SIN - TO SENTENCE - TO SALVATION
(The James M. Johnston Story)
Editors Note: The following testimony is that of a former Vietnam veteran who eventually found peace with his Creator, though the cost has been high. It is a remarkable testimony of courage in many ways . . . for not many ex-war vets would expose their lives and soul to the world the way James has. If an award for spiritual bravery were available to give on this planet . . . our first recommendation would be to nominate James M. Johnston.
(Certain names in this testimony have been changed to protect the innocent).
I guess I should start from as far back as I can remember. What I remember is hate.
I never knew my real father. My mother left him when I was five or six, I think. I am told he loved the ocean, drinking, and spare women - not necessarily in that order. As far back as I can remember, my stepfather, Jack, was with us. He used to beat up my mother on a regular basis. I always vowed that I would get revenge for this and for what he did to my sisters.
Jack had a charming way of keeping me out of the way while he abused my older sister Janet. As early as my seventh year, when Janet was fourteen, Jack would tie me up in the backyard while he raped Janet upstairs in her bedroom. Jack knew that I knew what he was doing, however, and he did not hesitate to take his guilt out on me by beating me.
After a few years of these beatings, when I was ten years old, I was sent by my mom to live with my oldest sister, Jean, who was twenty and married to the best man I ever knew, Glen. I never really knew how great Glen was until many years later, when because of his brave actions on a little hill in Southeast Asia he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart. Glen took me into his home and treated me like a person, not a dog. This sort of treatment was a totally new experience for me. It was Glen who first taught me that when things become tough, that is the time to "dig in to what you can" and to pray. I always knew how to dig in and hold on. But prayer? I didn't think so. I did not know God, nor did I care to. I figured that if God would let Jack do what he did to my mom and my sister, I did not need Him.
About a year after I arrived at Glen's house, my mom called my sister Jean and said I would have to return home. Jack was not receiving assistance for me because I was not in the house, and he wanted the money. Janet had left home to join the Army by this time, so perhaps Jack was simply bored because there was no child to abuse. I protested vigorously to Jean and to Glen but to no avail. I found myself on a bus back home.
I endured Jack's beatings for a couple more years, and then, at thirteen, ran away to be with Glen and Jean in Washington state. Once I got there, Glen accepted me as if his best friend had come to visit. He had been transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington, after his first tour of duty was over, and served there as a drill instructor. He was very good to Jean, to me, and to the three children he and Jean had. I felt as if I never wanted to leave even though Glen and I still did not see eye to eye on the idea of prayer.
I went to school in Washington State for about a year until my mother once again forced me to return home because Jack wanted the support money the State of Michigan was giving for me. I was sixteen, weighed only about 90 lbs. soaking wet, but the first time Jack hit Mom after my return, I faced up to him and told him to stop. His response was to throw me through the front door. My nose was broken and I hurt everywhere, but I told Mom that I would kill Jack as soon as I got the chance. Mom somehow calmed me down (she was great for being able to do that), but one day shortly afterwards, she came home to find that Jack had beaten me up again. That was enough for her. She forged my birth certificate so I could enlist in the Navy. I took the physical and passed it, only there was a thirty-day wait before my eighteenth birthday (actually two years away). I think Mom knew by this time that the hate Jack and I had for each other would result in someone's death. I had picked the Navy because they had, I believed, the toughest men of all. I knew I would have to be tough if one day I would return home to beat the heck out of Jack. So I went into the Navy with all my heart.
My career in the Navy began with nine weeks of training. Once that was over, I took seven weeks of demolition training followed by two weeks of airborne training and two weeks of scuba training. I worked hard. I wanted the ground to hurt when I walked on it! Then I received my orders: Vietnam. That was just where I did not want to go. That was one of the reasons I had joined the Navy in the first place.
Before shipping out to Vietnam I was given thirty days leave and immediately started for home. On the way I pictured what it would be like finally getting revenge for my mother and my sister Janet mostly - but also for my sister Jean, my brother Bob, and for myself. I now weighed 185 pounds. I had gone to jump school, taken hand-to-hand combat and martial arts. I was going to cook this jerk up but good, once I saw Jack.
I arrived home on a beautiful May afternoon. My mom was standing in the doorway, looking just as I had remembered her. But that memory included one of her standing in front of the heater and Jack in his chair giving her orders. After I gave Mom a hug I went into the livingroom and put down my sea bag, at the same time getting my first look at Jack in several months. I wanted so badly to beat the taste right out of his mouth. Jack stood up. He did not look nearly so big as when I had last seen him.
"I told you I was going to make you pay," I said.
"Not in my house!" Mom shouted in the hardest voice I had ever heard her use. "You can just leave if you're going to act like that," she said to me.
I do not know whether I was more shocked at what Mom said or how she said it. What I heard filled me deep down with hate and hurt; more hate than hurt, I think. I looked at this fat old man -- this human waste of skin who was my stepfather -- I thought that after all he had put us through, my mom was still protecting him.
Out I went. I wound up at the house of my girlfriend, June, whom I would marry the following year. On her part, June was glad to see me. As for me, June's was the only love I believed I had known, since I saw my mom as a "betrayer." But I was not ready to give back to June the love she deserved. All I did was hurt her. Looking back, I only wish that I had followed Glen's advice about taking hold and then praying, but - no chance!
