Hello, My name is Tony Hall. Please permit me to tell you briefly about what God has done in my life. I want to give Him glory, to honor Him for the monumental change His love has brought to my life.
My parents were bikers. Cursing, drinking, leather wearing, smoking, gun toting, just don’t care… bikers. My dad was very Marlin Brando – ‘Leader of the Pack.’ I was raised with a cynical contempt for authority, and a general disregard for the law. Drinking, drugging, and grown men brawling were regular occurrences. I even experienced a full-on gunfight between my parents and former biker associates at the ripe old age of nine.
I rejected my parents racism and life-style fairly early on, and determined to have a better future. I was loved and encouraged at home (especially by my mom) to do well at school, so that is what I focused on and in time I became an accomplished student athlete.
Upon graduation I volunteered to serve in the United States Marine Corps, during the first gulf war, however, I was sabotaged by my own disrespect for authority and alcohol abuse. I went AWOL and it appeared my over-achieving days were ended. So I turned to drugs and crime. I stole, mugged, robbed, sold drugs, etc. etc. etc. to support my own fallen lifestyle.
A turning point came when the gal I was seeing informed me she was pregnant. It wasn’t long and I was a dad. A drunken, drugged, criminal dad who couldn’t keep up his selfish lifestyle and keep the bills paid working at Jiffy Lube; thus my plan to rob banks was born.
I recruited my younger brother as my get-away driver. I thought we had a fool-proof plan… turns out I was the fool! We got busted trying to boost the get-away car. Thank God he had a different plan! And they locked me up.
A couple months down the line I got a disclosure of evidence against me from the prosecutor’s office. It included my brother’s taped confession. I was crushed. That was probably my lowest point in life. It got me to look at my life and ask the hard question, how did it all come to this? Then for the first time, I could see the hurt I had caused others. I had left my lady with three little boys (she had two from a previous relationship) alone on the street. Maybe this was my lowest point… I’m not sure. What I do know is the pain was crippling and I didn’t know where to turn. Then at this critical point in my life I got a new cell mate…
He was a Christian. He read his Bible every day. He was simply different. Despite being on the way to prison (like me) he had obvious joy and real peace. That got me reading the Bible. Then one day, weighed down by it all, I cried out to a God I hoped existed. There, in the only privacy available, the shower, I told God that if He wanted the mess I had made of my life, He could have it. I meant it, and He took me up on the offer. I have never been the same since. It was like the weight of the world lifted up off my shoulders! I wasn’t alone anymore. The first of many, many miracles I personally experienced. Like proposing to the mother of my child through bullet-proof glass and hearing her say yes!
Of course, the world didn’t suddenly become all rosy after giving my life to Christ and I still faced the consequences of my actions. I was tried, convicted, and sentenced for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor, and misconduct involving body armor. I was given a substantially aggravated sentence of fifteen years in prison. That was a rough day in the courtroom. I have never seen three more miserable women than my mom, my sister, and my by-then wife (yes, that’s right, she married me in the county jail looking at what we thought would be at least ten years in prison. Tell me that’s not love!). Off to prison I went, a barely baptized new believer not knowing what to expect, but at least knowing that I had Jesus to go with me and I wasn’t letting go of Him!
They sent me to the Wilmot complex here in Tucson, which helped cement my marriage because we went from one-hour, no contact visits to eight-hour contact visits, but it wasn’t to last. A mere three months after arriving there they shipped me out to the Yuma prison complex where it was much more difficult to see my wife. During the next ten months we saw each other in person only once. The honeymoon was over and reality started setting in. She had been writing me every day, a steady stream of letters. As time passed the letters slowed to once a week, then once a month, and finally none at all. Our once-a-week phone calls began as upbeat moments, just good to hear each other’s voices. They turned into heartbreaking arguments. Toward the end of my ten months in Yuma I could see the writing on the wall, and I had a genuine conversation with God about it. I begged God with all my heart and soul to at least let Becky and I remain friends for the sake of the children. I acknowledged that He had given me this family and if He wanted to take it back that I would still continue to follow Him. No turning back. In my memory it seems like only a week later I got a letter from my public defender appeals lawyer that we had won a new trial and that they were bringing me back to Tucson for it! I celebrated with a joy that was truly unspeakable and full of glory! I read that letter out loud to everyone I knew!
I was flown back to Tucson in a small twin-engine aircraft along with one other inmate. Once there my bond was raised from the original amount of $7,500 to $50,000 by the same judge who sentenced me to fifteen years in prison. He sure didn’t want to see me hit the streets and I really can’t say that I blame him either! I knew I wasn’t the same man that I had been but how could he know that?! I resigned myself to a retrial with similar conclusions. God had different things in mind once again… four days before Christmas 2001 my mom cashed out a long-term annuity, put up her farm, and bonded me out of the Pima County Jail. Once again I was walking on air! No one met me in the parking lot so I caught the first city bust that came by over to Raymond and Tanya Bell’s apartment. They had been our neighbors at the time I was arrested, and they are our dear friends to this day. They could both see the difference Jesus made in me right away (see Raymond Bell’s testimony). My wife Becky and my mom caught up with me there and took me home.
