Mama Tried

"Lotta these boys ain't bad, just mixed up.”

“I won’t have you turning my son into a preacher,” his father once shouted to his mother, during an argument.

To men like his father, there was nothing worse than a soft-handed Bible-man, stuck in an office. He wanted his boy to do what men have done since the dawn of testosterone—spit, cuss, grow callouses.

His mother wanted him to memorize the Sermon on the Mount.

So, the kid tried to do both. He attended Sunday school, learned the Bible, recited long passages from memory. Outside of church, he worked with his father, operating heavy machinery, learning to cuss.

He was a rowdy child. He drank too much, smoked more, and hopped from party to party. Since he discovered long ago he couldn’t please both parents, he disappointed them instead.

He was successful at that.

He was in the car with his friends when the cops pulled them over. A routine traffic stop. One of the boys had just robbed a grocery store and had a gun tucked in his jacket. Another boy had meth in his pocket.

Off to prison.

That’s where he met Billy, who runs an educational program, teaching inmates to read and write poetry and literature.

Billy says, “It helps’em work through their emotional stuff. You wouldn’t believe some of the things these boys write. Ain’t a dry eye in the classroom sometimes.”

For his first project, he wrote nothing. Instead, he recited something he learned long ago.

“I couldn’t believe he knew the whole Sermon on the Mount from start to finish,” Billy says. “There was something exceptional about him.”

Billy took special interest in the kid. It only took a few heart-to-heart conversations for the kid to realize what he wanted to do with his life.

He wanted to make his mother proud.

“See” Billy explains. “Lotta these boys ain’t bad, just mixed up.”

With Billy’s help, the boy finished a GED. When he completed that, Billy enrolled him in an online Bible college—which cost a lot.

“Someone in my church funded him,” said Billy, winking at me. “Anonymous sponsor.”


By the time the kid got out of prison, he’d already baptized handfuls of inmates, and led church services. During each service, Billy stood on the sidelines, prouder than a parent.

Billy goes on, “The guys all listened to him. I think they thought, ‘Hey, he’s kinda like me, if he can do it, why can’t I?’ Yeah, I think he found his calling.”

Billy laughs.

“Hell, he’s made more of a difference in here than I ever have.”

Sorry to point it out to you, Billy.

But you’re wrong about that.

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