Upon my arrival to Vietnam, the temperature during the day was 114° in the shade and then down to 55° at night. You either boiled or froze. And the snakes and bugs that could harm you were more dangerous than the heat. Finally, there was the enemy, "Charles," (Viet Cong), always there to make things interesting. He set snares to fall into with sharpened pungie sticks tipped with God-only-knew what. He set trip wires and turned our own minds around on us, since he would emerge from a hole just big enough for a medium-sized dog to crawl through and then disappear. You could lose your mind thinking of everything not to touch, walk on, or sit next to. Then there was "friendly fire" we were constantly catching on the river. There is no place to hide if you don't know who is shooting at you or where the fire is coming from.
River patrol was not always bad. We maintained a low profile as much as possible. It was dangerous when we had to check a sampan (Vietnamese river boat). Some were bad, others were worse. My tour with the river patrol was not long; I was soon to join the team I would spend the rest of my time in-country with. If I had my way, I would have never left Subic Bay.
I went up north to Firebase 647, arriving about an hour before nightfall. At once I was directed to a hole in the ground and told to lay low for awhile. Shortly after, the alert went out. There was movement in the forest and we all remained in the bunker and waited. Thank God, the movement was from our own. They puffed smoke (lit a signal flare) and were escorted in. I finally caught site of my team. They had that stare that comes only from looking across a kill zone night after night. My senses soon improved to the point where I could smell whether a person smoked; what they ate; what sort of soap or aftershave they used. To this day I do not use aftershave or bar soap; it was a long time before I could shower with anything other than scentless shampoo. I still cannot forget the smell of blood or rubber-soled footgear.
After three days we were dropped into Cambodia, about two miles from a radio site that was providing telemetry for NVA (North Vietnamese Army) surface-to-air missiles. It would be easy. We would set a few charges, have little or no contact with Charles, and return to the LZ (landing zone) to get out. We were a half-mile from the tower when our point man was shot at. When we arrived to where the fire was coming in, I knew only that I was afraid and wanted to get the heck out, but something held me there: fear. We went in by twos to try to flank Charles. We found two mortar operators supported by four riflemen.
We closed in from both sides - threw some fragmentation grenades - took some more fire - then threw a two-pound charge. After it went off, we prayed for what was left. Two of our team received minor wounds. We had to leave them and pick them up on the way back. The tower itself was unguarded; it was just a relay point for radar. We blew it up and started home. Even though I was a "Cherry" (new guy), I could taste in the air that something was going to happen. We were in the jungle about one hundred yards from the landing zone when we made radio contact with the First Air Cav and told them where we were. Then came the scariest time, with two J-5's coming in; one to pick us up and one for cover. The two wounded would go first with the escort; then the rest would go. That's how it works. The first was in and out. We came out slow until the helicopter set down; then . . . we ran.
It seemed like a mile run. We were just about in when they lit us up. Another team member was wounded. I helped pick him up and got him in, then manned the M-60. Fire was coming from everywhere. The sides of the 'helo' were exchanging fire as we lifted off. I was on the outrigger about treetop and the next thing I knew I was falling.
The last thing I remember before passing out was hitting tree branches and breaking them off, one after another . . . breaking several ribs and my collarbone. I woke up with a mouth full of blood and my Warrant Officer standing over me, one of his legs broken. Everyone else had been killed in the crash of the helo. The chopper had taken a hit in the stabilizer rotor. The Lieutenant improvised a splint for his own leg and then gave me morphine for my pain. The pain was gone almost at once! I was in heaven!
After fourteen days in the jungle, Chip, the Lieutenant said he was going to make a drag and pull me out. We had a transponder, which was working, and just waited. But if things were not bad enough, it began to rain -- rain so hard you could cut it with a knife. I do not remember much about my time in the jungle because of the morphine. It kept me lost in my own little world. What I remember next was a nurse giving me a bath and changing my bandages. I was in Bien Hoa.
The months passed. I had recovered and was preparing to be sent back to another unit up north -- to a sweet little hill called 881 where my unit was. I remembered the last six men who had been in the helicopter with me and who died in the crash, Larry, Paul F., David C., Tommy L., Stan V., and Jerry. But there were three new "Cherries" and three misfits and now I was a Petty Officer second-class, in charge of them all. I thought the brass was crazy to let me have a team, but the Commanding Officer and Chip told me just to hold on and be safe. I recalled having heard something like that before. All they left out was what Glen had told me almost three years before: "Pray."
We were on that hill four days, getting ready for a push, when at one o'clock in the morning of the fifth day mines began going off. Mortars rang in the air and flares were seen everywhere.
"Zips in the wire!" someone yelled. Charles was coming in and not taking "no" for an answer. The first to reach the wire were men with hoes, rakes, and sticks. They were taking an awful whipping, but they did what they set out to do - knock the wire down. The second wave were men wired up at the joints and carrying four and eight pound charges. Some would knock out the tower and command post; the rest would charge the camp. It seemed as if weapons continued firing forever ... everywhere.
I was standing right below a tower when AK-47 fire knocked me down. I was hit with shrapnel in the right shoulder. It looked like a sliver, but I bled like a stuck pig.
I was hot as heck and hollered for a corpsman who responded, pulled the brass out, packed my wound, and moved on to other men who were down. But as I lay there, a phosphorous shell exploded over me and suddenly my clothes were on fire. My right wrist was on fire also, and I could see Charles had breached the wire. (Phosphorous is a chemical, which will burn so long as there is oxygen: my wrist continued to burn). The corpsman came over and pulled it from my wrist -- the cure hurting almost more than the burn.
