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Man with 500-Year Prison Sentence on a Mission to Bring 'Dead Things Back to Life'

Man with 500-Year Prison Sentence on a Mission to Bring 'Dead Things Back to Life' Read Transcript


All rise.

JOHN JESSUP: As a former police officer, prosecutor, and judge,

Robert Newsom would appear to typify Texas law and order.

When he judges cases, however, Newsom

follows two other principles-- justice and compassion.

So my judicial philosophy is yes, I believe in the law,

I promote law, I stand with the law.

But on the other hand, there's a place

for mercy built into our law.

Sulfur Springs boasts this picture-perfect town square.

But like most stories, life has many twists and turns.

One such turn began 20 years ago when Judge Newsom

met a young man in his courthouse

who was on the wrong side of the law.

Well, this is the courtroom where I was sentenced to five

99-year sentences.

JOHN JESSUP: Ron Atkins fell into a life of crime at 14.

After a string of burglaries, a jury

hammered him with almost 500 years in prison.

At 22 and with no hope of ever leaving lockdown,

Ron lashed out.

So I set about making a reputation for myself,

making a life for myself in prison.

I became really violent.

JOHN JESSUP: He joined a prison gang, fought inmates and staff,

and racked up 250 prison violations.

That put him in solitary, where he would eventually

spend 13 years.

Alone and suicidal, he says he turned

to God and a worn-out Bible.

Half the pages were missing because I'd been using it

for rolling papers.

I'd been smoking cigarettes with Bible paper.

All that was left of the Bible was the New Testament.

JOHN JESSUP: Ron learned about grace, forgiveness,

and God's love.

So he left the gang for a Bible study.

In 2012, Ron experienced his first miracle--

a surprise review that resulted in parole

more than 80 years before his projected release in 2095.

I didn't even think it was real till I actually

got out of the gate.

[LAUGHS]

JOHN JESSUP: Once out of prison, he found work and also began

sharing his story at churches and conferences.

Father God, Lord, I love you and I thank you.

JOHN JESSUP: That's how he met his wife, also a former felon,

and now an ordained minister and a licensed Christian counselor.

Then, one day while sitting in church,

he ran into someone from his past.

It dawned on me, I said pastor, you know what,

I think the judge who sentenced me to five 99-year sentences.

He's like, no, I don't think so.

Afterwards I went up to Ron.

And he came up to me and he's like--

And I said, aw, are we OK?

You know, I just felt my heart go out to him.

And he grabbed me and hugged me, real big.

And it was good.

JOHN JESSUP: Burying their past, the judge and the man

he put away forged a future based on faith.

I never did go to prison.

I never did do some of the things that Ron has done.

But I'm a sinner saved by grace, just like Ron is.

We're brothers, we're brothers.

JOHN JESSUP: This new relationship

includes getting together each week at Judge Newsom's home.

Good morning, everybody.

JOHN JESSUP: Where neighbors, family,

and other former convicts spend time

together singing and praying.

ALL: (SINGING) --father, it's who you are, it's who you are,

it's who you are.

And I'm loved by you.

To go in the judge's living room

and have them treat me just like one of the family,

it was just really awesome.

And God's just developed a relationship [INAUDIBLE]..

Him and his wife, they're like mom and papa to me, you know?

JOHN JESSUP: And the ripple effect of this unlikely story

expands much further into the community.

Not long after Ron stepped out of prison,

he returned to the place where he was once

jailed to share a message of freedom

to men searching for hope and purpose.

Don't ever discount anything with God,

because once he's in your life, he's

working through every detail.

JOHN JESSUP: In the room next door,

his wife Dawn shares her story with the women in jail.

ALL: (SINGING) I once was lost.

JOHN JESSUP: Ron's relationship with Judge Newsom

opened the door for him to reach others

who identify with his story.

They cling to his every word, eager to experience

the spiritual freedom he proclaims.

Let's give it all to God, let's get free.

Let's get some forgiveness in your heart.

You know what's in their lives, Lord.

I just pray you reveal it to them, God.

They're human beings, and they've made mistakes.

And [INAUDIBLE] way out.

JOHN JESSUP: While critics question

the merits of faith-based prison programs,

Sheriff Tatum tells CBN News, this one makes a difference.

Has there been a change?

Yeah, it seems like there's so much,

there's not as much hostility, they seem more focused,

and that they're just more appreciative.

JOHN JESSUP: Through Ron and Don's ministry,

inmates and even some staff have been baptized.

According to Judge Newsom, it sparked a mini revival

in the county.

Ron believes this new chapter is evidence

of God rewriting his past to create a lasting legacy.

In the very place where I was sentenced to die in prison,

He's going to use this to bring dead things back to life.

And that's what He's doing.

In the jail, in the worship nights, in the prayer meetings,

He's just bringing dead things to life.

JOHN JESSUP: John Jessup, CBN News, in Sulfur Springs, Texas.

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