When we pulled up to the apartments where my wife and kids had moved to while I was locked up, I immediately noticed a little church right across the street named New Life Community. I was in that church for their Christmas service, and have been there ever since. The Pastor and his wife welcomed us with open arms even after they came for a visit and I explained who I had been, where I had just come from, and what we were likely to be facing from the courts. They treated us with love, respect and dignity, which wasn’t exactly what I was accustomed to receiving from the Department of Corrections! I know it to have been God’s hand that directed my wife to those apartments, without a doubt. I am thankful beyond words for Pastor Curt and Heather and the church they lead.
For the next three years the wheels of justice turned slowly, I was blessed to be increasingly involved in ministry at our church, and my wife and I had two more children. A girl and a boy, for a grand total of five kids! In fact, my daughter’s birthday is on the day before I was originally supposed to be retried. God had different plans again! That trial date was vacated because my case was going all the way to the Supreme Court, and they wanted to get a ruling to be sure they didn’t waste a second trial on me. On the day before the world wanted to give me a criminal trial, God gave me a daughter instead. Halleluiah!
Well the wheels of justice turn slowly in our society but they do indeed turn. We received a letter one day from the prosecutor’s office. Three years after being bailed out of prison I was informed that a retrial date had been scheduled and was coming up in a few months. That was another bad day I’ll not soon forget, but what happened next was really amazing. Our church rallied around us and that same public defender appeals lawyer went to bat for me and got me a plea-bargain. The prosecution wouldn’t drop any of the charges, but they were willing to cap the sentence at the presumptive term of nine and a quarter years. I gave a testimony to our church family and asked for letters on my behalf to the judge (the same judge who had given me fifteen years the first time around). Twenty-four people wrote to the judge letters about the character and commitment of the man God had made of me over those past three years. Several of those letters can still bring me to tears today. I walked into that courtroom facing the prospect of returning to prison for another seven years on top of the two already served, and thinking of my young family it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My heart ached with the thought that they would shortly have to see me carted off to prison again.
As I entered the courtroom I saw one of the original arresting police officers there as a witness for the prosecution. I walked straight up to him, looked him in the eye, shook his hand, and thanked him for his professionalism that saved my life that day five years before. Needless to say, he was incredibly surprised and I’ll never forget what he said about me to the judge during the trial later that day. From the stand he said, “well, I don’t really believe in all this religious stuff, but its obviously worked for this guy.” The Pastor, the Youth Pastor and one of our church’s board members all took the stand that day as character witnesses on my behalf. Finally it was the judge’s turn and I was worried sick that the sentence would be seven more years in prison, but God had a different plan yet again! The Judge opened by proclaiming this to be one of the most peculiar cases he had ever seen before, including a mistrial and delays in the retrial process. But then he said that is was clear to him that I had been rehabilitated… redeemed (a claim made by the public defender) is beyond the scope of this court. Then he made this amazing statement, “If it were up to me, I would send Mr. Hall home, but the charges presented carry a state mandated minimum sentence of four and a half years.” This statement made by the same judge that had given me the substantially aggravated sentence of fifteen years in the first trial! Five years later he saw such a difference in me that he gave me the least amount of prison time that he legally could and even stated that he would have let me go free if he could have.
Nevertheless, back to prison I went for another two years, leaving my wife to take care of five small children by herself. There was a big difference this time around though… our church family. I believe God chooses to work in the world through His people most of the time and that is exactly what happened when I went back prison. Our church, perhaps sixty to seventy people on any given Sunday, paid the utilities and rent for my wife and children the entire twenty-two months that I was being held in Prison. It started with a member of our church board and his wife, Bill and Sherry Curry, who had fallen in love with my family and I. They demonstrated their love by helping to pay the bills for my family and then a short time later the church as a whole came alongside us and took up that expression of love in practice. Such practical love and generosity makes me cry tears of gratitude and joy. Here again is God’s kingdom on full display. Such love! It changes a man.
While I was serving my sentence Bill Curry often brought my family to visit me in Yuma and Florence. My wife and I managed to maintain our connection with phone calls and correspondence. In fact, one day I received the joyous news in one of her letters that Becky had given her heart to Jesus too! The sacrificial love being poured out on us by the people at church helped lead her to the Savior. Of course, we are far from perfect and we still have many flaws that God is working on but we’re on the right path now and that makes all the difference. In His time we will be who God wants us to be, when and where He wants us to be.
Sadly, for the sake of space and readability I must draw my testimony to a close. There are many, many, many more miraculous details that I have had to leave out, but if you ever come to our little church of great big love, be sure to introduce yourself to my wife and I. We will be delighted to meet you and can tell you more about all the ways God has intervened in our life. Indeed, He continues to do so. It is no coincidence that I’m writing this on the fifth anniversary of my release from prison! But truly I was freed long, long ago in a shower stall inside the Pima County Jail. I have a joy the world didn’t give me, and one the world is powerless to take from me. It is the joy of knowing Christ, my Savior and best friend. I hope my story encourages you to investigate Him, who He is, His claim on your heart, life, loyalty, and love. He has these things of mine and I have never been happier or more complete. Of course, life is not always easy but God didn’t say it would be easy… only that He would walk with me all the way. I hope you will let Him walk with you.
Raymond Anthony “Tony” Hall
Sunday, January 15th 2012