Finding God in Solitary Confinement
By Randy Rudder
The 700 Club
CBN.com-When Todd Ayer breathes the pine-scented woods of northern Arizona, it’s not just clean air he smells; it’s the smell of freedom. After making some tragic choices as a young man, Todd spent 17 years behind bars. “I knew God. I knew His presence. I never did one thing in my life that was wrong; that I didn’t know was wrong. But I chose the world. And it took me down a bad path.”
Todd began drinking and doing drugs by the time he was 12. Todd had a restless soul and, during his teens, hitchhiked across the country several times. Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, 1986, when he was just 24, his life changed forever. Todd shot and killed a man who was abusing a relative. He then drove straight to the police station and turned himself in. “I did what I did, and wasn’t hiding from anybody. And I was willing to pay the cost for it, but I had no idea of the cost, of just how high it would be.”
Todd received a 27-year sentence and was sent to a federal prison in South Carolina. “Prison life is hard, and the violent generally excel. I lost hope. It’s a rough environment, and I was told pretty early on that, because of my pride, I probably wouldn’t live through it. I had a goal: when my day came, when they took me out, I was going to take a whole bunch of them with me.”
In prison, Todd started buying and selling drugs, and developed a reputation for his ruthlessness. One time, he nearly killed another inmate in a knife fight, and was put into solitary confinement. “I was what they called SSR, which stands for substantial security risk, which meant that the three times a week I was let out for a shower, I had to be in chains and belly shackles. I didn’t think I would ever see the outside world again. I lost all hope. I just kind of felt like, ‘Well, this is what I’m destined for.’”
Todd always kept a Bible in his cell, but says he seldom read it. “I looked at it one day. It was laying there with dust on it about that thick, and I said, ‘Lord, I know there’s peace in them words. And man, I need some peace. I’m just sick in my heart.’ And I said, ‘But Lord, that Bible, it’s kinda hard to understand. If I had something to help me understand it, I’d try to read it.’ Then the very next day, I get a manila envelope in the mail. In it is a book. Knowing and Experiencing God, and a little caption, How to Understand Your Bible. So I knew that God had heard me.”
That book came from Todd’s aunt and uncle, who had been praying for him for years. For Todd, it was a life-changing moment. “When I got that book, and I knew that God had heard me, and more than that, that He just wasn’t through with me, that was it. I broke down and I bawled for about two days. I just said, ‘I’m Yours. If You, the Maker of heaven and earth, this wonderful, merciful, kind God, can still love me, after the monster I had become,’ I said, ‘I’m on your team, Bro. I’m yours. Send me where You’ll send me and I’ll go. Ask me to do whatever it is, I don’t care how hard it is, I’ll do it.’ And God just started teaching me how to minister.”
Todd continued to pray and study his Bible in his cell. One hot summer day, another inmate borrowed his fan. “After a little while, he calls me and says, ‘Hey man, you want your fan back?’ And the Lord kind of spoke to my heart and said ‘Give it to him.’ I said ‘Give it to him? Lord, it’s 100-plus degrees in here. Are You crazy?’ And He said, ‘No, you’ve been telling him what Jesus would do. It’s time to show him what Jesus would do.’ And it just blew him away.”
Then an amazing thing happened. “It cooled off and I bet you it wasn’t but 70 degrees in that cell. So through that little bit of obedience, God started manifesting himself.”
Todd began sharing with the other inmates what he had learned from the Bible about Jesus. “Each time I would do something like that, I would grow spiritually and my faith would get stronger, and He’d always give me these beautiful little miracles to say, ‘Good job.’ One time, I said, ‘Lord I’m so tired of looking at all this wire and these fences and this concrete, I just would like to see something pretty.’ And it didn’t no more get out of my mouth than three morning doves lit in front of my cell. And those same doves came back every day until I got out. As I started seeking Him and searching for Him, He just started revealing His beauty and His wonder and His majesty. But more than that, He was communing with me. The God of heaven and earth was communing with this old convict down there.”
The drastic change in Todd’s character got the attention of the other inmates. “The old timers, when I got my heart right with the Lord, instead of shunning me, they surrounded me. They were tickled for me, man. They were happy for me. They saw the peace and the joy in my heart and it gave them hope.”
In 2003, Todd was granted an early parole due to good behavior. Shortly after, he met and married Lori and they started a family. The couple and their daughter Kendra recently moved to Arizona where they manage Camp Grace, a summer camp for young people.
“My God is an awesome God, and He is not limited. He’s given is the Holy Spirit. But it’s time for you and me and others to step up to the plate and walk in the faith that is ours, and walk in the gifts of the Spirit that is ours.”
Todd believes his freedom from prison was a miracle, and he still believes in a God that makes miracles happen every day. “One of the reasons nobody gets to see the miracles of God is because they don’t put their full trust in Him. Learn to trust Him. Put your faith in Him. He’ll provide for you, man, and He won’t just provide for you, He’ll bless your socks off. But you gotta trust Him.”
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