Free From My Own Prison
by: Kristi Overton Johson | January 29, 2019
My parents separated when I was 12 years old. Suddenly our family unit was dismantled, and everything in my home life changed. As a preteen, I found myself lost and confused, so I rebelled. I took to the streets, joined a gang, and went against everything I had ever known to be good and everything my parents had ever taught me.
At 16, I had my first run-in with the law. I was tried as an adult and sentenced to three months in jail with three years’ probation. Two months after my release, an invitation to step out of this dangerous lifestyle came knocking on my door through a man named Sam.
Sam was a tree removal specialist who came by our home to give my mom an estimate for cutting down a tree in our yard. Somehow he transitioned the conversation from tree removal to Jesus and asked me if my mom, siblings, and I would like to join him at his home for a small group Bible study. He called it a life group, which just sounded weird. Since nobody in our home attended church anymore, I didn’t even mention it to anyone.
But Sam was persistent. Not wanting to be rude, I decided to avoid him so I wouldn’t have to say no to his face. The night before he was scheduled to come by the house again, I called my friend and told him, “Man, you gotta come pick me up and get me outta here! This guy keeps trying to get me to go to church.”
It was a decision that almost cost me my life.
It just so happened that when I ran from Sam’s invitation to grow in my relationship with God, I stepped straight into a gang-related setup where I was shot twice. When the paramedics arrived, I had no pulse. The homicide detective was called to the scene. My parents were told I had no chance of survival.
Miraculously, however, on the way to the hospital, the EMTs revived me. In the emergency room, I was given a transfusion to replace the large amount of blood I had lost. Thankfully, surgery wasn’t required. I was 17.
As soon as I was healthy enough, I went straight back to the streets. It wasn’t long before I was arrested again. This time I faced a possible 15-year sentence for burglary.
One would think that someone who had just had a brush with death would choose a different life path, but I didn’t. The excitement of the streets was just too enticing. Selling drugs and turf wars provided an addictive adrenaline rush. There was something so inherently exciting about doing the things I had always been told not to do, the things my peers talked about at school. It gave me a physical high.
I never liked the way drugs made me feel, but I did like the way selling drugs, participating in gang activity, and doing whatever my flesh desired made me feel. I felt free. But the truth was, I wasn’t free at all. I was totally enslaved, a prisoner in my own skin.
During this time, the Spirit of God continued to pursue me, but I hardened my heart and ran from His love. I pushed aside any conviction and focused instead on the lie that a life free of rules was what I needed. I no longer cared if what I did was right or wrong.
I was fortunate to receive only one year of prison time for my burglary arrest. Once again, you’d think I’d wake up and count my blessings, but I didn’t. Instead, I ran right back to the streets and deeper into sin. This cycle continued many more times until one day I finally realized enough was enough.
Ironically, my own death experience made little difference to the trajectory of my life. It took the murder of a good friend to do that. I learned about his death right before my incarceration after my fifth arrest. It forced me to take a good, hard inventory of my life and helped me realize what a terrible role model I had been to my younger siblings, niece, and nephews. They needed me to set a better example, to live differently. I didn’t want them to step into this street life and end up a criminal like me or murdered like my friend.
So I left the streets and started my own landscaping company. I worked seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. I wanted to be seen as a hard-working person rather than a thug. Seeing my exhaustion, my father encouraged me to take one day off a week to rest. Sunday seemed the most logical day.
One Sunday, a friend invited me to her church, and I went. The service was very different from what I remembered about church. While it made me uncomfortable, it also made me realize what I had been missing all those years on the streets. I’d been missing God! I finally realized He was what I needed most in my life, even more than a successful business.
Our family had attended church faithfully before my parents divorced. I had loved Sunday School as a kid. After visiting my friend’s church, I suddenly longed to be a part of the church body I had enjoyed as a child. I reached out to my family and asked if we could all return to First Baptist Orlando, the church we had attended in the past.
Once in church, I started serving. It gave me great purpose and filled me with joy. But church activity couldn’t serve as a substitute for a relationship with God and His people. I needed intimacy with God and others to help me walk out my faith and live a godly life.
From the outside, I looked like a young man who was living an admirable Christian life. I had left the streets, quit selling drugs, worked hard, attended church, and served people well. But the truth was, I was controlled by a secret—a shameful addiction to sex and pornography.
How could I tell anyone at the church that I struggled with watching porn and having random sex with strangers? Wouldn’t they judge me or ask me to leave? So I kept attending church and serving, and I told no one. As a result, I remained enslaved to my secret addiction.
It wasn’t until a couple from the church, Tim and Tamar Burch, entered my life that I found freedom from this addiction. They asked me to join their life group. (Seeing that the last time I’d run from a similar invitation, I’d been shot, I decided I’d better go. Plus, they seemed cool.)
And that’s when God’s grace erupted in my life.
For years I had heard about the grace of God—how God had freely given His Son, Jesus, to die for my sin so that I could be made right with Him and have eternal life (John 3:16). I’d accepted it as truth, but I didn’t understand how His grace could help me in my daily life or free me from the sin that held me hostage.
Through the intimate setting of this life group experience, however, I discovered the importance of doing life with other believers. It’s so easy to go to church, sit on a pew, and even serve without ever building real relationships with other believers. Many people in the church do this, and they struggle daily in their lives. I know–I did it!
Going to church is great, but one corporate service a week isn’t enough to help a Christian live a victorious life. We need a deeper, more personal study of the Word, and we need real, authentic relationships with like-minded people—friends we can be vulnerable with and accountable to.
