By Tonja Talley
Metal struck metal as the jail cell door slammed behind Amy. The echo thundered through cellblock H. Amy cringed. The other prisoners’ piercing stares, the angry comments, and the smells were harrowing.
Caught in Satan’s stronghold, Amy embezzled money from her employer over a three-year period in a desperate attempt to relieve her family’s financial struggles.
On February 27, 2009, Amy’s boss discovered the embezzlement. Amy overheard him telling the person on the phone not to do anything yet. Amy knew she was heading to jail. She ran.
It wasn’t yet 5:00 a.m. when Amy sensed a spiritual conflict raging within her. “You can’t have her,” a voice seemed to say. “I have great plans for her.”
Hiding out in a motel, Amy opened her drugged eyes slightly to witness the trashed aftermath of her attempted suicide: an empty alcohol bottle on the nightstand, a bag she intended to use for suffocation lying near her pillow (how it came off, Amy doesn’t remember), and an empty bottle of sleeping pills resting near its cap between the sheets and bedspread.
She woke riled and violently ill, as her body purged the digested toxins. Amy vowed to kill herself rather than go to jail. “I didn’t care. I just wanted to die, even if it meant living in Hell for eternity.”
Contemplating other ways to end her life, Amy turned on the television for a few minutes of distraction. Hosting her show, Martha Stewart talked about happiness. Intrigued, Amy continued to watch the show. Strength began to replace fear. The show gave hope of a better life, even if it meant jail time.
Gently pulling the curtain aside, Amy gazed out the window. “Oh, help me out of this mess,” she silently prayed. Slowly releasing the curtain, Amy stood, and with renewed hope, left the motel to walk into an unknown future.
Plans of Hope
While in jail, Amy guardedly befriended Chris. Their friendship began over card games and led to conversations within a Bible study and prayer group. Using Scripture, Chris introduced the women in the study to principles of godly living.
Amy had learned about God during her days in parochial school, but she had always relied on her own wisdom—until she met Chaplain Deb. In a one-on-one session the chaplain brought Jeremiah 29:11 to Amy’s attention: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Amy recognized the verse as the one that had come to her mind the night of her attempted suicide. She looked heavenward and said, “Thank you.” At that moment, Amy knew her attitude and life would become new. She put the past behind her. God opened Amy’s eyes to 2 Corinthians 7:10: “Godly sorrow brings repentance” (NIV, 1984). For a long time she “had cherished sin in [her] heart” (Psalm 66:18). She prayed, “Oh, Father, you have changed me with your love and clothed me with armor to fight off Satan. But I still cherish sin in my heart. Lord, please let me relinquish my sin completely to you. I ask for your forgiveness. Amen.”
The more Chaplain Deb taught Amy, the more Amy wanted to absorb. “On many occasions I sat on my bunk reading my Bible and praying, and I sensed love and contentment inside. I know it sounds weird to feel serenity in a prison, but I did. Christ knew my heart even when words in prayer often turned to tears. Christ interceded for me to let God know what I needed.”
Before her second parole hearing, Amy prayed, “Dear Father, my second hearing is coming up. I so want to be with my family. I miss them. Help it go well. Amen.”
Uncuffed, Amy and her family were permitted to embrace one another and speak freely. Twenty minutes later, Amy headed into the courtroom only to return to jail. The lawyers couldn’t agree on terms and the family couldn’t afford the lowered bond.
At first Amy could not understand why God did not answer her prayer. Only later did she come to realize that God’s ways and thoughts are not always like ours (see Isaiah 55:8). He answers prayers from a heavenly viewpoint. Knowing the future plans of Amy’s life, God had already worked out what she truly needed.
“After three days of crying,” Amy explains, “I actually laughed when it occurred to me that God had answered my prayer. For nearly 30 minutes God granted me free access to my family. It was exactly what I had prayed. I think he wanted me to learn to focus on him.”
On December 14, 2009, Amy pleaded guilty to eight felonies. She felt God’s presence as she took the witness stand with a sense of dependence on God and his Holy Spirit. God gave her strength to tell everyone in the courtroom the truth—that she had chosen to embezzle $344,000 from her employer.
Amy has a year of probation to go, but she is home. She and her family are building a new life together in the Lord and within their church. The Lord provided another accounting position with a firm that knows the truth about her past. She continues to lean on the heavenly Father’s plans for her life.
Jesus taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). One of the most precious gifts coming from this love is the power of prayer. When I think about prayers recorded in the Bible, I picture Jesus Christ praying at Gethsemane.
He . . . knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:41-44).
Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Powerful prayer speaks from the heart. When we pray, Jesus intercedes for us in Heaven. We don’t have to pray loud, long, eloquent prayers. But they should be God-focused and fervent.
The power of prayer does not rest in the person praying; it rests in God. To have his peace ruling our hearts during prayer, Paul suggests, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, 7, NIV, 1984).
Looking to Jesus
Jesus’ name brings the devil to attention. Paul warns us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
To keep Satan from influencing us, we must keep our hearts and minds pure. Ask God to show you the sin in your heart. Seek his help to rid yourself of the sin. Satan flees in the face of constant, powerful prayer. He knows the true power of prayer rests in Jesus Christ.
When you feel you don’t have time to pray, remember your Savior who was beaten, flogged, and nailed to a cross—who, because of love, died for your sins and intercedes for you in Heaven today.
Tonja Talley is a freelance writer in Greenwood Indiana.
Praying for Prisoners
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, left a legacy of love and sacrifice that lives through his organization and the lives it touches. Through his own journey of radical change, he has helped inspire and equip other prisoners to follow Christ—and he’s provided ways for Christians to get involved.