By Peter K. Johnson
Tom Stevens sat on the edge of the bed in his cell in the Norfolk
County (Mass.) Jail, staring at the gray granite walls. The year was
1977. He was facing a stiff prison sentence for armed robbery and
assault to commit murder and was angry and confused. "The anger
was like a piece of steel sitting in my gut," he says.
Toms burly 6-foot-4 frame made the cell look smaller than it
was. One light bulb rested against the wall by the steel bars. The
cell contained a bed, toilet, sink and table.
With nothing else to read, he opened the Bible his wife, Kathy, had
given to him. She had become a born-again Christian and visited him
regularly with friends from her church. Annoyed, Tom had told her:
"Dont bring those holy rollers here."
|Tom Stevens is
now a Royal Rangers commander and program director of The Bridge
House, a ministry to ex-offenders.
Kathy had prayed relentlessly for Tom. When she spotted Christian
symbols on cars or on houses, she waited on sidewalks and porches
for the owners. "Are you a Christian?" she would ask when
they showed up. "Would you pray for my husband? Hes in
jail. I know the Lord will touch his life if enough people pray for
As Tom turned to Matthew 7:7, he read: "Ask and it will be given
to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened
to you" (NIV). The passage clicked; it reminded him of a secular
He then read John 3 where Nicodemus questioned Jesus about the meaning
of being born again. Like a laser beam the Holy Spirit pierced the
wall of unbelief surrounding Toms spiritual understanding. Bowing
his head, Tom prayed out loud: "God, if You are God, if Jesus
is Your Son, if this Bible is Your Word and I must be born again
whatever that is if these things are all true, I have no choice
but to accept Your Son as my Savior."
"I accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior," he says. "I
told God I would serve Him for the rest of my life. But I didnt
feel anything. Nothing."
But he did stop cursing and passing around marijuana at night to
Tom dove into the Bible like a starving grizzly hunting salmon. He
read daily outside of his cell in "the flats" on the bottom
tier of the cellblock. He questioned other inmates, "Why didnt
anybody tell me this before? No one ever told me about this God of
love." They began to avoid him because of his size and violent
Several months later Tom heard his sentence: 15-30 years. "The
judge read the riot act to me," he says.
Deputies drove him shackled in leg and waist irons to the maximum-security
prison MCI-Walpole, where he received a hostile reception. An official
told the county deputies to bring him back on Monday because processing
new prisoners on Friday afternoon was against policy. The deputies
answered, "If you dont take him, well handcuff him
to the gate." The prison guards accepted him.
An inmate invited him to a fellowship meeting. Tom needed teaching
and discipling. "I didnt have an understanding of what
being a born-again Christian was all about," he says. He accepted
the invitation when he learned coffee was being served.
At the meeting he met Jim Spence and two other volunteers from Wellesley
Park Assembly of God in Wayland, Mass. Tom connected with Spence,
who began mentoring him. Tom showed up Monday nights from then on
and attended every chapel service. "He was spiritually hungry,"
The Assemblies of God church in Coventry, R.I. (now Lighthouse Christian
Center, West Greenwich, R.I.) supported Toms Berean School of
the Bible correspondence studies for three years. "I completed
every course except womens ministries," he says.
As Tom grew in his relationship with the Lord, he began conducting
Bible studies and chapel services for as many as 80 inmates. He applied
for Christian worker papers and was interviewed in prison by the superintendent
of the Southern New England District of the Assemblies of God.
In 1984 Tom became a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God.
After being transferred to another correctional facility, he asked
permission to start a Bible study. No one showed up on the first day;
the second time, five men joined. After six weeks attendance was 34.
He loved to preach.
Tom pursued outcasts. "I prayed that God would let me see people
how He sees them," he says. He led a former policeman, convicted
of murdering his wife, to a saving knowledge of Jesus. The policeman
first noticed Tom and three other inmates praying over their lunch.
Despondent over serving a life sentence, the man poured out his heart
to Tom. "You need to trust somebody outside yourself," Tom
told him. Within 15 minutes, Tom led him in the sinners prayer.
After serving seven and one-half years and enduring six parole hearings,
Tom was released from prison on July 1, 1985. Learning how to be a
husband, father and provider again was a challenge. Tom joined his
family in church and became part of the Royal Rangers program.
Kathy and the children moved to Illinois to work in a church in 1986.
A year later they moved to New York where Tom served as executive
director of a recovery ministry for seven years. In 1994 he returned
to Massachusetts to work for his friend and mentor, Jim Spence, as
program director of The Bridge House, a ministry to ex-offenders.
Spence says, "Tom changed from being a hardened criminal to
a person with a tender heart."
"I do what I love to do and get paid for it," Tom says.
"I get to minister to men who come out of the same situation
I did. Every once in a while God lets me see a profound change in
a mans life through Jesus. Its such a joy to know God
Peter K. Johnson lives in Milltown, N.J.
The Tom Stevens family attends First Assembly of God in Worcester,
Mass. (David C. Crabtree, pastor).