I had hoped to be able to return to Illinois upon my release, but found out I was mandated to Madison, where the offense was committed. I wanted to get out of Wisconsin. I felt I had paid my debt. My last week in prison, tension was building. I felt like I was suspect, as if I was going to steal a fork or a roll of toilet paper. They were treating me like a criminal! I had to dig deep to remember all the principles I had learned in the Bible and “Anger Management.”

I had decided to dedicate my life to Christ more than four years earlier after the judge said, “Bailiff, cuff him!” Click, click, and I was off to the county jail cell. My world had come to an end. I was suffering from withdrawals from numerous addictions to heroin, methadone, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, and sex—a long tunnel with no escape, an abyss. Just before heading out for Dodge Correctional Institution, another inmate handed me a Gideon Bible. That was the only possession allowed to be carried on the bus going to my new home at Dodge. I somehow knew that there was power in that Book to change my life, if only I could dedicate my life to it.

Tuesday is the day felons are released from prison all over Wisconsin. My out date was Tuesday, February 17, 2004. I had no idea what to expect. The night before, I was packing my stuff too slowly to please the guards, so they set me out of the cell and literally threw everything into a box and taped it shut. The next morning I had to repack everything. I decided to wear my sweatpants and shirt. I was brought to the gatehouse and told to change clothes. What a surprise! I had no idea that Rose had gone to the Community Thrift Store and bought a complete outfit for me, including shoes and leather jacket. Everything fit perfectly. I was elated.

I was disappointed that Rose was not allowed to pick me up. I was picked up by a Corrections driver. Two women from the women’s prison were also picked up. I looked so good in my new clothes, the women thought I was a guard, and started asking me questions. The driver took me to the bank so I could cash the check for $440 with my prison ID. I began to plan ahead knowing that I would soon have to pay rent, and buy food; $440 would not go very far. I had been told that I would need a leg bracelet. I explained to the driver that I had neuropathy, a condition that affected the circulation in my feet. When he said, “Let’s go,” I asked, “What about the bracelet?” He replied, “You’re not getting one!” I knew immediately that this was the favor of God, and I silently thanked the Lord.

I had heard about the program where we are mandated to spend our first twenty-nine days in a hotel. I was brought to the “Expo,” a hot spot for people in the life, complete with drug dealers and prostitutes. And it was only a few blocks from where my crime had been committed. I felt like I was being set up to fail and get thrown back in jail. I had to consciously get into the right mind frame, take a deep breath, and tap into my inner guidance to find the strength to resist any temptations that were coming my way. The Corrections officer signed me into the hotel and gave me my instructions to report to my parole officer within three days and see what she required. I settled down and suddenly realized that I was free to walk outside, go to the store, and even spend some money! I got some change and called my Baby. I told her the good news that I was free. “How soon can you get here?” “As soon as the sun comes up!” I gave her directions. Thus ended my first day of freedom.

The next day, dressed in my “new” clothes, I stepped out of my room. The first person I saw said to me, “Are you lookin’?” I said, “What?” He repeated, “Are you lookin’ to score?” I answered, “I already did. I’ve got Jesus!” “Yeah, okay man, I’m gone!” He nearly ran from me. The Word came to my remembrance, “Resist the devil and he will flee!” Thank God for His Word. I headed for the store, and, to my surprise, there she was driving towards me, earlier than expected. I was coming back into a new world. I found myself evaluating everything. When I saw my Baby, I knew my prayer was answered and all my stress and long suffering would be relieved. For the first time in more than four years, we were alone together ... no guards, no rules, no inhibitions.

During our time together we telephoned my parole officer and set up a meeting for the next day. Rose got the impression that my P.O. expected her to come with me. We held hands and prayed together that God would grant us favor and touch and prepare the heart of my P.O. so that she would allow me to have an interstate pass to be able to spend some time with my Baby in Illinois. The bewitching hour of 10 P.M. came all too soon, and we had to say “good bye”. My greatest temptation was to keep her with me overnight. A few hours were not enough to satisfy the love and passion that had welled up inside of me for her. It was hard when I let her go, but rules are rules. I watched TV until the wee hours, when finally I dozed off. I was excited that my Baby would be back the next day, and by my side when I would present myself to my new P.O. for the first time. I had no idea what to expect, but we were confident that God had it all under control. I remembered the Scripture, Psalm 50:15: “Call on me in your day of trouble, and I will deliver you.”

