After serving four years in a Pennsylvania State Prison for theft by deception (securities fraud, misappropriation of funds, ponzi scheme etc.) and my illegal business practices in the financial services field, I walked out of S.C.I. Houtzdale a changed man.
It was during my first incarceration at Chester County Prison in West Chester, Pennsylvania that the change began. Through the ministry of Chaplain Jack Crans and his staff, GOD’s light reached through those cold dark prison walls and revealed HIS mercy, grace and forgiveness that can only be found through HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST, whom I accepted as my LORD and personal SAVIOR back in December 2002.
Shortly after being incarcerated, I was blaming everyone else but myself for all my problems that had led me to that point! The heart change began as I heard the GOOD NEWS (sin, confession, repentance, grace and forgiveness through the blood on the Cross) preached by Chaplain Crans and his staff. I realized that something was broken and desperately needed GOD’s help to fix the problem…ME! A broken and contrite heart O GOD, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:17). To quote C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity, GOD can’t do anything for us if we think we can earn a passing grade. It was while reading Galatians 5:19-21, about the works of the flesh, that I realized that I was guilty of most of those things on that list! The LORD then made me realize that all have sinned and come short of the glory of GOD (Romans 3:23). Since the fall of man in the garden, everyone is born into sin and in sin did my mother conceive me (Psalm 51:5), but praise be to GOD for HIS SON whose blood washed all our sins away!
It is only after we have a heart change that we can be used by the LORD to let HIS light shine through us to the rest of the world, starting with our own families! As I was growing in the LORD, I reached out to my estranged wife. I was separated from her at this point for 3 years due to my wild living. I apologized to her and asked for her forgiveness for all the pain and suffering that I brought upon my entire family. I also wrote and apologized to my three grown children (one son, two daughters) as well as my brother and two sisters and asked for their forgiveness. During the incarcerated years I shared numerous scriptures with my entire family (via mail and during visits) as I felt led by the SPIRIT. I strived to let CHRIST’s light shine through me to everyone I came in contact with, from the officials at the prison to my family and everyone else between. I found out that the LORD is in the relationship restoring business, starting first with the restoration of us to HIMSELF through HIS SON and then committing to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Although at this period in my life I had never heard of Malachi Dads, the principle behind the scripture in Malachi 4:6 was applied turning the heart of the father to the children and I realized I needed to take the position as the spiritual head of my family (Ephesians 5: 22-33, Ephesians 6:4).
While being processed at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania to serve the balance of my state sentence, I felt that the LORD was equipping me for prison ministry as I had a passion to share the GOOD NEWS while being incarcerated as well as after my eventual release from prison. Upon release from state prison in August 2006, I was reunited with my wife and family, striving to walk out my new life in CHRIST beyond the prison walls. I immediately got involved with the local church which Chaplain Crans was pastoring at the time and soon began to lead the Adult Bible Study Class on Wednesday evenings. About a year later I was back at the Chester County Prison, this time to minister to the inmates as well as filling in for religious services as needed under the direction of Chaplain Jack Crans.
Being born again takes a “moment of faith”, but being CHRIST-like is a life long journey. After all, GOD’s goal for man is to be conformed to the image of HIS SON (Romans 8:29), however, when we are saved we have been sanctified throughout the whole man in CHRIST; but in this life some remnants of our sinful nature remain so that there is a continual war between the flesh (sinful nature) and the SPIRIT. I learned that to effectively walk out my life in CHRIST every day and have a positive, CHRIST-like effect on my family and society as a whole, I needed to consciously choose to take EVERY thought captive, making it obedient to CHRIST (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to put on the WHOLE armor of GOD to be properly equipped for the WAR! Every single day I need to die to self (Galatians 2:20) and live the SPIRIT filled life that GOD intends for us to live. Walk in the SPIRIT and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16)
Every single day I consciously choose whether I am going to feed the new or the old man, whether I am going to walk in the SPIRIT or in the flesh, whether I am going to serve Satan or GOD! Although the apostle Paul describes our freedom from sin’s grasp through CHRIST in his letter to the Romans in Chapter 6, our struggle with sin in Chapter 7 and our victory over sin in Chapter 8, we as Christians still have a choice each day as to which way we are going to walk! We cannot offer as excuse “that the sin in me made me do it” as sin has been defeated at the cross over 2,000 years ago! Greater is HE that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). We as Christians need to ask ourselves one simple question…do we BELIEVE it?
Two months before being released from state prison on Father’s Day 2006, I responded to a card that my sister had sent me featuring two dogs at a train station preparing to leave town with suitcases in hand. (Due to our dysfunctional family unit, we were always going somewhere). On the front of the card she drew an arrow referencing me as the big dog and herself as the little dog stating “I will follow wherever you go”. Inside the card she stated that my spiritual insight from a previous letter had somewhat calmed her. This comment prompted me to write this poem giving praise, glory, and honor to where it is due…
There are times throughout our life when things seem really bad… when leaving is the only option that we think we have…thoughts of good and evil that linger from within…now come into light as I understand the concept of sin…love the sinner and hate the sin?…some would strongly say…but there is a man that I do this with each and every day…through one man sin entered the world and through ONE we are saved…if you haven’t made a decision, one is already made!…Trials, suffering and pain you can count on in this life…but you can overcome all this cause HE has paid the price…don’t ever give up on life as good can come from bad…just look at HIS family tree and the prostitute Rahab!…Always look at the roses and never see the thorns…rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those that mourn…life is not about what happens to you, but what you do about it…don’t ever give up hope, cause you can’t live without it!…If there are longings in this world that no fortune, fame, or pleasure can fulfill…could it be that we were created for a place that is far better still?…I researched all the sources and came to this profound thought…there is a place that does exist and it has already been bought…a place where we can go to, time will tell who is first…because I believe that it don’t all end in a slow ride in a hearse…a destination where we can go to where there is no more trouble, sickness, or strife…a place that we can go to…to have eternal life!…Where are we going?, my sister said with a stare…follow me I said, HE will take us there!…You see, once you know the TRUTH, the TRUTH will set you free…to live this life full of love and live it abundantly!
In the spring of 2010 I was asked by Chaplain Jack Crans to head-up a new initiative at the Correctional Center of the Chester County Prison called Malachi Dads. After numerous meetings with Chaplain Crans, Lyndon Azcuna of Awana Lifeline who directs Malachi Dads and Warden McFadden, head of the institution, we kicked off the first Malachi Dads in a county prison in the entire country on July 19, 2010…praise GOD! It is truly a blessing to me that I can, along with many volunteers, share GOD’s love, joy, peace, and hope with the men and women in Chester County Prison to help them successfully re-enter society, thereby reducing recidivism, promoting public safety, reducing the cost to the taxpayer, building healthy families thus building healthy communities!
As I share my story with you, I will be celebrating 35 years of marriage with my wife on October 7, 2011 despite a 7 year separation from her. This is only by the GRACE of GOD…for with GOD nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37)
Stephen J. Pacinelli
Licensed Minister & Director of Malachi Dads at the Chester County Prison, Pennsylvania