Meet Paul, Real Life Prodigal Son

The Assembly of Bishops has blessed July 30, 2023 as Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday (PMAS), when hundreds of Orthodox Christian churches of all jurisdictions across the United States will recognize and share about the importance of prison ministry for the life of the Church.

To help get us into PMAS spirit, enjoy this beautiful testimony from our friend and former prisoner, Paul, whose life is a real-life example of Christ’s Parable of the Prodigal Son. Paul often refers to the ministry of OCPM’s Co-Director of Training and Spiritual Care, Fr. Stephen Powley, but his recollections about Fr. Stephen’s ministry truly speak to all of us: here is a testament to the power of simply visiting those in prison and choosing to see Christ in them no matter where they are in life.

My story is like many you minister to. I spent four years in a Federal prison in Safford Az. I am 66 now. 

Before jail I wasted 20 years of my adult life addicted to drugs, alcohol, and worldly things. I was selling drugs to support my bad habits and desires. I was always in and out of trouble and would have probably ended up dead if God had not given me a “wake up call”. I hurt a lot of my friends and family who loved me very much and had no real relationship with God. 

While in jail I had turned my life over to Jesus, started doing bible studies, and frequenting the chapel. That’s where I met Fr. Powley. Such a kind man. Never judging, always happy, always setting a good example, and sharing God’s love with all of us. I decided that I was not going to waste the time God had given me to get to know him better without the distractions of the outside world. God had a plan for me to have a more peaceful and happier life. 

In prison I watched who I hung out with and minded my own business. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, you should mind your own business and work with your hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so you will not be dependent on anybody”. These words have changed my life when I can remember to follow them. 

Upon my release in 1995 a friend had saved a few boxes of my possessions. My wife was gone, so was my house, car, dogs, everything I thought was important before jail. I decided not to go back to Phoenix but back to Indiana where my parents welcomed me back after 25 years. God had given me a clean slate and a chance for a new start in life. I was committed to not going back to jail or my old lifestyle. 

I found a minimum wage job on a construction site sweeping out new homes and cleaning up the messes of others. I was 41 with no skills. A job that would have been beneath me before prison and knowing God. 

After a short time, I had moved up to the carpentry crew as a laborer and eventually became a skilled carpenter, married my high school sweetheart, and have a 24-year-old son who is doing so much better than I did in my 20’s. 

I have had such a blessed, happy, peaceful life over the last 25 years since prison. I have had my ups and downs, but God is faithful and never abandoned me. If God had not given me this time in prison none of this would have been possible. 

I recently reconnected with Fr. Powley after over 20 years. What a joy it is to read his devotionals and have a little back and forth with him. I consider him one of the great mentors out there. The Orthodox Prison Ministry is so fortunate to have such an experienced and dedicated man on your team for your mission. It is an honor to know him and love him very much. God truly is great. Thank you and your staff for the work you all do. 

To learn more about Prison Ministry Awareness Sunday and for ideas on how to get your parish involved in this national day of awareness, visit

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