By three in the morning it was over. They had come in the front door and gone out the back. We had called for an air strike which arrived at about 5:00 a.m. Puff the Magic Dragon came over and lit the hill up. Then we dug a hole and bulldozed over the bodies of our dead enemy. I went back to Bien Hoa and received a Purple Heart from General Westmoreland.
Three weeks later I was once again on patrol; our team was to knock out a surface-to-air missile pad. Drop-off was at 4:30 a.m. -- two miles to the site, (which was empty). As we were returning, Tim U. stepped on a land mine and it blew his legs off. He went into shock at once and was dead in seconds. I grabbed his dog tags, turned to follow my team, and found myself in my first hand-to-hand with the enemy.
The man kicked me in the chest and I went down. But Davie Z. shot him in the chest with an M-16, blowing half his face onto me. We got out as fast as we could, called for a pick-up, and waited for our ride.
As the chopper was getting closer, we saw it strafing the ground, just in case. We got in and got out without incident. Once I returned to Bien Hoa, however, I learned that my real father had died -- a man whose face I could not even remember. I went from Bien Hoa to the hospital ship HOPE, then to Hawaii, then to California, then to the Detroit airport. As I walked out in my greens - dirty - clothes covered with mud and my own blood - a wonderful young man spit on me and called me "babykiller".
June picked me up. We went to her mother's, and I tried to forget. But it is not easy to forget someone who has died trying to kill you. (To this day I will wake up in cold sweats at times, remembering the face of a young Vietnamese man who could not have been older than sixteen trying to kill me). Janet, still in the Army, flew in from Germany, and Jean came in from Fort Lewis. My brother Bob, an Air Force lieutenant eight years older than me, flew in from Antigua. We buried a man I had never known, for whom I felt no grief - only anger. Soon we learned that June was pregnant and I was scheduled to return to Vietnam. I began to drink heavily and decided I just wasn't going back. I didn't.
June and I married about three months before the baby was born -- a beautiful little girl, and so tiny. But five days later she died. It was then I guess I really threw in the towel, after the doctor told June she must have fallen down, and in so doing crushed the baby's lungs. The little girl never had a chance. What the doctor did not know -- what I have never told anyone -- was that three months before the baby's birth I threw June down during an argument. I killed my little girl.
OUT OF CONTROL
I began running with a motorcycle club - AWOL all the time -- and one night the feds caught me. I was sent to Great Lakes stockade - court-martialed - and given a general discharge. I continued to chase the bottle and stray women and once again June was pregnant. My guilt was so bad it was eating me up. About six months into her pregnancy I was arrested and accused of having raped the lady next door. She offered me sex if I would let her have free rent at the apartment I was working for. I took the sex, and then told her she could not have the free rent. Since her boyfriend was a Woodhaven cop, he arrested me for rape.
I was convicted, and in August, 1975, began to serve a prison sentence at Jackson prison in Michigan. Later, the lady tried the same thing with someone else; her deception was uncovered, and in 1978 my conviction was overturned. By this time I was out of prison, my son was born, and my mom was spoiling her first grandson. Bob's children were in Florida, and she did not get to see them very much.
I learned nothing from my stay in prison about staying out. Two years after my parole, I was arrested for car theft -- convicted -- and sentenced to ten months in the county jail. Three years after that I was arrested for possession of stolen property and was down two years. The next arrest was a combined state federal charge. I received two years state time for car theft and three years federal time for a gun charge.
HEART CHANGE BEGINS
In 1985, (the year my mother died), I began drinking heavily. In 1987, I met another person who - like Glen - tried to bring God into my life. It was at Kinross prison in Michigan that Al S. started to tell me how great God was and that I should come to a bible study. I was working with him in a "city crew", which - along with other prison crews - worked on public works such as cutting trees and making snowmobile trails. I signed up and was soon at a bible study. Al S., from the outside, was teaching me all about how the Lord forgives. I was not going to stay, but a prison friend, Bud F., told me to hold out to the end. The more Al talked about God, the more I felt my insides knot up.
On the last day of the three-day experience, we heard ladies singing. They sounded like angels and suddenly I found myself crying and unable to stop. All I wanted was to tell God how much I needed Him and how I wanted all this hate to stop. I heard the chaplain saying that for God to make a heart He had to break a heart. God did a good job breaking mine. I cried for an hour. I came away from this experience with the conviction that if I could just believe, God would do the rest.
Eight months later, as I was preparing to begin my Federal time, the Department of Corrections removed me from the "green dog crew, " making me work inside the ceramic shop outside store. I had fooled the guards into seeing only the good side of me and was able to break the prison rules about bringing things in from the outside. I was on the way back to my old self.
I went to Milan to serve my federal sentence. The time went very fast and I began to live at the Millner Motel on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Detroit in 1989, a halfway house. It was there that I ran into another "angel," Sherry S., who managed the Humane Society dog shelter. She gave me a job and also her friendship. I left the job when I was able to buy a truck arid go back on the road, but tried to keep in touch. As my drinking got worse, however, I felt more and more unworthy of her friendship.
I was hanging with a rough crowd. One night a weeping girl came into Twin Kegs bar in Taylor, MI. I found out her name was Sally and brought her home with me. One year later we were married. Our little girl, Holly, was at the wedding. Sally said she was a churchgoer. She wanted me to go with her.
