Roy Crowne goes to prison and finds a story of hope
Overwhelmed with suicidal thoughts, Jonas* was in prison contemplating ways to end his life, when his cell-mate gave him a book. Reading it changed his life.
Until he was about five-years-old, Jonas lived happily with his family in Eastern Europe, but when his father’s life-savings were stolen, life changed dramatically. His dad turned to drink. His parents split up, and Jonas was put into care. For several years he was moved from one social care setting to another.
Jonas hoped he would be adopted, but discovered that his parents had not given their permission. When they were contacted, they gave him up without a fight. That had a huge impact on the 12-year-old, but it did lead to him being placed with a wonderful family who took him into their home and cared for him alongside their two daughters.
Looking back, Jonas didn’t realise how fortunate he was. As soon as he reached 18, he left the family and began travelling. First he worked on a construction site in Germany. Then he headed to Spain and on to Australia, where he got involved with gambling and drugs. Still on the move, he ended up in Thailand, but he hated himself. That’s when thoughts of suicide began.
When he met a British girl who seemed to care for him, he headed to the UK with her, only to discover that she came from a well-off family, which he resented. It was then that his lying, criminal lifestyle caught up with him. He put a fake gun to someone’s head and threatened to kill them. As a result, he ended up in court facing a lengthy prison term.
While awaiting sentence, he discovered that his girlfriend’s father was a Christian and, rather than rejecting him as his own father had done, this man showed a genuine interest in him. But Jonas felt he had blown all life’s chances. His own family had rejected him. He had run away from a foster family who loved him and now he had lost the chance to build a new life in Britain.
When the metal gates of the Victorian prison clanged shut behind him, he was distraught. Again, he made plans to end his life.
His cell mate was due to be released two days after Jonas arrived. He gave Jonas a book he’d read that had changed his life: 40 Stories of HOPE includes short testimonies from prisoners, prions chaplains and ex-offenders whose lives have been changed as they have become Christians. Alongside each story there is a prayer and an extract from Jesus’ life story with a thought for the day. Jonas’s cell mate said he had read a story a day. Jonas was sceptical but started reading.
‘I read the first four stories that day and began to realise that there was hope,’ he says. When he was moved to another prison, he took the book with him and signed up to attend the prison’s church community. The chaplain started praying with him and he continued reading 40 Stories of HOPE each day and praying the prayers.
When he joined a small group in the chaplaincy and they started praying for each other, he didn’t know what to think.
‘I didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I had goose-bumps all over,’ he recalls. ‘All of a sudden I realised that I was building a relationship with God though praying, I realised I could know him and my past could be forgiven.’
Over the next three or four months his life changed dramatically. ‘People told me I was a completely different person.’
He was baptised in prison and began to read more of the Bible. The prison chaplain often pointed out the changes that could be seen in him. ‘I didn’t want to die anymore.’
At 32 he says, ‘I now realise where I belong and that is in a relationship with God. I now know a real Father. My life has completely changed and I’m proud of being a Christian because of what God has done In my life.’
Still serving his sentence, he says: ‘I believe God has put me here to tell people what God has done.’
*name changed to protect identity