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He Received Mercy for the First Time

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“I didn't desire to go to prison. I wasn't eight years old and raised my hand in school and said, 'Hey, I want to go to prison when I get older.' Or, 'Hey, I want to be a drug addict when I get older,'" said Stephen Dees. His drug-addicted parents were unable to care for him, leaving him in orphanages and foster homes.

During this time, he experienced everything from going to church to sexual abuse. “There was a man who sexually assaulted me at the age of 13 and that's when I caught my first felony. I was a very angry, upset young man and I ended up burning the house down,” said Stephen.

He spent the next three years in detention, a psych hospital, and a group home. He was released at age 16 and two years later made a terrible decision.

“Me and this other guy, we went up there to break into this house and steal this money,” said Stephen. “And when we did, there was some people home. We ended up tying the people up and robbing the people. And it was an aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, and a kidnapping charge instead of just a B&E or a burglary. I went to Mansfield, Ohio. I was 18 years old. And that was my first introduction to the penal system. I deserved it. I know I did. I pled guilty. I never tried to fight it. Admitted what I had done was wrong. But that was – a hard time in my life.” He survived six miserable years in prison.

When he was released, he hoped for a better life. He went to welding school and his girlfriend at the time had a baby. “I can remember the day she was born,” said Stephen. “That was probably the happiest day of my life. You know, because I'd never had a child before and I never thought I could have children. I didn't really think that that kind of life was for me, you know, but that day in my mind I could see myself being a good father, being a good husband, good provider, and a good protector.”

Stephen was excited about his new life and then tragedy struck. “She was born on March 14th and she passed away on April 21st. She had lived five weeks. She had passed away in our bed. Woke up one morning and she just wasn't breathing,” Stephen says with tears. “I think I developed a resentment and a bitterness towards God at that moment. Not denying Him. You can't see a child be born and deny God. I couldn't, but I was angry at God. And so, I started working a lot of hours to cover up the pain. But then somebody introduced me to methamphetamine and that killed every pain I had physically, spiritually, and emotionally. And that took me down a long road.”

Stephen soon became a full-time drug addict, making, using, and selling meth. On a three-week long binge, he violently assaulted two people, sending them to the hospital. “After they arrested me, they took me to jail and I was talking to my lawyer and she pulled out the pictures and the statements. And I can't believe I became a man that would do something like that to somebody else. And she told me I was looking at 30 years in prison. Aggravated assault with deadly weapons times two. It's an automatic 15 years a piece. I was 40 years old. I had a lot of bitterness, a lot of anger. Just couldn't stand the person I had become. I hated living the lifestyle that I was living,” said Stephen. “I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to go back to prison. I'd rather die. I think those were my thoughts in that cell when it was a man that came in there and said, 'Hey Stephen, why don't you go to church with me tonight?'"

Even though he still had bitterness towards God, Stephen attended chapel in the jail. That night he heard about true hope. “I'm getting ready to face 30 years in prison and they're going to preach to me about a hell? To me, there's no reality in that. What I'm living is hell right now. But this man says that there was a man named Jesus who came down from heaven, who died on the cross, so I no longer have to live in hell,” said Stephen. “I'm like, 'Okay, I don't have to live like this no more? You mean things can change for me?' It just piqued my curiosity. So I gave my life to the Lord that night.”
That night, he prayed and asked God to help the people he hurt to get off drugs and for mercy on his case. “Within a week, man I called my lawyer back and all my charges had been dropped down to misdemeanor charges. To me, that was a divine intervention. From the places I've been, the things that I've done, sitting in the courtrooms before, I've never caught no breaks. I think that's when I started believing that maybe God did love me. Maybe he did care about me. Maybe somehow, someway through all this, He reached down and did something and started stirring something inside of me. I started reading the Bible more and I started talking to Him more.”

Stephen's life radically changed through an 18-month recovery and discipleship program. Today he is now part of their pastoral staff, along with his wife. Stephen smiles and says, “He's the reason I'm alive today. He's the reason that I have a motivation to help others. I want to be who I am today. With Jesus, He went out and He went to go reach that 1 out in 99 of the least of these. I feel like if that's what He did, that's what we should be doing. My evangelist heart is because of the Lord. I want to go out and see that one last one person saved. I want to go into the jails and the prisons and the other places where people don't want to go because I believe that God wants to reach those people. I believe that's what Jesus is to me. That's the heart that's inside of me. It's the heart of Jesus.”

Discover more about the ministry where Stephen serves at here:

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About The Author

Karl Sutton

Karl Sutton has worked in Christian media since 2009. He has filmed and edited over 200 TV episodes and three documentaries which have won numerous film festivals and Telly awards. He joined CBN in 2019 and resides outside Nashville with his wife and four kids. He loves cycling, playing music, and serving others.