James Pinckney was baptized at the Lansing Seventh-day Adventist Church on April 27. He is single and has one son, who is 13 years old. James works for Rich Holz as a carpenter. His interests include sports, camping, hiking, and God’s creations.
Below James shares the incredible story of how God brought him from atheism to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Several years ago, after my relationship with my son’s mother ended, I found that I did not make enough at my job in the healthcare field to pay child support and live on my own. I was forced to live with my parents or some friends. I chose to live with my friends. Who wants to be a 30-year-old living at home? So, there I was, renting a room from a longtime friend who lived out in the country.
One day I was home alone, not a soul nearby, when I heard someone tell me to move out of the house. I heard the voice as if someone was standing right next to me. Being a professed atheist, I started to rationalize it. Someone had to be in the house with me! So I looked all over the place… nobody. I checked the driveway—just my car parked outside.
Like any sane person, I thought I was going crazy. I ignored the voice, even argued against it in my daily thoughts to and from work. What am I going to do—move in with my parents at 30? I asked myself. So I stayed where I was living.
Then it happened again, only this time there was a threat. “Move out of this house or you’re going to go to prison!” OK, that’s it, I’m checking into an asylum, I thought. But I never did. Nor did I move out.
A few weeks later my friend tells me to move out because the neighbor had called the police on me. Claimed I had assaulted his daughter. Now there’s an investigation.
Three months go by. I think nothing of it. I hadn’t done anything to his daughter. I’m now living with my parents.
Then one morning—January 2, 2014, to be exact—my six-year-old son wakes me up saying there’s a man on the back deck. I see the blinds sway from my son looking out and I see in bold white lettering, “POLICE,” and below that an MP5 standard issue machine gun.
Before I could think, a knock on the front door. My stepdad answers and I’m behind him with my son clinging to my leg. The U.S. Marshal asks for me by name. I respond by saying I’m him. He shoves a piece of paper in my stepdad’s face, announces he has a warrant for my arrest and proceeds to handcuff me in front of my son. My mother notices the look of panic on my face and ushers my son into the other room.
Handcuffed in the front seat of a minivan, I wonder, Was the voice right?
Off to Jail
No one tells me what is happening or why I’ve been arrested or even reads me my rights. Completely against everything I was taught in college when I was majoring in Criminal Justice. I’m tossed into a cement cell with five or six other men. There are two phones, but they require an account set up with the county jail. A sheriff’s deputy comes near the door and I ask for my phone call. What is Mom’s phone number!? All I needed to do before was tap her name on my phone or say “Call Mom.” Oh, no!
By the grace of God her number comes to me. I call Mom. She informs me of what the warrant said. I was arrested on six different charges of criminal sexual conduct, one of which was listed as habitual. I didn’t even have a speeding ticket; how can anything be habitual? According to the rules of court, in order for an offense to be listed as habitual an offender MUST have been previously CONVICTED of the same felony. I had no record whatsoever. Was the voice correct?
My parents pay for an attorney. I wait in the county jail. When I finally get pulled into court, weeks later, the judge denies bail because I’m a “flight risk”— they know I was supposed to move to Indianapolis to start my promotion at work.
More weeks pass by. I meet with my attorney a couple of times. Otherwise I’m in the county jail. Guys are asking me what I’m in for, but I can’t tell them, because they’ve already assaulted two men who were in for the same charge as me. So I say attempted murder. Crisis avoided.
Months pass by. I meet with my lawyer again. He convinces me to waive my preliminary hearing, and my case gets bonded up to the circuit court while I wait. What happened to my right to a speedy trial? I wonder. My lawyer shows me all the ways they can avoid that.
Finally I’m one day away from trial. I know I’ll be set free—there’s no way I can get convicted.
I’m hauled into court. I sit down with my lawyer. He explains to me that the prosecutor is trying to add “prior acts evidence,” as well as having my entire defense thrown out. The psychologist says that I’m not mentally unstable nor do I show any signs of a person who would commit such a heinous crime. Both polygraph tests I’ve taken and passed. But a witness is being added by the prosecutor to substantiate the aforementioned prior acts evidence: an employee who was one write-up away from being fired by me, who never once filed any sort of sexual harassment claim against me in the two years she worked for me.