"I tried that," I answered her. "It doesn't work. You go; I will not stop you."
Things were fine in our marriage for a year or so. Sally asked me to get off the road, so I did. I went to work for Marine Pollution Control. Then, when Sally came to pick me up from work and my boss noticed her, he commented, "I know that girl. We used to pull trains on her." I did not know about whom he was talking until Sally walked through the door.
"Keep your filthy mouth closed or I will close it for you for good," I said over my shoulder as I left.
"What's bothering you?" I asked Sally after we had a quiet ride home.
"It's your boss, Ziggy," she answered me. She proceeded to tell me some things that had happened.
"I don't care about that," I insisted. "Ziggy was in the past. Leave him there."
This was good advice, but Sally just could not seem to accept it. She began to pick fights over nothing -- run off to her sister's for days at a time and then looking to start something when she returned. I left my job with Ziggy and went back on the road. Our marriage went downhill from there.
A driver friend of mine, Bill, would drive by my house when I would be on the road for days, just to make sure that everything was all right. I would do the same for him. One night about three in the morning I called Bill because he had left a message for me. He told me over the phone that there had been a white van at my house for two nights and was probably still there. I told him I would meet him at his house and we would see. I was a day ahead of schedule.
We got to my house about four in the morning, using Bill's car. The van was there, and Sally and four guys were in it! I believed I could smell the sex; although Sally insisted -- even though she was wearing a see-through nightgown -- that all they did was talk.
I lost it. I moved to Belleville to stay with a friend, Bob B., for a few months and began to drink heavily again. After a few months I cooled it and went to see Sally. She said at once that she wanted to forgive me and for us to try again. I didn't know what to say: ("She would forgive ME?") At any rate, I played her game. I moved back in and tried again, but I was still in my hate mode.
On Memorial Day, my friend Bob asked us to his home. We were all drinking. Sally had taken her own car and I had taken mine. Why? I do not know. About eleven that night Sally drunkenly called me a babykiller and began to ask me about Vietnam. I left, only to return several times to Bob's just to see if her car was still there. She came home about ten o'clock Tuesday morning.
"I stayed last night at my sister's," Sally claimed.
"You're a liar!" I told tier. "I know you slept with Bob."
"I did not!" she cried, then ran into the bedroom and pulled a .25-caliber pistol from under her pillow.
"Make sure you take a head shot!" I shouted at her. "Anything else will just make me angry." I left the house. A few days later, I received a tape through the mail. There, on video, were Bob and Sally having sex. They had made the video the night she stayed at Bob's. Seeing it just about killed me.
GOD WAS AT WORK
I went on the road again. Around Christmas, I found myself driving through Alabama, unable to get anything on the radio except preachers.
"I don't want to hear this," I muttered to myself. (But something was going to happen that would start a change in my life). For some reason - I do not know why - I started to cry. I was crying so hard that I could not see to drive. I pulled over to the side of the road -- 80,000 pounds of pig iron in my trailer.
What I was hearing was Schambach Ministries on the radio: "If you want God to help you, touch your radio and pray with me." I did. By the time the preacher was through, I was done crying. For the rest of my trip, all I listened to was Pastor B. of Schambach Ministries. I wanted to get home and tell Sally everything would be fine now. I could not believe how free I was feeling. I was about thirty miles from home; it was five in the afternoon. I pulled over and called Sally. No answer, but maybe she was at the store. I would just surprise her -- tell her the great news about my change.
A friend drove me to my house where I found Sally and her two brothers moving all our belongings out of the house. She was leaving me.
"No! No, God!" I prayed within myself. "You told me things would be okay!"
But Sally was gone. I was stunned. I had a three-day weekend and stayed drunk the whole time. I had lost my house, my wife, and my precious little girl, Molly. My friend Tammy and her husband invited me to move in with them until I felt better, which I agreed to do.
During the time I lived at Tammy's I watched her husband do to her what Sally had done to me. One night I drank down six beers, took twenty-four sleeping pills, and went to bed. When I woke up four days later Tammy was trying to get me up to get me to a hospital. She knew what I had tried do. She stopped me.
"ARE YOU DONE HATING YET?"
I went to work about a week later, and on a Friday night, I heard a voice, (not for the first time), asking me, "Are you done yet?"
I went into Tammy's house and immediately asked her little girl and boy, (ages fourteen and ten), if they would go to church with me that Sunday. They said, "All right", and the voice stopped. But that Sunday another "cross" was waiting.
At church, Sally was telling everyone that Holly, our four-year-old daughter, was saying I molested her. When I went to an interview at Department of Social Services, they told me the Taylor Police Department concluded that Holly was rehearsed and coaxed, probably by her mother, and that there was no substance to the accusations.
I was still crushed. I took the written report from the Department of Social Services and brought it to Pastor A. at our church. He was so angry with Sally that he called her on the phone at once and told her to stop by his office the first chance she got. She came next Sunday after church, and Pastor A. told her that the church would pay for her to receive counseling. In my presence he told her she must retract her falsehoods. Sally began to go for counseling, but on the way home she would stop at Jim G's house to have sex with him, then come home. One day she just didn't come home at all. I went out to look for her -- finding her finally in Lincoln Park with Jim. She spotted my truck and called the police, so I left, but warned Jim. He was getting married, but meanwhile was paying my wife for sex! My friends and I followed him home, warning him that if he slept with Sally again, my biker friends and I would castrate him.
