Recently a young ex-convict joined the Church after years of trouble and searching. His story is best told in his own words. Only the names have been changed. The following is taken from an address he taped while in prison. We publish it with his permission.
Brothers and sisters: I’m honored on this occasion to be able to speak to you about my life and to give some suggestions in regard to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel has truly been restored in our time through Joseph Smith and all the other great souls who have been instruments in the hands of God and his Only Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
For those of you who don’t know who I am, it might be best for me to start by telling you a little bit about myself. My name is Bill, and I am twenty-one years old. Up until a few years ago, I was very unfortunate spiritually. Indeed, my present situation somewhat reflects this fact. I guess by now you know that I am housed in the prison system of this state.
I was born in a Baltimore suburb to a fine family consisting of my mother, father, two brothers, and two sisters. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and even attended a parochial grade school. I started out as a relatively good child and continued so up until around the fourth grade. Yes, as early as the fourth grade I was on my way to a long road of filth of every kind. I started by getting involved with others who had the habit of stealing anything and everything. By age eleven I found it quite amusing to obtain entry into private premises in order to steal and vandalize. Of course, eventually I was caught and brought before a judge. I was fortunate this time not to receive any punishment for my crimes.
Time passed, and soon I was involved in every kind of unlawful act a person my age could get into. Time and time again I was caught and punished accordingly.
Of course, this kind of behavior caused my parents and loved ones much sorrow. Even with all their efforts to help me, I just seemed to get worse. As time passed, I was introduced to many of the radical, subversive factions of our society and the things that went along with them. It seems I went from one extreme to another trying to find a purpose in life. I was, of course, eventually introduced to one of the strongest underminers of all that is good—drugs. I experimented and tried to find myself using all the inventions of man. However, as time passed, I sensed my degenerated position. I soon realized I must pull myself from this hell on earth; so with all the courage I could muster, I managed to get accepted in the United States Army.
Once in the army and away from my old surroundings, I was able to muster some faith in God, of which I always had a little portion. I remember reading in the Bible and pondering the true meaning of the many prophecies. I even tried to get reactivated in the Roman Catholic Church. That, however, soon subsided, and I was on my way seeking and looking. I remember pouring out my soul in prayer much more frequently during this period, but I would always manage to find myself reunited with one of my various vices. Eventually I was transferred to another area. There I found a small group of seekers after the truth who interpreted God in their own way. I remember it was there that I thanked God for my restoration of faith, but I still was not satisfied.
Finally I became discontented and discouraged with the army. I was due to be transferred to Vietnam, so I decided to go absent without leave. Leaving the army behind, I traveled from the west coast to the east. Eventually I ended up back at my home. My parents were disappointed in me, of course, but they sympathized with me and consented to let me stay at home.
Well, before too long I was back in trouble, and I was getting worse. One night I happened to come across a gun. This led to other things, and I soon talked myself into using it for gaining money. Leaving details aside, I did use it and was caught. I was detained in the county jail to await trial. While awaiting my trial, I had occasion to visit a library they had there. There were a number of books dealing with religion that I asked to see. One of these was entitled Religious Truths Defined, by Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. To this day I don’t know how that book got there. But praise be to God for allowing a sinner like me to even read it.
I commenced reading the book, which compares the doctrine of many contemporary religious establishments to those of the church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To me it seemed that even a blind person could see the obvious truths the book professed. After all this I had found the true church. That night I prayed to God, and I told him I believed. I didn’t ask if it were true; I told him I knew it was true.
Brothers and sisters, there are no words I know that can describe the tremendous joy and will to do good continuously that I received from an enormously gigantic outpouring of the Holy Ghost the next morning. I was dazed. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Why God led me to that book and what he has planned for me, I don’t know. But I do know that I have found the true church and the true God. I know that God is real, that Jesus Christ is his Only Begotten. I know the Holy Ghost does exist and that he works on the hearts of men.
Well, I was eventually punished for my wrongs and crimes. I thought that God had let me down at first. However, I stayed in contact with his church continuously and was strengthened more and more. Eventually I quit smoking and drinking, and all my vices and bad habits have almost completely vanished. I have managed to get my high school equivalent and now I’m close to graduation from junior college with a degree in business administration. I have almost two years in seminary work completed and have managed to read the standard works a number of times. I have read many of the other books related to the Church and have followed the Church as closely as possible. To my regret, however, I did receive an undesirable discharge from the army, for which I am really sorry. I surely will try to make it up.
I recently started receiving the missionary discussions and anxiously await the opportunity to be baptized, to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and to get my patriarchal blessing. I believe in everything the Church says and does and can’t wait to be active in God’s work.
That is an extra-short version of my life’s story. Indeed, I could probably fill a couple of volumes with the complete version. But all in all, I have no doubts whatsoever concerning God’s church and work. How I look forward to the day I can be in it.
As for advice and suggestions, brothers and sisters, what can I tell you that hasn’t been told you by the prophets and authorities? I will say, Beware of the ways of the world. Be not concerned with societal standards or resulting sub-societies. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man,” the Psalmist said. Please, trust God. Be pure. Don’t go through what I did, or even a minute portion of what I did. There’s no pleasure in it, only grief. So with that I will end my speaking. I give thanks to God above for bringing me this far, and for the change in my heart and the chance to tell someone my story so that maybe they can avoid what I went through. I also give thanks for all the great people I’ve met since my affiliation, for truly you are saints. May the Lord God of Israel be with you always and forever. Amen.