Have I told you I love stories … true stories … inspiring stories? No? … well, I do and I heard a doozy this week on CBN that made my heart leap and brought tears to my eyes at the same time. It’s home-grown, too, as Hopkins County, Texas is close to my hometown of Pittsburg. It’s actually three stories, all working in perfect timing … and when you read about the people represented, you’ll say, “that’s impossible!”
Robert Newsom is a district judge in Sulphur Springs, Hopkins County, Texas, believes in the law as well as rehabilitation. He’s also an ordained minister through Christ for the Nations. But when Ron Adkins appeared before Judge Newsom in 1997, Ron found no mercy. Judge Newsom sentenced Ron to a 495-year sentence for a string of home burglaries. Ron was just 22 when he was shipped off to prison where he picked up an additional five-year sentence for possession of an unauthorized cell phone. That raised his total sentence to 500 years. He had no hope and no life inside lockdown, so he lashed out.
Ron immediately joined a prison gang and racked up 250 prison violations for constantly fighting with other inmates and staff. His belligerent attitude was so out of control that multiple prison guards had to suit up to escort him to the shower room, shackled at his hands and feet. His violence eventually landed him in solitary confinement, where Ron spent 13 years.
Alone and suicidal in solitary, he turned to God and a worn-out Bible. “Half the pages were missing because I had been using it for rolling papers. I had been smoking cigarettes with Bible papers,” Adkins chuckled. “All that was left of the Bible was the New Testament.” Ron soon found grace, forgiveness, and God’s love in the Gospel message. His new-found faith changed him … so much so he was released from prison in 2015, more than 80 years before his projected eligibility date of 2095. That’s a miracle … but certainly not all!
Before I go further with Ron’s story, let me tell you about a woman named Dawn. Hers was a life of drugs, prostitution and victimization, resulting in years in a Florida prison. A life of working for escort companies and dancing in strip clubs was her norm. One night, locked up in confinement in prison she cried out to God in sheer desperation, “God is there any way that you can help me?” It was at this time that God began to truly speak to Dawn. This was her turning point that changed her life and ultimately revealed her true calling.
Dawn’s life dramatically changed as a result of that Bible and her humbled heart. After prison release, Dawn became a licensed counselor working in jailhouse rehabilitation. It was at a rehabilitation conference that Dawn met Ron and later married as they pursued their collaborative calling of speaking and rehabilitation ministry.
Now back to Ron … after release from prison, Ron began sharing his testimony at churches and criminal justice reform conferences. One day while sitting in church, Ron was listening to a guest speaker and couldn’t shake the feeling that they had met somewhere. As it turned out, they certainly had … Ron was listening to Robert Newsom, the judge who sentenced him to five 99-year sentences. You would think that Ron would be filled with resentment and anger toward the judge, but God’s grace and mercy had cleansed Ron of his transgressions and these two men forged a strong relationship based on their shared Christian faith.
Although Ron and Dawn live in Florida, they return to Texas every month and connect with Judge Newsom and his wife, Robbie. Not only have they formed a strong bond with each other, there has been a ripple effect on the entire community. Judge Newsom introduced Ron to the local sheriff who, in turn, gave him and his wife, Dawn, access to the county jail to share their stories with the inmates. The sheriff has seen a dramatic change in the inmates’ behavior and attitude since the couple started their jail ministry. But that’s not all – Ron and Dawn’s work has produced other results as well. They regularly baptize inmates and even some jail staff. According to Judge Newsom, their ministry has sparked a “mini-revival” in the county.
Ron firmly believes this new chapter is evidence that his sordid past is being rewritten to create a lasting legacy: “In the very place where I was sentenced to die in prison, God’s going to use us to bring dead things back to life,” he declares. “And that’s what he’s doing. In the jail, in the worship nights, in the prayer meetings: He’s just bringing dead things back to life.”
Is God the God of the impossible? … you bet!
Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”