New way of life

Former serial offender Rick Milligan tells why he was ready for a fresh start after prison

Rick and Margaret Milligan.
Rick and Margaret Milligan.

Beginning his criminal career thieving from homes and shops, nine-year-old Rick Milligan's behavior lead to boys' homes from ages twelve to fifteen and an eventual ten year prison sentence.

"I ran away from all of these homes until, at age fifteen, I was locked up for the first time in a youth prison," Rick recalls.

He continued his life of offending, adding to his rap-sheet fraud, false pretences, breaking and entering, burglaries, car stealing and drugs, including marijuana and amphetamines.

Arriving in Australia in 1968, he was shortly sent to prison, before being deported to New Zealand to serve time for earlier crimes.

When his hearing came up, the magistrate put him on a good behavior bond.

However, Rick continued committing crimes, and was sentenced to prison for three years where he finally discovered there was a way to change his life and gain a good conscience before God.

"While there a Christian prisoner gave me a book entitled The Cross and the Switchblade," Rick remembers.

This true story, which appears alongside this one, concerned a violent young gang leader named Nicky Cruz who had a radical transformation when he accepted Jesus into his life.

Suddenly in Rick's prison cell it dawned on him that, if an inward change and complete forgiveness from his sins could happen for Nicky and his mates, it could happen for him too.

"I knelt in my cell asking Christ into my life to help me to change. There were no sudden blinding lights or audible voices or anything really, just an inner voice saying 'just believe by faith as in the book' and so I did."

In the following weeks, Rick says he felt an inner peace and awareness of what he later realized was the Holy Spirit living in him just as Jesus promised would happen in John chapter 14.

"I had never known any experience like this before, so I read the Bible and other books of a spiritual nature, including books by the preacher Billy Graham."

At the prison chapel he met an 'outside' Christian group who kept contact with him by letter, sharing from the Bible, and encouraging him in his new life.

The Cross and the Switchblade
The Cross and the Switchblade, the story of Nicky Cruz’s life

"When I was released from prison I went straight to the pub to enjoy a few drinks or more. I was waiting for the bartender and looking around I saw the people around me as totally lost and going nowhere, and suddenly it hit me that I did not want this life anymore.

"I wanted the One that I had given myself to in prison when I felt so right! So I left the hotel without a drink! The next day I joined up with the Christian group that had come to the prison and started to learn how to be a Christian 'outside'.

"I began to see the reality and love of Jesus Christ in many of my new brothers' and sisters' lives and they helped me to keep my life on track as I learned the very different way of applying the Bible to my life 'outside'."

Rick freely admits becoming a Christian did not make him perfect, but God kept His promise that every born-again child of God will not continue in a sinful lifestyle (see 1 John 5, verse 18).

"I am ashamed to admit that I did not obey God wholeheartedly and, after an empty time as a (casino) entertainer, I experienced a broken marriage that hurt six wonderful children.

"In the Bible divorce is not acceptable and when I came back to God I asked for His forgiveness as in 1 John chapter 1, verse 9, and He proved so faithful despite my unfaithfulness and rescued me from a 'middle of the road' existence. I was glad to return the One who had caused me to feel so right!"

Rick and his second wife Margaret now do pastoral and liaison work with prisoners and ex-offenders through Prison Fellowship.

"Jesus said in the Bible, 'I was in prison and you came to Me', so Margaret and I volunteered with Prison Fellowship for many years, leading teams into prisons and sharing with the men and women."

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