Sally found out because Jim broke it off with her for awhile. At the church, Pastor A. advised me to let her go. I could not. I had already lost one son and daughter. I would not lose another no matter what. I was going to make this work. We went again to counseling, this time to another counselor in Southfield. But Sally said that if I said anything about her adultery, she would leave. My hands were tied. Sally wanted her other life back: she was going to sell her body and run wild as she pleased and I was going to lose!
Time passed. I remembered when I first met Sally that a friend said not to get tied up with her." She's crazy. All she wants is money," was his advice. I was beginning to believe it. One Friday she called and invited me over to visit Holly. Sally said she would also have sex with me, all for only fifty dollars. I agreed, because I wanted to see Holly, and having sex with Sally did not sound bad. So now, she was charging me for sex. I had sunk to an all-time low.
I continued to go to church and now had a good job at the Detroit News. Sally continued to see other men and me. I tried not to drink or cruise prostitutes, but failed often. At church, I would ask God's help, but would not really let Him help.
One night during November of 1995, I stole a '91 Blazer, put an old plate on it, and took it home. I continued to tell myself that I was going to get rid of it as soon as I got on my feet. Sally continued to sell her body and was also working at Ford. She had a new boyfriend who worked with her, and she continued to see me on weekends. I traded in my motorcycle for cash, and used that plus what I had saved for a new mobile home. I believed owning this home would stop my wild behavior and I could get right with God. I continued to go to church, worked for the newspaper at night, and then was hired for day work by General Motors. The money was nice, my home was nice, but I was alone. I soon had a new friend, a miniature Yorkshire I named Gizmo. He and I went everywhere.
Sally found out about my new home and phoned me that she wanted to see me. Her first words as she got to my house were, "I'm sorry about telling lies about you." I could have fallen over. "Let me talk to Holly a minute," Sally added.
About fifteen minutes later Sally and Holly came into the trailer. I whispered a prayer of thanks to God. I was finally cleared; we might have a chance. We drove together to a store in Dearborn, where Sally went in to get something and Holly stayed with me in the Blazer. Then we went back to the trailer, had dinner, and Sally and Holly went home.
Two days later the Dearborn Police called me and asked me to come down, to see Detective Coffee.
As soon as I arrived, worried the whole time that they discovered my theft of the Blazer, Ms. Coffee told me, "Your wife and your little girl were here, saying that you molested Holly in your Blazer." She then asked me to take a polygraph, which I did and passed. Then I produced for her the Department of Social Services report made in 1995, the preceding year, which said that Holly had been rehearsed. The result was that the Wayne County prosecutor's office told Sally that she would be arrested it she made any more false reports. A detective advised me to stay away from her.
One evening, in September 1996, a policeman pulled me over. I was arrested for possession of stolen property, made the $250.00 bail, and did not know what to do. Sally continued to show up, charge me for sex, and I thought myself "semi-happy" until one day I just said, "Enough!"
"I'm not going to pay you for sex anymore," I finally told her. "If you do not come around anymore I will get over it somehow."
In October I met a girl at work who went out drinking with me. Sally was gone; my dog Gizmo weighed about two pounds and was well trained, and my life seemed to be coming back together. I cared for Gizmo and he helped me through a lot; he really seemed to love me. I started going back to church and cut down on the drinking. I was doing all right until a friend said he saw Sally with another guy. By the end of October I was so down that one day I came home with a six-pack of Miller, fed Gizmo, and began a two-day drunk.
My binge was interrupted when my oldest daughter and her sister, Trisha, came to visit. But they lived in Gaylord, Michigan and could stay for only a day, so I returned to my binge, which had now extended into November.
Tuesday morning I was on my way to see Sally at Holly's school when I saw a young girl who looked about seventeen years old on the side of the road. She was hitchhiking.
"I'm going to my house to get drunk," I told her. "Wanna go?" "Sure," she answered. "I'm skipping school today."
When we got to my place and started to go in, the neighbor across the way waved at us and shouted, "Have fun!"
No sooner had we gone through the door than we sat on the couch and began kissing. Soon, the girl got up, went into my bedroom and took all her clothes off. As soon as I saw her nude body I knew that this little girl was not seventeen. She was fifteen, if even that old. I was afraid, but I was also full of beer. Though we did not have full intercourse, she relieved me of the built up pressure. When she finished, she took a shower and then asked me to take her home.
When we were passing Arbor's on Eureka Road in Taylor, the girl asked me to pull in there. The store manager was just getting there. (He later told the police that he did think it unusual to see a car there so early). He watched me in the car for awhile and then I got out of the car and went across the street to the 7-11 to buy a pop and call Sally. Sally said she was going to come over to see me. I told her again on the phone that I would not pay for sex but that she was welcome to come. I went home to my trailer after watching the girl leave. I sat back to wait for Sally.
Before she arrived, the police came, placed me in handcuffs, and told me I was under arrest for raping a fourteen-year-old girl. I was in my underwear when they arrested me. They took me directly to the Taylor jail without giving me a chance to get dressed.
"ARE YOU READY TO SURRENDER YET?"
That evening, on all the area TV stations, there was a report that a man had been arrested who was a suspect in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of sixteen girls, from New York to Texas. The suspect was me. I was in a daze. I was taken to the Wayne County jail where I would be held until my court appearance. At my arraignment, my bail was set at one million dollars. Then . . . I decided I would kill myself.
