By: James Castadaral Hunter
It has been well said that the man who thinks he can’t – and the man who thinks he can – have one thing in common. They are both right! It’s all a matter of perspective … crucial perspective.
Though I still see myself as a work-in–progress, I have come an extremely long way from where I was and who I was, just a few years ago. This is my story that I owe all honor and glory to God for.
I was raised in Los Angeles, California by my mother and a host of friends and family. I now realize that these people who God put into my life where to become my teachers and mentors. If my father was to walk through this door right now, I wouldn’t recognize him. As a man now, I don’t’ feel – nor have ever felt – that I’ve been neglected. As a child, I was afforded the opportunity to be anything that I wanted to be. I was raised around entrepreneurs and was able to get a first hand experience on how to run your own business. Yes, I’ve had many fathers and mothers over the years that have seeded into my life. But, because of bad choices that I made, I had to pay my dues to the system, and travel a rough road.
At the age of 48, I hit rock bottom. Having been previously incarcerated six times before for various criminal activities, here I was again facing a charge that carried a one-to-five year prison term. I thought I was slick, cool, but not slick enough apparently, because here I was on my way to prison again.
I was sent to a facility in Saint Louis, Michigan to serve out my sentence, with no family support to speak of, and only a few friends. I saw myself having two clear choices. I concluded that I could continue to go in and out of prison for the rest of my life, or get myself together and change the direction I was going. I chose the latter.
While incarcerated in Saint Louis Michigan Correctional Facility, I began to study the Bible on my own, and to read a daily devotional called “Our Daily Bread.” Shortly thereafter, I met Chaplain Thompson. He gave me a book to read titled, “Who Moved the Cheese.”
I was so inspired by that one little book, that I became motivated to read other books. So, I went back to Chaplin Thompson and asked him if he might suggest other inspirational readings that would help me to keep encouraged. He then challenged me to “step outside the box” and continue to read, but not limit myself to just religious literature only. This was a valuable suggestion and I’m still grateful to him until this day for it.
It was around this time that I was introduced to Alpha Prison Ministries. There mission is: “To evangelize and disciple men who happen to be prisoners and former inmates. I attended their Bible studies for six months and it had a tremendous impact on my life.
A few days later, I had a dream. In this dream, I was assured that even though I was in prison, I would be safe, and nothing bad would happen to me. One week after the dream, I attended a scheduled paroled board hearing. At the hearing I received a flop, which was a twelve-month additional add-on to my original sentence. I was told that this was due to my past criminal record. They scheduled another parole hearing for me in six months.
It was during this time I accepted Christ into my life and began to live by a new set of standards. My new life was not without its challenges though. Being a Christian in prison did not come easy for me. In spite of all that, I remained faithful to the new commitment I made to God. He surrounded me with a new set of positive minded friends who encouraged me to stay strong.
Before my next parole board hearing, the (12 month) “flop” originally added on to my sentence was miraculously dropped.
Through attending Alpha Prison Ministries, I was made aware that they offered transitional housing to ex-offenders, which were getting ready to be released. I was told that it was located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
During this time, I was on a mission to find a program or someone to let me use their address to parole to. I was starting to get very discouraged because no one responded to my letters. So when I wrote a letter to Leon Alderman, within ten days he wrote me back telling me that I was accepted by Alpha – hallelujah!. I was paroled January 10, 2004. My original parole date was scheduled for March 2004.
Since I received an early parole, the bed promised to me at Alpha Transitional Housing was not yet available. It was then that I was formally introduced to the Director of Alpha Prison Ministries, Leon Alderman. He sympathized with my problem, but took me through a test, which I passed. Instead of me moving in with one of my former friends, which was a path that I always took, I choose to go to the Correctional Center, which is a temporary housing center for paroles. While at this center, I was introduced to Ron Jimmerson. This man, like so many men in my life, was put in my life for a purpose. He turned out to be a volunteer for Alpha Prison Ministries. It was through Ron that I learned some valuable lessons on how to do effective ministry.
After moving out of the correction center into Alpha, I started looking for a church home. Ron had given me his phone number, and a few days later I called and asked him if he would pick me up. I began to attend church there, and eventually became a member of City Hope Ministries.
God worked mightily in my life during that time. Leon became a wonderful friend and mentor, along with Ron Jimmerson and Mark Kersey.
I met Mark while I was incarcerated in St. Louis, Michigan. He was a volunteer for Alpha. Mark lived in Kalamazoo, Michigan and would faithfully come and minister to me in prison weekly. Once I was released, he would come to Grand Rapids and visit me at Alpha. He was greatly instrumental in helping me within a month of my living at Alpha. I was given a car, thank you Lord. But because my license was suspended I could not drive until I paid my tickets and got permission from my parole officer.
Encouraging people today comes very easy for me, because when I thank back on how many people who helped me along this path, it just comes natural.
Through Alpha Prison Ministries I learned how to process resources, and Leon introduced me to programs and organizations that were beneficial in helping in my “New Life.”
Psalms 37:23 says: The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delighted in his way.
For the first time in my life, I started to feel the favor of God working in my life.
I started to shun my old friends who were still caught up in crime, and started to gravitate towards people who were trying to live as law abiding citizens.
Through Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Hope Network, and Jubilee Jobs, I was able to get a job, tags and insurance for my car, and financial assistance to take care of past tickets.
My job came through Hope Network. At 50 years old and limited work experience, plus having a disability and numerous felonies on my record, finding a job was not an easy task for Gail Coleman, who was my job developer and mentor. But through prayer and a lot of disappointments, I finally got a job in Grand Rapids, Michigan, enabling me to stay focus and encouraged.