My lawyer tells me the judge is going to allow all of the prosecution’s motions. I’d be looking at 30 years to life. He slides me a piece of paper with a plea bargain. All but two charges will be dropped. I’ll serve 3-15 years. I sign it. The voice was right.
My Search for God
I start questioning everything I thought I knew. Did God try to stop this from happening? I wonder. I decide to sign up for religious services in the jail. But which one? I know nothing. I had recently been to a Catholic church with my son’s mother. I’ll sign up for that. I am handed a used Bible, New King James. I go to my first service. The priest is wearing his white garments with all the gold trimmings. He starts lecturing about how we don’t have to go to hell or purgatory. Purgatory? I don’t see that in my Bible anywhere. Then he tells us to confess to him and he’ll absolve us of our sins so we can pray to God. My Bible says to ask God for forgiveness and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. I start seeing every hypocrisy that drove me away from God in the first place.
I am then transferred to prison. The judge sentenced me to five and a half years, two and a half above my sentencing guidelines.
I decide I’m not signing up for the Catholic services in prison. I’m just going to read the Bible cover to cover, only I don’t have one because you’re not allowed to bring anything with you from county jail except paperwork regarding your case. No, not even clothes.
I’m put in a room with at least 50 other men wearing what we were brought into the world with: nothing. When I get put in my cell, God gives me a Bible from the man in the cell next to me. That is the only possession I have. And I have all the time in the world to read it now. Thank you, Lord!
I make it 27 days in quarantine before they decide where I am going to be incarcerated for the foreseeable future. I pause my reading until I become more familiar with my surroundings, lest I get in a situation I don’t want to be in. But I’m never able to get settled.
After being transferred a few times in the first six months, Quarantine to Kinross to Cotton Level 2 to Cotton Level 1 to Cooper Street Correctional, I am enrolled in college classes by my mom. Now they can’t move me anymore.
A Prayer for Wisdom
After I get settled in, understand my routine, and know my surroundings, I decide to pick up my Bible again. I reach 1 Kings chapter 3: Solomon prays for wisdom. That’s what I need! So I kneel at my desk and earnestly pray for the first time since I tried praying to get released, of course!
The very next morning I am walking out to the yard to walk. A man I had never spoken to before but shared a self-help class with approaches me and asks if I believe in God. “I’m working on that,” I respond whimsically. He tells me about the Seventh-day Adventist service he attends (a service supported by volunteers from the Lansing SDA Church). I’ve never heard of a Seventh-day Adventist before. My prayer echoes through my empty head.
The service is in the same building as my college class on Saturday. My college class ends right before service starts. Only there’s one problem: I don’t have permission to be there. If you’re caught somewhere you’re not permitted to be, you get a ticket. You can lose any privileges you may have. If you have a job, you may lose that too. I have a nice job cleaning the warden’s offices up front—a job I wasn’t supposed to have as a sex offender. (Thank you, Lord for providing that!) It pays very well as far as what is available to me: One dollar and seventy cents a day! Most jobs offer less than a dollar. All of that is at risk, so I pray: If this is what you want for me, then I need your help!
That Saturday when my college class ends, I slip into the SDA service. The officer on duty is strict. Any noncompliance and you are sure to get written up. I’m sitting in the front when the officer opens the door and looks at everyone there. He looks directly at me. I’m done! I think. Not a word.
I sit through the service, enjoying what I’m hearing and how it is ALWAYS referenced in Scripture and elaborated by more Scripture. I decide I’m signing up.
Just one more problem: the officer. While I’m leaving the building to go back to my housing unit I’m certain he will stop me and hand me a ticket. As I walk past, we make eye contact. Again nothing. OK, he probably will contact my housing officer and I’ll get written up by him. I walk in ready to face the music. Nothing.
All right, but not out of the woods yet. They typically call you up to the officer’s desk during count time if you get a ticket but they haven’t given it to you yet. I wait for my name to be called. Again nothing.
At this point I am convinced that God is with me. But why would He allow me to go to prison in the first place? Because that is the ONLY way He could have reached me. Had He answered my prayer to prevent me from going to prison, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. I would have kept going on my atheistic viewpoint and reasoned it all away. So I am thankful that He allowed me to go through what I have, because without it I would still be lost, and you would not have gotten to read this testimony. I pray it will strengthen your faith and bless someone who is going through a similar or perhaps worse situation than I have.