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I'm sorry

By Sam Huddleston

June 1971. Atwater, Calif. I was 17.

I’d hung out with friends for six days, drinking, popping pills and carousing with almost no sleep. We ended up at Shep’s where there was a party going on. After a while the booze ran low. We were at the liquor store before we realized we hadn’t brought cash with us.

“Let’s hold this place up. Scare the dude,” I said.

“How you going to scare him?”

“I have a knife,” I said.

Shep ended up with the knife. Instead of scaring the owner, he started stabbing him.

“Snakes, snakes,” he was screaming, out of his mind.

“Don’t stab me anymore,” the owner was pleading.

He died of his wounds at the hospital later that night.

On Aug. 10, 1971, I was sentenced to five years to life. I had chosen to plead guilty. Shep had chosen to act in his own defense. I never saw him again. When he had served 10 years of his life sentence, he died in the prison hospital.

I served four years, nine months and one day in the California penal system.

I came to Christ in prison. But it took a lot of years after prison for Him to work out of my life the junk I had taken into my spirit.

At a 1990 family reunion I was asked to speak to several hundred relatives.

“The Prodigal Son came to his senses after he destroyed the family name,” I said. “After he had spent the family money.”

I looked at my great-uncle. I’m his namesake. “Uncle Samuel,” I said, “I’m the only one of your nieces and nephews named after you [he had no children] and I shamed you. I shamed your name. Would you forgive me?” He began to cry.

I looked at cousins, aunts and uncles. “I have no idea what it felt like to walk the path you had to walk because of my actions. I ask you to forgive me.”

My dad was there. “All I can do is ask you to forgive me,” I said.

I stood there with my head down, sobbing.

My older cousin, Major White, spoke first. “Samuel,” he said, “we forgive you.”

Eventually I returned to Atwater. I went back to that liquor store. It had been torn down and made into a parking lot. I sensed the Spirit of the Lord saying to me, That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. It’s buried.

I went to a breakfast where I had been asked to speak. I stood before the business leaders of the community. The county sheriff, the chief of police and other dignitaries were there.

“Some of you are too young to remember,” I said. “Others of you are too old ever to forget the shame and hurt I brought to this community. I just want to begin by asking you to forgive me.”

There was silence. Then one after another, heads across the room began to nod in agreement. A wave of forgiveness flowed through that room, a room not 200 yards from a parking lot where every trace of my crime was now erased, except for the lives of those I hurt.

My stepfather died in November 2003. The graveyard where he is buried is also the resting place for the victim of that fateful robbery. I stood at that grave.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Adapted from Five Years to Life by Sam Huddleston (Springfield, Mo.: Onward Books, 2007).

SAM HUDDLESTON is assistant superintendent of the Northern California-Nevada District of the Assemblies of God.

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