Raised with an atheist father and a family very against the church, Dean Mattern’s mother left him at age 11, while his father found comfort in a bottle.
That same year, Dean joined a gang, and then stole firearms and cars in fifth and sixth grade, forcing a judge to declare him a ward of the state.
At the age of 14, having stabbed a young man, he spent all of high school behind bars in reform school. “I won’t waste your time with it; it was a nightmare no-one should live through,” Dean says.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps to avoid further time in prison. At 18, he was in Vietnam.
“Like reform school, it’s a waste of time to talk about. It was another hideous experience that left me violent, unhappy, and addicted to drugs, alcohol and pornography.”
After returning and getting involved with the wrong crowds, Mattern says, “I was a habitual welfare case.”
Mattern stole some credit cards and was arrested again in Lake Tahoe. He says, “I turned 21 while I was in that jail. I remember my mother saying when I was 14 that by the time I was 21 I would either be dead or in jail. I fulfilled her expectations.”
When he got out of jail in California, he wanted answers. “If there was a cult I tried it. One of the things I tried was fasting for 24 hours then drink a gallon of grape juice, now that will move you!
“I tried everything but the Bible or church because of the way I was raised.”
He hitchhiked across country and even talked a girl, Debra, into dropping out of college to go with him. They thought that a place that existed for thousands of years may have more answers about absolute truth, so they headed for the Middle East.
“We knew there had to be an absolute truth. We couldn’t live in a world full of relativism.”
As they crossed into Florida, they were arrested for trespassing.
Ultimately, Dean reached breaking point — he knew only God could rescue him
“I don’t know if it was shoulder-length hair or the hippie garb, but we found ourselves in one of the nastiest jails.
In that jail, he would tear pages out of books to roll cigarettes. For the first time, Mattern found himself holding a Bible. “So I was smoking Leviticus and I started reading the Gospel of John.”
“As I read the gospel of John I put father’s face and his fists on the face of God and I had a hard time believing in a God that could love me. I did not have a problem with sin, I got the sin part.”
Ultimately, Dean reached breaking point — he knew only God could rescue him, show him absolute truth, and give him true freedom through forgiveness of his sin.
“On December 18 at 7 o’clock at night I bent my head with no understanding of theology, only knowing that I was a sinner and I needed God. I cried out. I said ‘God please forgive me for my sins. Help me.’
“The shackles of sin and shame and guilt dropped away.”
He and Debra were released after Dean wrote a letter to the sheriff who turned out to also be a deacon.
After explaining to Debra that they no longer needed to go to the Middle East, she wept and confessed that she had also accepted Christ in her own jail cell. Both had read the Bible in their cells.
“What could I do, I married her,” Dean says.
“My five children have been raised Christians and all serve God. My nine grandchildren will do the same. My brother, I led to Christ and he’s a children’s pastor. I led my sister to Christ.” He continued on with others from his family, and it all started with a Bible that had found its way to a prison cell.
“When I get to heaven I am going to find the person that paid for that Bible and I am going introduce him to all the people I’ve lead to Christ.”
Courtesy Gideons International