A man who served 33 years in prison for a murder he committed in 1987 has since helped lead hundreds of other inmates to faith in Jesus Christ through his work with a prison ministry.
Stanley Stever, a 52-year-old former inmate, has worked with Kindway, a Christian prison ministry based in Westerville, Ohio, founded in 2009.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Stever said he believes that God has forgiven him for the murder he committed and that there is hope for others who have committed crimes to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
"Becoming a Christian was almost like being a recipient of a heart transplant, and it gave me the ability to come to the understanding that I have a new heart. And with that new heart, there's a new responsibility," Stever said.
Stever became a Christian in 1999 while still imprisoned at the Marion Correctional Institution in Marion County. Since he started telling other inmates about his testimony, Stever said he found healing. He said it's amazing to see how many lives he has changed through his redemption story.
"I've heard it said several times that 'forgiveness is not forgetfulness.' This means that you overcome the enemy by the blood of the lamb and the words of your testimony," Stever said.
"But, don't ever forget the things that the enemy did through you, in order that you might show the power of Christ to others in the Word through Him."
Looking back on his troubled past, Stever believes that many factors led him to kill another person.
He said he had deep anger that he kept bottled inside as a teenager. He said he was also bullied, which meant he was isolated from his peers in school.
"It was always the name-calling. I was a bigger kid. My name is Stanley Stever. So, they called me 'Stanley Steamer.' I became the joke of the school. And every day I went to school, I hated it," Stever recalled.
"I would physically get sick walking into school because of the anxiety that I had about going to school and knowing that I was going to be teased and belittled the whole day. And really, that's when the anger and the rage first started, which changed my mindset as a child."
'Sticks and stones will break your bones'
Growing up in Northern Sycamore, Ohio, Stever had six sisters and one brother. He remembers his mother and father were workaholics. He considered them "old school" because they thought that the more money they could bring in, the better off the family would be.
In his younger years, Stever said the relationship with his mother was great, and he looked up to her as a role model because of her selflessness.
"But to have a role model, you have to be a willing vessel in that also, and I wasn't a willing vessel," Stever recalled.
Stever said his father was another role model who respected women and loved his family. However, Stever said his father never disciplined him.
"Whenever I would fall short or do anything wrong, it would be, you know, 'boys will be boys' [or] 'he'll grow out of it.' He didn't have a clue what I was going through," Stever said.
"I guess you would call it a normal childhood, except for the different things that would happen at school," he added. "I felt like everybody was always making fun of me and was always belittling me. … I was always in turmoil."
Being raised in the '70s, Stever said, didn't help his life at school because counseling and in-school intervention for bullying were not common during that time.
"The tagline for that generation was 'sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you' and 'knuckle up and be a man.' And these are the things that they would tell the young boys that were going through it," Stever said.
"I alienated myself. I didn't like people. I didn't like being around people. I brought a lot of that on because of what I was going through because I had no idea how to deal with it."
As Stever reached his mid-adolescence and started attending high school, the bullying continued. To mask his pain, Stever turned to drugs and alcohol.
"I would do just about anything that was put in front of me: from marijuana to beer to whiskey, cocaine, LSD, weapons and wet. I hated myself and I hated everything about me and I would do anything to get rid of that pain," Stever detailed.
"The anger and the violence kept building inside, and I had no release out of that, and when you have no relief out of that, you start isolating yourself and you start hating who you are."
'I could be whoever I wanted to be'
Doing drugs and alcohol, Stever said, made him feel as though he could leave his pain behind for short periods, telling CP that "it let me not be the person that I hated."
"And not being that person, I became someone that I could make up. At the drop of a hat, I could be whoever I wanted to be that day. I could be the mean, hateful, resentful guy. I became a chameleon," Stever recounted.
"And then, there was also the selfishness, the self-desires — everything that goes along with that part of a life attaches itself to you, and it attached itself to me."
About two years later, at age 17, Stever's bottled-up anger turned to rage and led him to commit a murder. After his arrest and during the trial, Stever turned 18.
As a result, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He wound up serving 33 years before his release in October 2020.
When Stever thinks back on his crime, he thinks about how he didn't have an outlet to properly release his anger during his youth, noting that he "had no idea what life was."
"I said in my testimony that 'I wasn't born a murderer.' I didn't wake up one day thinking, 'you know what, I'm going to take someone's life today.' That's not who I am," Stever shared.
"The reasoning behind what I did is [that] I was a child with no sense of direction, with no supervision, with no identity, with no respect for life. And if you add all of that up, it's a recipe for tragic results. And that's what happened."
During Stever's time at Marion Correctional Institution, he joined a neo-Nazi gang called the Aryan Brotherhood to find protection and a sense of community behind bars.
After a decade of being a gang member within prison walls, Stever said the gang leader came to know Christ through a four-day Christian retreat for inmates from Kairos Prison Ministry International.
Stever said there was something "contagious" about the change he saw in the ex-gang boss, which led him to attend a Kairos four-day Christian retreat.
For the first time in his life, Stever learned about the concept of forgiveness. Shortly after that, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior on Oct. 31, 1999.
Stever began working with Kindway while in prison. He eventually met his wife, Amy, through the prison ministry. The couple married in 2012.
Stever will continue to disciple inmates through Kindway for as long as he can, saying it's "awesome to bring the love of God into other people's lives."
"We've actually expanded the prison ministry into a reentry ministry that helps the men and women transition from prison out into society and become successful," Stever said.
"My job involves going in and working with incarcerated men and women, and we meet them where they are and help them work through their past. And then, we help them transition back into communities. It brings peace to my spirit to know that I am making a difference, one person at a time."
Originally posted on The Christian Post.