James Flanagan, an inmate incarcerated in San Francisco for committing multiple crimes and awaiting sentence, has written down an account of his life without church skewing towards drugs, alcohol and crime. The letter was published Tuesday in its original form by news portal Catholic San Francisco.
Accused of crimes for which he can receive a “double digit” sentence, in his own words, Flanagan turned to telling the story of his battered life to a Christian volunteer at the place of his incarceration, the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
“The day I stopped going to church was the beginning of a life I would never have expected,” he wrote. "I was lost!"
Originally from Boston, Flanagan was a good student until the trouble at home pushed him off the edge. Previously, he was an altar boy and even toyed with the idea of becoming a priest.
“I had stopped going to church when problems started to arise because of my father’s physical abuse and his drinking," he recalled. “My grades started to fall.”
One day in high school, in tenth grade, Flanagan bought some Valium from a girl he liked. (“I wanted her to think I was ‘cool,’” he admitted.) After taking five 10-milligram Valium tablets, he became violent and attacked a teacher.
Thirty-seven years later Flanagan names leaving church as the biggest factor to bring his downfall. That moment, he recalled, set him off on a self-destructive path.
“This was the beginning of a life for me that included the addiction of alcohol and drugs for the rest of my life,” he wrote.
He has been addicted to crack cocaine since 1990.
“I smoke crack to escape my problems not realizing that this is my problem. I should be turning to God to help me with my problems.”
For 20 years after quitting church, the only times when Flanagan turned to reading the Bible were when he was in prison, he admitted.
“Why is it I only turn to God in times of trouble?” he asked in the letter. “Why is it not possible for me to turn to God and ask him for guidance to help me rid myself of this criminal behavior and my alcohol and drug addiction?”
Reading the Bible and thinking about God brought him new hope.
“As I started reflecting on my past and started going to church again and reading the Bible, I found out that all I needed to do is turn back to God and not away from him,” he wrote. “He can fill my emptiness with his love and care. My drug addiction and drinking is a life-threatening disease."
Flanagan recalled reading a story in the Bible recently that touched him. The story was the Gospel of John. In it, Flanagan recalls, Jesus described himself as a shepherd “who has great love for us, his sheep.”
One of the passages Flanagan particularly favored was: "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
“I’m not a bad man,” Flanagan concluded. “Just a man gone bad, and I now awake asking God for his guidance.”