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Incorrigible? When Does a Helper Give Up?


By Don Umphrey

 I know a man who spent 25 years in prison on the basis of two misdemeanors.   His sex addiction made this possible.  We’ll call him Steven.  This is about my relationship with him.

 I first met Steven when I visited a maximum security prison to speak at the chapel services around 1993.  He had already been incarcerated for 11 years.  In a letter to me afterward, he said he was innocent, even though he had been convicted of raping a woman at gun-point. 

 To say I was skeptical is an understatement.

 Steven said he’d originally been picked up for exposing himself in public.  He bonded out of jail and later read in the newspaper that he was wanted for questioning in regard to the rape.  To clear his name for what he thought was a misunderstanding, Steven turned himself in. Little did he know that he would be a prisoner for the next 14 1/2 years. 

 Released from Prison

 If you did some quick math, you would have been correct in your calculations if you thought Steven got out of prison in 1996, late autumn to be more exact. He ended up in a halfway house just a few miles from the condo where I lived. 

 I started picking him up for church on Sundays. 

 Steven had been a roofing contractor before his arrest. As a member of the condo board of directors, I prevailed upon the contractor to give Steven a job applying new shingles to our complex. 

A Peeping Tom

 After three or four days on the job, Steven stuck around after work under the guise of picking up some pieces of tarpaper and shingles that had fallen to the ground. The days were growing shorter as winter approached, and in the early evening shortly after dark, Steven was caught peering through the window of a woman who lived in our complex.

 The police were called. I guess they treated this as more of a nuisance than a crime and didn’t press too hard about his identity.  If they had, Steven’s parole would have been revoked, and he would have gone back to prison. 

 Now let’s weigh his decision-making process: Despite years in prison, Steven was in the midst of gaining all sorts of opportunities to make a new life for himself—or he could get caught doing something really irrational and go back to prison. 

Steven, of course, was fired from the job, and I had to take heat from the roofing contractor for recommending him in the first place.

Steven was embarrassed, and I also told him exactly what I thought about it.  

 Shuns Recovery Group

After church the following Sunday, I took him to a restaurant where we met with a Christian who I knew to be a member of a 12-step recovery group for sex addicts.  Steven went to two of the meetings, said he didn’t like them, and never returned to the group. 

 I was still a bachelor and treated him as a peer.  He was a good athlete and very competitive.  When we went bowling together, I tried to beat him and scored 209 for one of the games; it was the first and only time that I exceeded 200. 

 A few weeks later we drove to a church on Friday night for singles’ volleyball.  On the way there I could smell alcohol on his breath. At the church he jumped in and organized a team, and I sat patiently waiting for someone to rotate out so I could rotate in.  It never happened. 

When it was over, I complained to Steven that I didn’t get to play.  He replied, “Don, sometimes a guy just needs to watch out for himself.” 

 I thought to myself, “I can certainly do that in regard to you.”  


 But that opportunity failed to present itself because within the next day or two, he was caught peeping into the window at an apartment complex.  His parole was revoked, and he went back to prison for more than 10 years. 

In the summer of 2008, he was released from prison and exonerated of all the charges against him.  DNA tests proved that he was, indeed, innocent of the horrible felonies for which he was originally charged. Further, the tests showed that the real perpetrator was a man who died in prison a decade earlier.

I rejoiced with others when he was freed and was in the courtroom when they cut off the ankle-monitor he’d been wearing.  I wrongly assumed that from then on he would lead a God-focused life.  It didn’t take long for him to show otherwise. 

 Sudden Riches

 Having been wrongly convicted, he received a huge cash settlement from the state.  With his exoneration came a payday of a $2 million lump sum, followed by $11,000 a month for life, payments that would cease if he is convicted of  a felony. 

Sadly, he immediately lost interest in seeking the Lord, and his police record indicates several arrests for illegal drug use since then. However, the convictions against him have thus far been at the misdemeanor level.  

At one point he was a passenger in a car stopped in Oklahoma.  Police found cocaine, methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia in the car, potential felonies, and a rifle in the trunk.  But all charges were dismissed because of problems associated with the police search. 

On another occasion the police raided his residence, a known drug house, and found heroin, methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.  His girlfriend was there, and she was arrested. She pleaded guilty to felony charges and spent time in jail.  Steven, however, had been arrested for drugs in a nearby suburb of Dallas and was just getting out of jail when they raided his home. Therefore, since he wasn’t there at the time of the raid, the  prosecutor was not able to bring charges that would save Texas taxpayers $11,000 a month. 

Steven and I kept up with each other on Facebook for awhile, but I haven’t heard from him in a few years.  

Would you have given up on him?  If yes, at what point?