I stopped eating for thirty-seven days. My weight went from 235 pounds when I was locked up, the first week of November, to 184 pounds in April of 1997. But in those early days, as I lay in my cell, the voice returned. I heard it say, "Are you done? Are you willing?" As I was about to say something out loud, responding to the voice, four prisoners came into my jail cell and beat me up. They broke my jaw and badly cut my right ear, but I managed to drag myself to safety with the guards who then put me into protective custody, which is where I should have been placed all along. The guards had let the other prisoners beat me to teach me a lesson, it seemed.
Prosecutors took blood from me and sent it to John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" to try to match it with samples from crime scenes of the serial rapist-murderer. All samples came up negative. My face had been displayed on television as a suspected serial rapist-murderer, but John Walsh cleared me of the sixteen murders. I still had to face the rape charge in Taylor.
Attorney G., who had gotten me probation for the theft of the Blazer, had told me not to worry about the rape charge. We agreed to waive the preliminary hearing in District Court and agreed to be bound over to Circuit Court for trial. However, Prosecutor M., (before Walsh had cleared me of the multiple rape-murders), insisted on the hearing before television cameras from many area stations.
On camera, the prosecutor claimed that I was the prime suspect in sixteen kidnap-rape-murder cases and in one kidnap-rape case. I was led into court in a paper suit, feeling as humiliated as I have ever felt. To make matters worse, Sally told the TV viewers that until now no one believed her about my "dark side."
The day came when I was to be sentenced for the theft of the Blazer. A voice spoke to me, "Are you ready now? Will you follow me? How long will you wait?" I thought the voice might be from my lack of food. But when the men in my cell returned, they brought me a book titled: A DIVINE REVELATION OF HELL, by M. K. Baxter. I read it four times that night. I knew that my brother-in-law Glen, who had died in an accident some years before, was interceding for me before God. He was with God as part of that wonderful "cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the Bible in Hebrews 12:1. His words, "take hold and pray" returned to me.
I was given a one-to-seven-year prison sentence for stealing the Blazer. The prosecutor wanted more, but the judge said it was his decision. He told me to find God and not come back. But I would be tried later for the rape charge. This pending charge was the reason the judge did not simply give me probation, which had been the original plan. I went back to my cell in shock, dropped to my knees, confessed all to God, and heard Him say, "Now, it is my way!
THE HOLY SPIRIT AT WORK
I was soon transported to Jackson, Michigan, to the "reception" cellblock known as "Quarantine." I had been reading the Bible before my arrival. I could not get enough of it. I was placed in a "watch" cell next to a seriously disturbed man. He was tormented by guards and by Satan. I grabbed my Bible and read it to him. In between verses of the Bible I kept telling him that things would be fine. The next morning the guard said it was the first time in three weeks the man had been quiet.
"What did you do?" he asked me.
"I just read to him from the Word and didn't let the demons in," was my answer. Scott M., on the other side of me, was about to leave Quarantine, and so I prayed with him and shared my story. No matter what Scott said to me, my answer was, "Give it to God."
"There is no God!" he finally blurted out. I knew what I had to do. I fasted three days, and by the time the three days were up, Scott was leaving and had become a believer. The old man who had been tormented left that same day to get some help. I fell on my knees to thank God.
While in Quarantine, I met another "angel," whom I'll call "Terry" (to reveal her real name might cause her trouble). She told me she had seen me on television and God wanted her to give me this book to keep. It was the same book Mike had loaned me in County jail, THE DIVINE REVELATION OF HELL by Mary Kay Baxter. When I saw what the book was, I told Terry my story and she told me not to worry; it was in God's hands.
Two other men were soon on either side of me. One had the same last name as me. He was crying, and the man on the other side was going to kill himself. I urged them both to pray, but both scoffed, insisting that it didn't work. So, I began another fast.
"Why are you doing this?" one man exclaimed after I had been fasting and praying for four days.
"It's my job," I answered. By that evening, both men were reading the Bible and praying with me. God had come through once again!
I was transported from Quarantine to Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. Once there, I began to go to Catholic services and Catholic study group, since I had converted to Catholicism back in 1975, when I was first at Jackson prison, (thanks to Father M. who has since gone to join God's cloud of witnesses). But I also continued in prayer and moderate fasting, as well as joining in any prayer or study group around that I could. I also began to pray some hours of the Liturgy of the Hours (the Catholic Divine Office).
Soon, I was returned to county jail for trial for the rape charge. But court was postponed. However, I was asked to take a polygraph, and I agreed. In fact, I took three of them. I passed the first, but that was not acceptable to the prosecution; so I took another which was inconclusive. The third made it look like I was lying after I gave answers to the question: "How long did you have sex with the girl?"
After my polygraph, since trial was postponed, I returned to Brooks where I met Leonard K. who would help me with my case. I knew something was wrong by May of 1997 - six months after my arrest - we still had not received "discovery" (prosecution's evidence). When my lawyer got it, I asked him for a copy, which he said would cost $25.00, money I did not have. Leonard was able to get it for me in four days, without the $25.00.
