daniels and a shot glass toward me, saying, “Here, you’re going to need this.”
I glanced at my motorcycle helmet, sitting on the sink. It was caved in and spiderwebbed from an impact with a median wall an hour before. Carefully, I examined the effects of my 25-yard skid across the hot, Phoenix asphalt. Taking a shot of Jack Daniels anesthesia, I began scrubbing my wounds. I needed professional attention, but I’m a stubborn Armenian, a mechanic who can fix anything. Or so I thought.
Three days later, I succumbed to infection, fever, and a Hallmark Channel overdose and admitted myself to the Maricopa County Burn Center. There, a doctor said they’d need to amputate my leg from the knee down. I quickly informed the doctor of the anatomical place he could stick his amputation, asked for my cane, and left the hospital, determined to fix my own situation. As always, my take-charge-fix-anything nature had brought significant consequences.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself. My name is Vrouyr Manoukian. Please, unless you’re Armenian, don’t try to pronounce it. You wouldn’t have the genetic makeup to say it without getting your tongue stuck up your left nostril. Just call me V.
I had come to Phoenix from San Diego a few months earlier to attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI). Now I was the victim of a hit-and-run driver.
But that wasn’t the only thing that had happened that week in Phoenix. No, I had committed a murder and burned my victim’s body, too.
The murder was actually self-defense. The guy was a classmate who’d shown up at my apartment one night, intoxicated. His girlfriend had kicked him to the street, and he needed a place to stay. I invited him to crash at my place, but I soon regretted that decision.
The next evening, my roommate, Randall, and our in-the-bag guest got in a scuffle in the front yard. Our guest took several flailing, drunken swipes at Randall before he fell hard and cracked his head on the concrete.
You would have thought a blow to the head like that would have calmed him down. But no. He rose and came after me , pulling out a knife. I whacked him over the head with a patio chair. He lay motionless on the ground.
I checked for a pulse—not a beat! My Mr. Fix-it mind quickly went into action. I know; I know. I should have called for help, but I thought for sure I had a foolproof, genius, coverup idea—I would burn the bloodied furniture in the desert and ceremoniously bury the body.
It was all working according to plan until another driver spotted my truck rolling through the desert scrub. He headed our direction and even got out of his vehicle to make sure we were okay. He was way too curious for my blood. By the time he left, Randall and I were freaking out. Instead of burying the body, we tossed it on the pyre, lit it up, and scrammed.
Fire burns DNA, right? It was like a bad episode of Criminal Minds.
Police picked me up for questioning the next day. I maintained my cover with a foul mouth and cocky attitude and was released.
I left the precinct and headed home on my motorcycle. Suddenly, I was blinded by the glare of headlights in my mirrors as an SUV struck me from behind. I skidded across the asphalt and came to a bloodied halt against the median. It’s a miracle I didn’t go over the cement wall and plunge to the highway below.
I willed myself home and slid into the tub, my shredded body a reflection of how messed up my life had become.
Despite the burn center’s prediction, within a year, I was walking like a champ. Mr. Fix-it had come through again! I had even finished the MMI program at the top of my class. But it would take more time before I’d finally look to the One who could mend my life.
On graduation day, I headed out of my apartment building, my mouth watering in anticipation of the thick, juicy steak I planned to reward myself with after the ceremony. Suddenly, undercover cops drew down on me from all directions.
Arrogantly, I told the arresting officer that he was making me miss my steak dinner and that I was going to send the police department the bill.
“Son,” he said, “you ain’t makin’ that dinner tonight.”
They booked me under the number P97728 and locked me in a jail cell. The cell door’s mail slot squeaked as it opened to present my food tray. The evening’s cuisine? Red slop with wiggling rice. A far cry from steak. At that moment, the gravity of my situation became quite real. I was looking at life with no chance of a steak dinner.
Until that point, the only Christian influence in my life had been a few VeggieTales cartoons and my grandmother’s Bible-reading habit. Her relationship with God and her fascination with His Word had always unnerved me. My mechanical mind was drawn to things I could control and fix. Her steadfast faith, however, had planted seeds of Christ’s love in my heart. And now, this stormy, rainy season would cause those seeds to grow.