Only in those relationships can we help one another overcome hardship and resist temptation. It was this life group’s encouragement and accountability, and of course God’s grace, that helped me see the truth about my sex and porn addiction and overcome it.
I hadn’t really seen myself as someone addicted to sex and pornography. To me, viewing pornography was normal; it was just something guys did, especially single guys. But the more I grew in my knowledge of God through the study of His Word and the more I discussed my problem with trusted people, I began to understand how destructive sexual addiction was to my life and relationships.
Sex and pornographic images ruled my every thought. I could be driving down the road and see a beautiful woman, and all of a sudden, my physical desires would take over, and I’d have to fulfill them. I was enslaved to my own desires.
Sex had become an idol in my life. It was my only focus. My desires, too, were idols. Everything in my life was about me and about fulfilling my desires. I wasn’t focused on glorifying God through my actions, and I certainly wasn’t concerned with how my actions might affect anyone else, especially the women I was with sexually.
The Bible instructs a man to take care of women and children. Being sexually active with one woman after another and viewing images that use women’s bodies for a man’s sexual pleasure goes against God’s command to protect women and children. It is abusive, and it breaks God’s heart. Not to mention that so many of the women involved in pornography aren’t involved by choice. They are forced into these situations. My addiction, my sin, was actually supporting the abuse of women.
When my eyes were finally opened to the destruction of my addiction, I made a choice to live a different life. But how could I actually carry it out? Sex and porn had such a grasp on me.
Perhaps there’s something, maybe even pornography, that has a hold on your life. I’d like to share with you how I found freedom from the prison of my sex addiction, in hopes that it will help you overcome your addiction, whatever it is.
Acknowledge your addiction. I took my first step toward freedom when I acknowledged that what I was doing was wrong. I called my addictions what they were—sin and idols. Sex and pornography controlled my life, not God.
Ask for forgiveness. Once I had acknowledged my addiction as sin, I asked God to forgive me and to help me overcome it. The Bible says when we ask God for forgiveness, He forgives all our sin, and He remembers it no more (1 John 1:9; Psalm 103). I trusted God’s Word as true.
Forgive yourself. With so much baggage from my former life, it would have been easy to dwell on my past mistakes and wallow in regret as my own punishment for my sin. But that isn’t what God wanted. When I asked for forgiveness, God forgave me. It was a done deal. God didn’t want me to hold on to my past failures; rather, He wanted me to move forward into my destiny. But I couldn’t move forward if I was clinging to the past.
Decide to be free. I made a commitment to do whatever it took to be free. I had to want freedom from my addiction—I had to be willing to make changes in my life to step out of my prison. God wasn’t just going to snap me out of it; I had a part to play. For me, my personal desire to be more like Christ and to glorify Him in all my actions, whether private or public, motivated me daily to block sexual images and stand firm against temptations.
Tell someone. It wasn’t enough, though, for me to merely acknowledge my addiction and ask God for forgiveness in the privacy of my own existence. I had to tell a trusted friend. So I decided to tell my life group. We cried together as I exposed this darkness in my life. Let me tell you, something amazing happened when I confessed my secret to these trusted friends. It began to lose its power.
Accountability. After revealing my secret addiction to my friends, I asked my mentor, Tim, to hold me accountable for what I watched and did. I gave him access to my personal tech devices and even downloaded an app on my phone and computer that would notify him if I slipped back into my old ways. Knowing that someone was watching over me kept me on the straight and narrow. There’s no way I could have physically resisted my addiction alone. Making myself accountable to Tim was a key decision.
Submit your addiction to Christ. Taking these steps toward freedom also wouldn’t have been possible without my pursuit of a relationship with Jesus. Every day I had to consciously submit my addiction to Christ. Psalm 37:5 NLT says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.” Addictions are powerful, but God is greater than any addiction. Every day I rested on the fact that God was walking through my struggle with me. I knew that as I stayed committed and did my part, He would break those chains for good. And He has.
Guard your ways. God did break my chains of addiction, but in order to remain free, I had to guard myself. I still have to do that. I have to be mindful of what I allow my eyes to gaze upon. I have to guard my steps and stay away from places and people that cause me to stumble. Let me tell you, it requires a 24/7 post. But my freedom is worth it.
Focus on God. Guarding my ways required a moment-by-moment choice to focus on God. Throughout the day, I prayed and clung to His promises. That enabled me to stand strong in times of temptation. Every day, I claimed the promise in Jeremiah 29:11, that God has a plan for my life and He will continue to see me through this addiction.
Taking these steps moved me out of my prison of sex addiction and into the future God had planned. Today I am totally free and growing in my walk with God. I never cease to be amazed how God has redeemed my life and freed me from my personal prison.
God has a future of freedom for you, too. You don’t have to remain enslaved to anything. God is bigger than any addiction you have—gambling, food, drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, pornography, or spending money. Nothing is too hard for Him. He’s ready to help you. And He will put people and programs in your life to help you too.
If God can set me free—a person who was on the streets, selling drugs, and addicted to pornography—He can do the same for you. You aren’t alone in your struggle. God and others are ready to come alongside you and help you out of your personal prison.
Are you ready to take the first step?
Laddie Calloway lives in Central Florida and attends First Baptist Orlando/Horizon West where he serves others and leads them to the freedom he now has.
Laddie was featured in the latest issue of Victorious Living magazine, a magazine that is dealing hope behind prison bars to thousands. To subscribe to Victorious Living and receive Laddie’s and other incredible stories of hope, visit victoriouslivingmagazine.org. For $25 you’ll get a subscription and a copy of VL will be sent into prison.