Finally morning came, and so did she, with a bright smile and the look of victory on her face, giving glory to God that this would be the day that we would ride off together to a new horizon, over the borderline. We greeted each other, and confidently agreed that we were going to receive our blessing and favor from the Lord. We arrived at the parole office and were greeted with a smile, unexpected from a parole officer! We felt in our spirit that Carrie was special. To our delight she proved to be nothing less. During our dialogue, I shared with her some of my strengths and weaknesses and my goals and desires. She expressed that she was pleased that I was open and honest with her. She was glad to see that I had someone very supportive who made it her business to be with me at every turn regardless of the distance. Rose had traveled many miles to see me during my incarceration, and she wasn’t ready to slow down yet.

We were hoping to be granted a few days together in Illinois. We were surprised with a travel permit for fourteen days, the maximum Carrie could allow under the circumstances. We were amazed and excited. Rumor had it that it would be impossible to get an interstate permit after less than a week of supervision. But what is impossible for man is possible for God. It was all we could do to hold back the joy and exhilaration we felt. It seemed like we had just been touched by an angel. We thanked Carrie and said goodbye. We returned to the hotel where I quickly grabbed some things. We hit the road, thanking and praising God all the way to my Baby’s home.

There we were in our cozy, warm love nest, the comfort of a woman’s touch, a real bathtub, a king-sized bed, walking around the Fox River instead of the prison yard. It was a blessing to be able to stay with my Baby where I was able to live comfortably without having to pay any bills. I was able to hold my $440, especially since I was no longer dependent on alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. Again I thank God for delivering me from all of this.

I had become accustomed to a certain routine while in prison. I was able to maintain the discipline with my Baby. I had walked every day in the prison yard talking to God and thinking of her. Now I could walk with Rose and we could talk to God together, giving Him praise, honor and glory for all that God had already done. He had brought us back together, and God alone was preserving me, keeping me free from bad habits. In prison I had established new ways of living with Christian principles. I was dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. Now my fortress was there with Rose, my secret garden. I was away from the world and its deadly desires. I knew that in the world one is too many and one thousand is never enough because the flesh could never be satisfied. Now I could focus in my spirit and feed it with the Word, which is spiritual food for the soul.

Looking back at this time, I can see clearly how I was being prepared during my incarceration for this new life with my wife. I had walked through the Refiner’s fire, and now we were walking together with God. In retrospect, when I entered the prison, I was like a broken pot, fractured, skinny and weak, depleted, lost in a desert. Slowly I realized that both physically and spiritually this was going to be an inside job.

I needed to find some new hope, and I did, when Rose sent me a Bible Scripture, Luke 13:6-9. It is a parable of Jesus telling about a certain man with a fig tree planted in his vineyard. The tree did not bear fruit, so he instructed the keeper of the vineyard to “Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?” But the keeper interceded for the fig tree, asking for it to be spared one more year during which time he would dig around it and fertilize it. “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” The fig tree was given one last chance. From this parable I fully realized that rather than seeing myself as arrested, I had been rescued, and this was my last chance. I was ready and willing to walk through the fire. The seed had been planted, and the prison became my growing place. Rose and I had begun praying together in the prison visiting room. We would look into each other’s eyes while we bared our souls to God. This was and is a powerful experience. To this day, this experience of God’s presence in our love continues to strengthen our relationship.

Strengthened by the two weeks with Rose in Illinois, I returned to Madison and my P.O. A few days later, Rose returned to bring me home with her for another fourteen days. This time I had a surprise for her. I showed her my new driver’s license. She immediately handed me her car key. She had put on enough miles. She was ready to put me in the driver’s seat of her life, as a real husband. God is so good!!!!

Author's Bio: 

Johnny L. Ellis, co-founder of His Rose Spiritual Ministry of Love, Truth and Beauty is a Certified Spiritual Coach, an ordained Minister of Christ as well as a graduate of Madison Media Institute and Grassroots Leadership College in Madison, Wisconsin. He has completed training with the Industrial Area Foundation (IAF) as a community organizer. As part of "Voices Beyond Bars," he counsels newly released prisoners integrating back into society.