Jeremiah 6:16 NLT says, “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.” This verse didn’t come to me immediately, but even still, I knew I was at a crossroads.
I thought back to the night we’d disposed of the body and of the truck driver who’d gotten too curious. Had he walked any closer, the dark person inside of me might have been putting two bodies on that pyre instead of one. It was frightening, how my all-about-me attitude could bring forth such darkness.
Suddenly, I felt empty. Alone. I wasn’t afraid of prison life—I was sure with my mechanical mind I could manipulate the prison political system to my advantage. What frightened me was that thriving in prison might be all I had left. What hope did I have for something better? What purpose did I have?
I hit my knees and prayed, “God, if You’re real, help me find You.” If He didn’t answer, I knew I would be living for the power of prison politics as “V”—inmate number P97728.
Two days later, an inmate handed me a Bible with a picture of broken handcuffs and the words “Rescued Not Arrested” on the cover. The term “rescued” caught my attention, and I understood that God was on a mission to rescue me! He had bigger plans for me than where I was (Jeremiah 29:11).
Later, I received a tattered copy of a prison magazine. It featured God’s rescue story of a fellow Armenian, the founder of the Rescued Not Arrested ministry, Roger Munchian. I wrote Roger and was surprised when he came to visit me at my jail cell. He told me about Christ’s unshakable love for me. God loved me so much, he said, that He wasn’t going to let me walk this journey alone. Then he assigned me an RNA mentor named Tom.
I soon asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior. The seeds that my grandmother had planted in my youth finally began to sprout. As I grew in my faith, God gave me love and compassion for those around me. I longed to reach at least one person for Christ.
One day at the rec, I spotted an inmate named Joey, who looked troubled. I felt prompted to walk up to him with my arms wide open and tell him that I loved him like a brother. Now that’s not something often done in jail! He and I became friends, and I shared my growing faith with him.
I waited in jail for two years for my trial, still looking at life in prison. The night before my pretrial hearing, I couldn’t sleep. My soul was in agony. I began to doubt the motives of my faith. Were all the prayers, Bible reading, and church services just more of my fix-it schemes? Did I have anything more than jailhouse faith? Was I treating God like a vending machine, pushing the beat-the-rap selection, hoping to pull freedom from the slot below? I wanted my motives to be pure.
As I slid from my bunk and hit my knees in prayer, I heard God ask me, “Are you willing to serve Me completely? Even if it is for the rest of your life in prison?” A blanket of peace covered me as I replied, “Yes, Lord, I am willing to serve You, no matter what.”
Early the next morning, God’s comforter of peace still covered me as my chains echoed off the maze of tunnels leading to the courtroom. I had surrendered any notion of fixing anything. I was trusting God with my future. His peace confirmed in my spirit that all would be okay.
My case took a 180-degree turn at that hearing. After several tough negotiations, the prosecutor offered one last jaw-dropping plea: negligent homicide and concealment of a dead body. Instead of life, I was given six years in prison. With time served, I’d be going home in four years!
Blanketed in Christ’s peace, I accepted the plea and received my sentencing date. I returned to my jail cell with new purpose and determination. I would use my prison term to reach as many people for Christ as I could.
The morning I was rolling up to get shipped off to Lewis prison, Joey slipped a tear-stained letter under my door. In it, he shared how on the day I had given him that hug, he had planned to end his life. He had just scored a load of dope that could have killed five people and was on his way to consume it all. God had used me to save his life and lead him to a peaceful relationship with Christ. At the end of his letter, he shared how Colossians 4:5 described my actions: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (NIV). I thanked God that I had made the most of the opportunity He had given me with Joey. I still have that letter in my Bible and pray for Joey often.
On November 22, 2017, I was released from prison. The first thing I did was go get that steak dinner I had been dreaming about for years. And no, I didn’t send the bill to the Phoenix PD.
Since that day, I have continued to grow in my relationship with the Lord. He has been so faithful to me. He has blessed me with a beautiful wife, two goofy dogs, and a career as a mechanic with a Christian-owned shop. I also spend time restoring cars. I love transforming crumpled, discarded Detroit steel into something beautiful in my shop, just like God transformed my crumpled life in His shop called prison.