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CBN.com In the early ‘80s, it looked like Nashville comedian Anthony Walton was poised to become the next Richard Pryor.
“I got on a talent show at Tennessee State University, and I did a Richard Pryor monologue,” Anthony says. “That’s where my comedy started. I had opened up for quite a few big name people that came through Nashville: Bobby Blue Band, the Shylites, the Dells, Eddie Kendricks, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes.”
But all the while Anthony was leading a shocking double life.
“I had another life, and it was a dark side. I would almost say an evil side. I was out sticking up people, robbing folks, burglarizing, doing all kinds of devious things to people.”
For a while Anthony eluded capture as his comedy career took off. He married the love of his life and vowed to put his criminal past behind him. But justice finally caught up with Anthony, and he was sentenced to 12 years for armed robbery.
“They changed my clothes, took my wedding band -- I really felt like a criminal. They put chains on my legs, arms, waist, and I felt like a desperate chained up animal. Reality set in for me.”
From the very beginning, Anthony knew prison life was more than he could take.
“I knew my marriage was over. My comedy career was over, and my life was over. What am I gonna do now? How am I ever going to bounce back from this? I had never ever in my life contemplated suicide. Never.
“I was trying to determine which pipe would hold me because, if I’m going to kill myself, I want to make sure I do it right. I was in a trance. That’s the thing. I was like a death trance.”
Just as Anthony was ready to end his life, God intervened.
“There was a window on my left. Somebody had left a Bible in the corner of that window. I knew it was a Bible but when I turned and saw that Bible, it’s like hope renewed in me. I realized there was a God because I had forgotten about Him.”
Anthony found the help he needed in the pages of the Bible.
“I was reading about change. ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ he’s a new creature; old things are passed away; all things become new.’ I started dealing with the word repentance, change of heart, turning around, not doing the same things that you had done before.
“I needed God to do that supernatural thing for me because I had some issues some dark issues in my heart. I wanted something real. I wanted God to change me. I didn’t want to pretend. I didn’t want to just call myself a Christian. I wanted to know Him.”
Anthony eventually stopped his appeals and took responsibility for his crime.
“That started my experiencing the full transformation of God -- that inside change that I had so desperately looked for. The Holy Ghost actually transformed me. It wasn’t an overnight thing, but slowly I was beginning to change. Even my way of thinking was beginning to change, and God was doing a supernatural thing on the inside of me.”
Soon even the parole board saw the changes in Anthony were genuine.
“Three years, two months and some days without ever fighting anybody even though I wanted to. I didn’t drink any of their penitentiary wine. I didn’t smoke marijuana, didn’t get in any trouble with any guards, wanted to but I didn’t. I made it through there because God had me covered. You can go through prison and stay out of trouble by the power of God.”
Determined to make an honest living after his parole, Anthony went to work in a local grocery store.
“Six months after I got out of prison, they moved me from sacking groceries to manager trainee. We purchased our first home, and I bought a brand new truck. I didn’t have to rob no bank, didn’t have to stick up nobody, didn’t have to do anything illegal. God just opened up doors for us.”
Anthony eventually started his own prison ministry, wrote his story in a book, and was called to pastor a church.
“How God changed me is a miracle within itself. It’s not about a religion, it’s not about a denomination, it’s about Jesus.”
Whether he’s talking to his congregation or a group of convicts, Anthony still shares the message of hope that found him in his prison cell.
“This is not the end. This is only the beginning. If you put your hand in God’s hand, God can walk you through this and give you a life that you would have never imagined. It’s not over. Even though it seems like it, it’s not over. All you have to do is trust God.”
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