by Aaron Mueller (revised)
Former Sydney gangster, drug dealer and abuser Mike Eastman was radically reformed behind bars.
Mike doesn't remember much about his first few days in prison. He was in a fog while detoxing from drugs.
But he does remember one thing – he prayed.
"I hadn't done that since my childhood. But I prayed that if God was there, He would get me out of this situation," Mike recalls.
God didn't remove him from prison but He did something even better. "He drew me to Himself and never let me go."
Mike was born and raised in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. He grew up with Christian parents, attending an Anglican church. He had a happy childhood up until age 11 when he began suffering various forms of abuse at the hands of an extended family member, within the context of the church.
"The experience haunted me for most of my life and played a role in the life choices I made," Mike says.
After his family relocated, he escaped the abuse but began getting bullied in high school.
"This caused me to cry out to the God that I had grown up learning about, but to no avail," Mike says. "I was angry with God for not being there for me and not doing what everyone said He would do. As a teenager I wrote off the church, my parents and anyone else who claimed to be a Christian. I thought that I could go my own way."
After graduating from high school, Mike set out into the world with two purposes – to gain money and power. "I wanted to be the kind of person that nobody would hurt or do wrong by," Mike explains.
So he grew a successful business and developed a lavish lifestyle, while committing himself to training in the gym to become as "big and scary" as possible.
Mike got married and a year later had a son. But his fast-paced lifestyle was a strain on his family life.
"In 2009, my wife left me, taking everything I had," he shares. "I spiralled into depression, turned to heavy drinking and started using drugs regularly."
Mike also got involved in various criminal activities as he was drawn deeper into the world of gangs and prostitution. "It led me into some very dark places. I'm ashamed to say that while I was abused as a child, I became the abuser. I became the very thing that I hated," he confesses.
In 2011 Mike sold drugs to an undercover police officer, eventually leading to his arrest. "I must be the least successful drug dealer in history, having only sold to undercover police," he jokes.
Getting locked up was the breaking point for Mike. "I was at the end of myself. I had nothing left. No possessions, no friends, no income, no hope," he said.
Early in his prison stay, the prison wing was put into lock down due to a violent incident. For nearly a week Mike was confined in his cell with only a New Testament. He began reading it and never stopped. All the stories and lessons he had learnt in Sunday School as a boy came back to him.
"I remembered reading the Bible as a kid but finally I felt like I was starting to understand it and it was making sense."
Later, when he was moved to a different prison, Mike contacted the chaplain who introduced him to the Crossroads Prison Ministries mentorship program.
"Through the studies, I was able to engage deeply with God's Word. The more I read Scripture [the Bible], the more I desired it. The words seemed to leap off the page," Mike tells.
Over time, through reading Scripture, praying and corresponding with his Crossroads mentors, Mike's heart began to change.
"In the weeks leading up to my sentencing I poured out my heart kneeling on a prison cell floor. I spent a whole night in tears, crying to God about the wretched man I was and begging for God's forgiveness and power to live differently. Those tears continue to be part of my prayers to this day."
"The gift of life I received was totally transformative. I began hating what I once loved and loving what I once hated.
"My thoughts changed, my words changed and my actions changed," he explains.
All the while, Mike was dealing with court matters. He decided to give a full confession. At his sentencing, Mike shared his testimony of how God had changed his life and acknowledged everything he had done. Police and prosecutors even spoke on his behalf. Although he could have faced a 10-year sentence, he was released in less than three.
Mike used the remainder of his sentence to study God's Word, using the Crossroads program as a guide. He also began leading Bible study and prayer groups in prison, telling anyone who would listen about Jesus. "Through this, I had the privilege of seeing Christ use me to bring others into His Kingdom," he shares.
Since his release in January 2015, Mike has reconciled with his family, received custody of his son and has remarried, gaining three step-children. He is working toward a degree in theology, is active in his church and is now director of Crossroads Australia. "I have so much brokenness in my life and have seen Christ redeem my past. I seek to use the rest of my years to equip men and women with broken lives to walk in their brokenness in the light of the Gospel of Jesus."•
Crossroads Prison Ministries is an international organisation that helps prisoners grow in their faith through correspondence Bible study courses. Volunteer mentors from churches across the world assist the students by guiding their studies and writing letters of encouragement. For more information, visit crossroadspm.org.au
Used with kind permission of CPM