When we looked at the discovery packet, I realized why I was being offered a ten-year sentence to accept a guilty plea. In the evidence there was a doctor's report which said there was no trauma in the girl's vagina, or evidence of other trauma on her body. The prosecution had no physical evidence. There were different and contradictory statements by the girl. The most she could be consistent about was what I was wearing when I picked her up. At this point, I wanted to dismiss my attorney. Leonard said that if I could prove to him that the girl and the cops were lying, he would be able to help.
I explained that at my arrest, I tricked the police by saying that I had the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia. The police must have told the girl, for she made it a part of her testimony that she had been infected. Once I got to reception in Jackson, I knew the nurse there and asked him to do a complete blood screen for VD, which he did. It came back negative for any sexually transmitted diseases. I explained to Leonard that I had also wanted my attorney to get a sample from the floor of my car since the girl said I pushed her down on floor. The floor of my car was covered with grease and oil; some surely would have turned up on her clothing, but none did. My attorney said that we could win in court with the girl's lie about Chlamydia and the floor of the car.
I returned to court with my new attorney, only to find that since the judge was tired of prosecution's postponements. They took the judge off the case and gave us Judge T., the toughest judge in Wayne County. My new lawyer and Judge T. were supposed to hate each other. In the courtroom, the judge told my new attorney that they would go to trial at once. He protested that he had only just gotten my file and would need two or three months because of the backlog of cases.
"I will give you three weeks," was the judge's answer.
Back at Brooks, I saw Leonard and we drew up a motion for the judge to disqualify himself on the basis of bias, since my attorney and the judge did not get along. I sent one copy to the chief judge, one to Judge T., and one to my attorney and three days later left Brooks for Wayne County.
As I arrived at county jail - three days before trial - the prayers of my Christian brothers at Brooks were with me. I knew that God would "make all things right if I but surrendered to His will." But my attorney was furious when he came to see me. He was so loud as he cursed at me for sending the motion that guards came to see what was going on.
"That judge is going to bury you. You're looking at more than fifty years! And there's no way in hell I'm going to help you now!" he finally shouted at me.
I prayed to the Lord in my heart, "I hope you know what you're doing, Lord."
The judge called me a jerk as I stood before him in court. But the prosecutor offered a ten-to-fifteen-year sentence. I thought I would take the guilty plea to third degree criminal sexual conduct and then, with Leonard's help, beat them on appeal. I was led to say some things I did not want to say (since they were not true) during my plea. I was then told that sentencing would be in two weeks. I continued to pray for knowledge of God's will and the strength to carry it out as I waited in my cell.
Some policemen came and hit me in the temple as I was in my cell (I see double to this day) and pushed me into the bars face first. That evening a policeman was on television saying that I was going to get in excess of fifty years and would never get out. Angrily, I wrote a letter to the judge, with copies to my attorney and the Attorney Grievance Board that I wanted to withdraw my plea. By the time I got to court it was all too late. The judge set aside the sentence for third degree C.S.C. (a fifteen-year maximum) and sentenced me to a fifty to one-hundred-year sentence as a fourth degree habitual offender. My attorney then revealed to the judge that I had a bone cancer (he produced the medical record) and said I would not survive eight years. He produced my service record and told the judge I had a Silver Star. The judge retorted that he was not sentencing me to rehabilitation but for punishment and deterrence.
I was devastated but then felt better after remembering to surrender to God's will. I returned to Brooks two days later. Two days after that I got a letter from the Attorney Grievance board saying they would investigate my charges against my attorney.
I continued to surrender to God's will. Almost all my friends from the world deserted me. Some exceptions were my buddy Bill and a girl named Debbie K. I had, of course, many prisoner friends in Brooks.
A strange thing happened in my return to Brooks, however. I had on a nice suit in which I had appeared for sentencing. The Wayne County sheriff's department dropped me off in the lobby and asked the officer at Brooks' front desk what they needed to do. They were told they could leave another prisoner. I sat there for a while and then the guard called in the other man to come in and be processed. I continued to sit for another half-hour. An inspector came and introduced herself and then went outside. I finally went to the desk to ask the lady guard what to do.
"Once you've dropped your prisoner off, you can leave," was her answer. As I turned from the desk, God's words, "My will," came to my mind. I prayed "I hope you know what you're doing, Lord," and then went to sit down for a moment. Then I got up again and told the guard that I, too, was a prisoner. She freaked. She rushed around the table, asking for help all the while. I told her, "I'm not going anywhere." I was led inside the fence, my suit was taken from me, and I was given prison clothing. The guards kept shaking their heads the entire time. The word got around.
"Did you really stand there and wait after the guard told you you could leave?" one guy asked me.
"Yes," was my simple answer.
"Why didn't you run?" he persisted.
"My God has been telling me all along, 'My way,' and so it is, whether I am here one year or fifty."
ALL THINGS ARE WORKING TOGETHER FOR GOOD
My days are long in prison, but I have a good Friend now, One Who keeps reminding me, "My way." In case you have not guessed it by now I will tell you that my Friend is the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes I say, "My Lord, why have You left me?" But He always answers, "I have not. I am here. It's My way."
I have several good friends here from whom I also get great courage. I pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day (the Divine Office of the Church) with a man named John W. He knows a lot of Scripture and theology and I have learned a lot from him. He keeps telling me that I help him far more than he helps me. I don't know how. A good Christian man, Clarence S., is another good friend. Another man, Randy C., makes me laugh a lot. These three men are the shining stars in my life. But there are others. A man committed to ministry, Brian M, leads a Bible study each night in our resident unit, a study I attend faithfully. His roommate, Arthur C., is also a Holy Spirit-led man. There are so many lovers of the Lord Jesus here at Brooks, in fact, that I had better not try to name them all. They have all been there for me when I needed help (Jesus' way of telling me, "My way is there").
