No Prisons in Heaven

by Manny Mill with John W. Kennedy

I thought material success was the key to happiness, until my greed put me behind bars.

I was born in Cuba in 1956, three years before Castro came to power. My mom was a beautician, my dad a butcher. Like many Cubans, they wanted to flee from communism. By 1970, my parents were able to immigrate to Spain, and two years later we came to the United States.

While living in New Jersey, I began to sell life insurance, and I became the top guy for my company in the whole country. I moved to Miami and opened my own insurance agency. In the meantime my mom became a sold-out Christian.

By 1984, I was living the American dream: making $100,000 a year, driving fancy cars. But I was greedy for more. A friend offered me what looked like an easy $50,000 if I would be the middleman in a stolen checks scheme.

But within a month, the FBI was onto my trail. I fled with my pregnant wife and son to Venezuela, where I opened a Cuban restaurant. I did well financially, but I had no peace, no joy.

A Spanish-speaking FBI agent went to see my father in New Jersey and told him exactly what I had done. My father was dismayed. He called me on the phone and said, "Manny, you are facing 55 years in prison. If I died tonight, could you come to my funeral?" My mom was on the other line listening to the conversation, and she began to preach the gospel to me. She said, "Manny, you have sinned against a holy God. You need to repent."

I began to weep. I confessed my sin and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. Then my mom asked, "Manny, when are you going to come back?" I told her that wasn’t part of the deal.. But she told me about Hebrews 13:5, which promises that God will never leave or forsake us. She knew and I knew that there are consequences for everything we do. Christ had saved me, now I needed to trust Him as Lord of my life, too.

The FBI arrested me when I voluntarily came back. I pleaded guilty and, through God’s mercy, received only a three-year sentence. As a baby Christian I was on fire for the Lord. I began leading church services and prayer meetings in prison.

But my problems didn’t disappear when I became a Christian. As happens with about 85 percent of the guys in prison, my wife decided to divorce me.

Near the end of my sentence – which was reduced to 21 months – I was able to go to Washington, D.C., to a Prison Fellowship discipleship seminar. I met Chuck Colson, and I told a group of congressmen and governors that building more jails will not solve the crime problem, because 82 percent of the guys released from jail go back within two years. And 97 percent who are in prison right now, close to 2 million people, are going to get out someday. The question is, What are Christians doing to provide a way for them not to go back to prison?

At a Prison Fellowship banquet I sat next to a gentleman who, unbeknownst to me, was chairman of the board at Wheaton College in Illinois. He helped me become Wheaton’s first graduate on the Charles W. Colson Scholarship for former prisoners.

On my last day of parole in 1989 I met Barbara on a college tour in Jerusalem. She would become my parole officer – and then my wife. She has been the glue of my life. We have two sons, Howard, 6, and Kenneth, 3.

While at Wheaton College the Lord called me to prison ministry. There are over 700 prison ministries, but most of them are for guys behind the walls. As Christians we also have a responsibility to create an effective bridge for people once they leave prison, and that’s what my outreach, Koinonia House, does.

Koinonia House allows ex-prisoners to share a home in a family setting with four other guys who have just been released from prison. Each guy is sponsored and mentored by a local church. It is not a drug-rehab house or a halfway house. We are an all-the-way house that believes that the Bible can transform anybody.

The same amount of grace saves sinners out of jail as saves them inside. There will be no walls in heaven.

Through God’s grace and mercy, I’ve learned that we need to do more than say, "I love you, brother, and I’ll be praying for you" to ex-prisoners. We need to sacrificially love those men who have never really experienced love.

Reprinted by Permission, New Man.