Gary Norris had been arrested and charged with first degree murder. He was going to spend the rest of his life behind the bars of Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary, the largest maximum security prison in the US – a violent prison where "men were raped and murdered."
"I remember when I first got here that I was scared," he admits. "I did not know what was what. I had heard a lot of stories [about this place]. I had gotten to a point where I thought my life was over – that it was finished."
Gary was sitting on his bunk with the words of his mother ringing through his mind: "You will never amount to anything."
"I believed it," he says. "Whether I succeeded or failed, I figured that [it did not matter]. I would not be letting my mum down."
Then, something miraculous occurred. Gary shares, "I was thinking that if God is really God and if He is really real, then I did not want to read about Him anymore, I did not want anyone to tell me about Him anymore...I wanted to experience God for myself on a person-to-person basis. I just cried out to God and my prayers were heard."
God revealed Himself to Gary in a way that changed his life forever. "I knew from that day forth that Jesus was real," he smiles. "I knew that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus had taken place. It was not because anybody had told me about it; it was because I felt it in [my heart] and I saw that Jesus was no longer on that cross. I realized that I did not have to live my life anymore. I could allow Jesus to live His life through me. I think that is the most awesome experience anyone can ever encounter."
During the years before his arrest, Gary recalls "chasing drugs, chasing women and chasing money. I thought that if I could get those things, then that would fulfil me."
However, "when God came into my heart...I realized where true fulfilment comes from. I feel that everyone should experience that - whether you are inside Angola or outside Angola, God's love is what everyone needs and it is real. I think that is what everyone needs to know – that God is real."
To this day, Gary "cannot believe that I went to the actual level where the crime took me too."
"I remember being on my bed one day feeling sorry for myself, even though I had experienced the presence of God," he shares. "I will never forget the voice of God. He just simply spoke to me and said, 'Get over it. I saw it before it happened. That's why I had to come and die for you.' God released His forgiveness in my heart. He said, 'I have already forgiven you. Now you have to forgive you.' And that is where I am right now."
Speaking of the change that has happened in his life, Gary says, "I am new. I am walking in newness of life. I feel that is hard for a lot of men to do here because this place tries to remind you of who you used to be but God has never spoken to me about who I used to be. Never. He has never reminded me of where I have come from but He has my eyes and my mind focused on where He is going to take me."•