My wife Sally has divorced me. In fact, she was in the court with her new boyfriend the day I got sentenced. But on the way out of court I told her that I loved her and would pray for her.
I have not heard from my pastor, Brad P., or from Tony A., or from my oldest son Joe, who is twenty-one, or from my second oldest daughter, Trish. But my oldest daughter Jenna, who is eighteen, recently sent me a letter with some photos of herself. She is a model in Traverse City, Michigan. Sometimes it seems as if I have lost all, but I still go on, because God has reached forth His mighty hand and said to me, "My way." And it shall be His way always. If anyone reading this would like to know my God, get on your knees and give up all. Ask for forgiveness and tell the Lord, "Not my way but Your way." May God always bless you and may you have the courage to go "His way."
"I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and cloth You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to you?'
"And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me.'" - Matthew 25:36-40
PLEASE HELP SHARE THE BEST NEWS GOD HAS FOR EVERY PERSON!
"And this gospel of the
died for sinners] shall be preached in all the world for a witness
unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
(Quote from Jesus Himself: Matthew 24:14).
Consider how many children in "all the nations" have never heard YET what Jesus accomplished for THEM at the cross? PLEASE HELP SPREAD THE GOOD NEWS TO THE LITTLE CHILDREN!
To help us share the Best News every person needs to hear on this planet, randomly click FOR JESUS on just three (3) of the JESUS DID IT! links below. It will take just a few moments of your time. Please - that’s all you are asked to do. God will reward you! (Of course, be highly encouraged to forward one of these video clips to those who may have never heard what Jesus did for them on the cross ... especially young people). Thank you so much!
JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT! JESUS DID IT!
JESUS DID IT! - or - JESUS DID IT!
(Please paste one of the above links onto your Facebook page - website - blog - video; etc.)
Let God Use Your Salvation Testimony!
Editor's Note: It has been some years since brother James sent us his testimony to publish. Due to budget constraints, the State of Michigan has been moving prisoners around a great deal from prison to prison, and trusted relationships - which can be difficult to come by - get severed quickly in all the shuffling. At the facility James is currently incarcerated at, there are no Christian ministries in operation on the compound, we're told, which makes it even more difficult for Christian men and women to stay spiritually strong in Christ, and for young Christian converts to be properly discipled in the Word of God.
So we're asking two things: Would you lift up with us in prayer to God that God would raise up credible ministers to go into Lakeland Correctional Facility located in Coldwater, Michigan, and the prison overseers would be cooperative in the undertaking?
Secondly: Would you pray about personally writing brother James? You can never know how much it would bless God that YOU would take the time to send brother James a short note -- perhaps a card, sharing that you are praying for him. His address is: James Michael Johnston; # 142528; Lakeland Correctional Facility, 141 First St., Coldwater, Mich., 49036-8600
If the Lord is laying it on your heart to contact brother Johnston, and we truly hope He does, you may first want to check the Michigan State website to make certain he is still at the Lakeland Facility. That website is: http://mdocweb.state.mi.us/OTIS2/otis2.aspx
Brother James can only receive letters, books and magazines at the facility he is currently incarcerated at.
A Special Message: http://www.precious-testimonies.com/Exhortations/f-j/HelpingShareTheMessageOfTheCross.htm
Dear Reader -are you at peace with God? If not, you can be. Do you know what awaits you when you die? You can have the assurance from God that heaven will be your home, if you would like to be certain. Either Jesus Christ died for your sins, or He didn't (He did!). Are you prepared to stand before God on the Judgment Day and tell Him that you didn't need the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross to have your sins forgiven and get in right-standing with God? We plead with you ... please don't make such a tragic mistake.
To get to know God; to be at peace with God; to have your sins forgiven; to make certain heaven will be your home for eternity; to make certain that you are in right-standing with God right now ... please click here to help understand the importance of being reconciled to God. What you do about being reconciled to God will determine where you will spend eternity, precious one. Your decision to be reconciled to God is the most important decision you'll ever make in this life.
The staff and our ministry supporters so greatly appreciate hearing how God is touching lives for His glory through this outreach. If this ministry has blessed you in some special way, would you please consider taking a brief moment and share your blessing with us? Simply email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We truly thank each of you who allow us to publish your testimony, for those who faithfully pray (and fast) for this outreach, for those of you who help support the ministry financially, and for those of you who pass along these testimonies and other ministry writings to others. Especially to prisoners! The part the Holy Spirit has you play is vital in helping win lost souls and being engaged in discipleship, and we can never thank you enough for the labor of love and support you provide on behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Precious Testimoniesis supported financially by those God directs to sow into this ministry. We ask each person reading this to please ask God on an on-going basis if He would have you sow a financial gift to this evangelistic outreach of His - trust that He will clearly communicate His will to you in the matter - then simply be obedient. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the current financial needs of this outreach, or any other questions you may have.
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Precious Testimoniesis a non-denominational 501-C-3 evangelistic ministry, and financial love offerings to this ministry are tax-deductible for those who qualify. A financial summary can be viewed by clicking on the following link: Financial Summary.
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Thank You, and God bless you!