My job was with Erie Construction as a telemarketer. This, as I later found out, afforded me the opportunity to sharpen my communication skills. I worked for them for eleven months.
In January of 2005, I had a desire to start my own carpet cleaning service, called Optimum Carpet Cleaning. It was also in January 2005 that I left Erie Construction to pursue my education and began attending Baker College of Muskegon, Michigan.
It is very important that I mention the relationship that I was able to establish with my parole officer Don Matson. Because of our respect and trust for each other, he was instrumental in uniting my son and me years after I got off parole.
When Don and I first met, I knew from looking at my rap sheet that he would be very apprehensive towards me. But, to my surprise he never showed it, in the way that he treated me. In our first meeting, I explained to him that I was a new person in Christ, and that I wanted the opportunity to get off of parole early. He told me that if I didn’t get into any trouble and pay off my fines, that he would consider my request.
In February of 2005 I was discharged early from parole. In May of 2005, I moved out of the Alpha house.
Proverbs: 18:22 (KJV) reads: Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord.
In June of 2005 I married a wonderful lady named Marion. Marion and her family have been instrumental in keeping me grounded in Christ. My mother-in-law is a very wise woman, and she told me something that I’ve had the opportunity to pass along to other couples, who are putting off getting married, but living together, most likely having sexual relations ,which is sin outside of marriage. From the moment that I laid eyes on Marion, I knew that she was my soul mate.
But like so many people, I didn’t fully have faith in God and His word. I held many fears inside.
So when my mother-in-law asked me when Marion and I was going to get married, I gave her the old famous excuse. “We are going to save our money, and do it right and have a big wedding.”
She look at me and smiled and said, “Son … grown folks should know what they want. Do what’s right in the eyes of God, and He will provide.”
Well, I’m here to tell you that since being married, we haven’t been broke or hungry.
As a footnote, as of today (January 2012) we still haven’t had that big wedding, (but Marion, its coming!)
When I made the move from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Muskegon, Michigan, I kind of felt like Abraham in Genesis 12:1 where the Lord told him to get out of his old country and away from his old friends and family, and go into a new land that He would show him.
Now, I want everyone reading this to understand that change is not easy, and it does take some effort, and least to me. Yet the transition to Muskegon was made easier by the choices I made, and the people that I chose to hang out with.
My first priority was to secure an income upon getting married.
1 Thessalonians 3:10 says: If any man not work, let him not either eat.
Well, I love to eat.
And because I had started to read the Word (Bible), I also knew that Proverbs 11:14 says: There’s safety in a multitude of counselors.
So after talking to some knowledgeable people, they suggested that I enroll into Baker College.
America is like no other country in the world. Our government will loan you money to get an education, and once you find a job, then they expect you to pay them back.
So For the first time in my life I started to get lump sums of money legally, and at the same time obtain an education.
I like to joke with people, telling them that I graduated from Street University, with honors. And I am now a student of Christ University.
Starting my own business was not easy, but … starting my own business was the only option that made sense to me. Being that I have multiple felonies on my record, I found it hard to find a decent paying job. So I used the resources that were available to me and signed up with Michigan Retaliation Service (M.R.S.) in Muskegon, Michigan. It was there that I got assistance in starting my own carpet cleaning business, and finding my first decent job.
In life I’ve found that there are very few things that are free, and there’s always rules to the game. The rule to get help from M.R.S. was doing what they recommended you to do. So I was told to attend an empowerment group.
Proverbs 18:16 says, Your gift will make room for you.
And after attending this empowerment group, I approached the person who headed the group and flat out told him that if I was taught their way, I could help run the group. I was unaware at that time – that organization who he worked with – was expanding and they had just been given a grant to run a mentorship program, and they needed help in running that program, and also the help in running the program at M.R.S.
In July of 2005, I started volunteering my time for the Disability Connection. My job was to facilitate the empowerment group at M.R.S. This group met every two weeks for six hours in a two day session. I did this faithfully until December for free.
On December 18, 2005, I was hired by the Disability Connection as a Mentor Assistance Coordinator, praise God!
It is so strange how when God starts to shower a person with favor, the sky is the limit. I was now afforded the opportunity to rub elbows with parole and probations officers and was working with the clients of a program that I was once was apart of.
But most of all, I now started to do the true Ministry God had called me to, which is to evangelize and disciple men and women in accordance with God’s Holy Word.
Because of my disability, I had to let go of my carpet cleaning business and after almost three years, I was laid off from my job with the Disability Connection. But instead of suffering from lack, God has started to give me an increase finically and spiritually.
I am now an entrepreneur. My ex-boss and I formed a LLC, called the EMC group.
So in closing, I am not where I started and if it’s Gods will, I will continue to go and do what it is He has ordained me to do.
And for Christians, never lose sight of this powerful promise from God:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me – Philippians 4:13
Whatever God calls us to do, He will empower us to fulfill the call through the ability of Jesus Christ our Lord. Whether that be serving out one’s sentence in prison, readjusting to society and remain crime free, career, marriage, child raising, serving in the Armed Forces, ministering His Word, etc., we have to make up our minds that through the help of Jesus Christ, there is absolutely nothing that can stop us from fulfilling His will in our lives.
No mountain too high to climb — no mountain that can’t be moved out of the way. No fear so large that can’t be replaced with faith in Him.
If you can believe, all things are possible. – (See: Mark 9:23)