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In the back of a large, white van, I rode down a familiar street, one I had been on so many times before. The housing developments and apartment complexes looked identical to other times, and trees swayed in a similar fashion.

Not much had changed, with the exception of one detail, the white van I rode in was a prison transportation vehicle, and I was headed to jail.

I was dressed in the infamous orange jump suit and had white shower sandals on my feet. My wrists and ankles quickly became irritated from the friction caused by the shiny metal cuffs binding them.

It was a beautiful clear day. The sky was blue, birds swirled through the air, and trees swayed back-and-forth from a light breeze. Had I not been situated in that van, I may have been outside playing a game of basketball or simply enjoying the company of my friends under the bright sky.

In my gut crept an envious guilt. It was not just the hand cuffs, the ride to prison, or the beautiful day I couldn’t enjoy.

As I sat there silently, stone-faced, my high school appeared out the window. My head jerked and eyes widened. I couldn’t pinpoint why it startled me so much.

The van stopped at a red light by the school. I saw the stationary line of cars waiting, and even saw people that I recognized – students that I used to rub shoulders with walking through the halls. Even from inside the vehicle, I heard laughter and saw smiles on their faces as they interacted with each other.

An eternity ensued before the light turned green, and as the students’ cars passed by the van, I swiveled my head to watch them as they disappeared into the distance.

I wished at that moment that I could remove my restraints and disappear with them. I wished I could turn back the clock and undo everything I had done to merit a seat in that van. I wished I could hit the restart button on life. But these were all futile wishes, because I could not disappear from my seat, turn back the clock, or start anew.

Something had to change.

Seated in the main commons area of the prison late that day, I read a letter from my dad.

“Son, I hate that you are there. I hate that you made choices that put you there. However, as long as you are there, I am there with you.”

Over the next year, I received a letter every day from dad. He did not miss a single day. In those letters, he expressed his love, shared life lessons, and urged me to live better than I had to that point.

One year later I was leaving the prison with my father. I was escorted off the grounds and to the parking lot. Before leaping into the car, I took one last long look at the prison. I could not help but feel that my life would be drastically different moving forward than it was upon entering; not because of anything the prison did for me, but because of everything my family had done for me.

I was forever changed by the bi-weekly visits from my parents, the regular letters from my siblings, the support and prayers of friends back home, and the daily letters sent from my father.

One step at a time, I worked hard to change my life. Eventually, I performed voluntary religious service for my church, graduated from college, and got married. Today I’m a proud father and I support my family as a hard-working member of the community.

The day I began my voluntary church service, my dad gave me a letter. Even though it was given to me more than two years after my release from prison, I consider it to be the quintessential letter amongst the entire bunch I had received in prison because of its content.

“We have come a long way […] you have become a man. Now do yourself one more favor. Come home physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually worn out. Be proud of your threadbare suit, worn shoes, empty pockets, and well-born testimony. The past is in the past. Time to look to the future.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

Mike Mabe is a contributor to yettio.com and author. He is a family man and loves sharing his story of change with others. Watch the teaser for his new book, “Grace From the Fall” below.

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