By society’s standards, Ray was living a good life. He was making a six figure income with two houses, cars, a spouse, and children. People thought he had it all together, that he was a good person.
“I wasn’t.” Ray said. “At about the age of 14 is when my addictions started. The very first picture I have ever seen of myself, I was given alcohol. That’s been my life story – alcohol, drugs, physical and sexual abuse.”
Ray has attempted many programs to overcome his addiction, attempting numerous times to stop his craving for alcohol. Over the years, he accumulated three OWIs (Operating While Intoxicated) charges. He said, “I needed something else.”
The last time he was arrested, he knew that he would serve at least 90 days in the Ottawa County Jail. He remembers telling God that he would accept whatever the judge gave him. He felt that if God were to work in him, inside or outside the jail, he would accept his path forward.
“The judge gave me one year.” Ray said. “I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t angry. At that point, I didn’t know that I had committed my life to the Lord, but that’s what I did.”
Chaplain Cal Alderink of Ottawa County Jail remembers his initial encounter with Ray. “The first time I met Ray, I was in the pod discipling another guy. Ray was quiet and standing by. Ray didn’t say much that day. I started to see his hunger. I would see him either in his cell or in the pod, working on his Bible studies.”
Ray remembers the chaplains and volunteers as they came in. He recalled someone who looked at him one day and told Ray that he was an inspiration and that he was glad to be there with him. These words penetrated Ray’s heart.
Chaplain Cal built a relationship with him in the jail that carried over to when he exited. “It’s been neat watching him grow, both while he was on the inside and on the outside, too.”
In full transparency, Ray remarked, “Life was so much easier when I didn’t care.” As he looks back at what has helped his growth, he shared his gratitude for the community that has come around him. “Recovery is learning; it’s growing. Not on our own, but with community and with the help of others. I notice that the recidivism rate is incredibly high, but we don’t have to be that statistic.” With gratitude, he remembers the Body of Christ that has helped him succeed.
Chaplain Cal’s heart is to see the church wrap around inmates as they exit the jail. A church that shows them grace instead of shame is what Chaplain Cal looks for as he helps send people back to their communities. Chaplain Cal said, “Walking around as a returned citizen is like wearing a scarlet letter, but the Bible is clear. God knows our struggles better than we do.”
Ray has been out of the Ottawa County Jail for about 18 months now. He has been baptized and connected to the local Body of Christ. Recovery and sobriety hasn’t been an easy task for Ray, but Ray’s advice to others who walk in his shoes is this, “Don’t give up. Just don’t give up.”