“I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been beat up, I’ve been left for dead in the desert, I’ve been a lot of things. When you’re a dope dealer, you don’t have a nice life,” admitted Frank in an interview at his suburban Milwaukee home. “But I’ve been really lucky, I’ve always told everyone I’ve met, I’ve always felt God’s had his hand on my head, and he’s saying, ‘Look, your time will come, and you’ll be relaxed and you’re going to get the things you’re supposed to get, but you’re going to get them in the time I’m telling you you’re going to get them, instead of the time you want them in.’”
Frank was raised in a devoutly Catholic home, but it wasn’t until he was locked behind bars in a California prison that his spirituality was reawakened. Admitting that many of his fellow inmates “found God” while incarcerated in hopes of less prison time, Frank, some 12 years after his release, said God’s presence in his life continues to be very real. In fact, the 46-year-old stepfather of two, who asked that he not be identified by his real name to protect his family members, says he shuts off his radio at work every day and spends two hours “talking to God.”
“A lot of times, for weeks on end, he won’t say a damn word to me,” he said of God’s response during their chats. “No hint, no sign of anything. Hell, maybe he ain’t there, and then there he is again,” he said, describing how he sees signs of God in his life.
Frank’s return to an active faith life came when he began associating with Native Americans during his six years in prison.
After years of drinking, traveling the country with a carnival, even a brush with the law for stealing a car, his past caught up with him in California, he said, describing his life there as a nightmare.
“I went to San Diego and for about a year and a half, lived in a cardboard box. I didn’t care if I lived or died and I stayed on crack cocaine; I was shooting a lot of crystal meth,” he said of the addiction that led to his once-beautiful upper teeth rotting from the roots and falling out after taking a bite of a sandwich a few years later while in prison.
He said he started cooking crystal meth and was caught by authorities between Nevada and California with a quarter pound of crystal meth that he intended to sell.
Admitting he’s embarrassed by his past, Frank believes God is the reason for his arrest.
“Drugs were a big part of my life and when I ended up in prison, it was because of drugs. I believe God is the reason I got busted,” he said, explaining he was at perhaps the lowest point of his life.
He weighed 98 pounds and was called “Skeletor” by his friends because of his bony frame.
“When I got busted I would stay up for two, three weeks at a time and wouldn’t eat. I’d just drink chocolate milk and would shoot dope in my arm. That’s all I did,” he said, adding that, after his arrest, he promised God he’d never do drugs again.
Yet, it was a promise he was to break immediately after he was released.
“I did it again, but I couldn’t even get high,” he explained, believing it’s another case of God’s intervention. “I looked straight up and said, ‘God, I’m sorry’ and I haven’t touched it since and I will never touch it again,” he said. “To me, that gave me the shivers. I put a load on my spoon, and I sucked it up and I shot it, and I had the taste in my mouth and everything, but I couldn’t get high. No nothing. I just sat there, looking up and said, ‘God I’m sorry.’”
In prison, it’s an unwritten rule that inmates choose to associate with an ethnic group, explained Frank. He aligned himself with the Native Americans, drawn primarily to the group because of its non-violent tendencies. With them, he took part in their church services held in sweat lodges.
“Prison brought me back,” he said of his faith. “Creator/God it’s all the same. The Native Americans made me come back to reality that you have to believe, you have to have faith and if you don’t you’re not going to go nowhere and you’re going to die and you’re going to die in a bad way. When I got into Christianity, when I was going sweating, it was a good feeling.”
And it also led him back to the faith of his youth, Catholicism.
“If not for me going back to my roots and the Native Americans, I would never have gone back to being Catholic,” he added.
Yet transforming from drug dealer and convict to husband and stepfather was not an easy transition, and it’s one with which Frank still struggles.
While on parole, after being released from prison, Frank intentionally used drugs, a violation of his parole, just before a visit to his parole officer. He explained, he couldn’t live life on the outside, and longed for the structure of prison life. But the second and final time he was released, Frank found that God had intervened in his life again, providing him with a path to follow.
He was released and hitchhiking through a desolate California town, the place he was arrested years before for dealing drugs.
The man who picked him up was a Christian minister. He welcomed Frank to his home, offered him a job and a tent in his backyard. For the next 18 months, Frank worked for the minister, living with him and his wife. They began their days early —?often at 4:30 a.m., drinking their morning coffee while reading Scripture passages. It was the minister who gave Frank the book that now rests beside his bed.
When Frank left a year and a half later to return to Wisconsin, the minister not only gave him the book, but also a truck and cash.
“I love him to death,” he said of the man who helped him back on his feet. Frank returned to Wisconsin to visit a relative who was dying, but ended up meeting the person who would change his life.
“I prayed to God for a woman — a woman who would be with me for the rest of my life,” he said, “and that’s when I met my wife. I could cry over that, because it was so cool.”
Frank said he and Anne, not her real name, “clicked right off the bat and we went out on one date before I left and I couldn’t get my mind off her.” He returned to California, but told Anne he didn’t want to live without her. He returned to Wisconsin and the couple have been married about six years. Frank said he hopes the couple, who were married in a non-religious ceremony, can have their marriage blessed in the Catholic Church this summer.
A former drug addict herself, Anne admitted her life has been challenging. Yet, her Catholic faith has been a rock of stability. A Catholic grade school and high school graduate, Anne said the church helped the family financially and her faith “has helped me get through a lot of crap in my life.”
“I did do AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings for many years but I stopped going to those and used church as how I keep myself clean in my life. My faith, rather than meetings, and it’s working for me,” she said.
Her connection to the church has also helped in Frank’s return to the Catholic Church, yet the couple admit that his spirituality is a work in progress.
For several years, the family attended Mass together and Frank was involved with various volunteer activities at their parish. Because they couldn’t afford to donate much financially, they volunteered their time and talent. Yet in recent months, Frank’s pulled back a bit, she said, adding her husband remains very spiritual.
For example, when life gets stressful, she said she and Frank step back and take time to pray.
“With our busy lives, we don’t always have time to talk (about faith) but if something is going on and we’re having a real hard time, we’ll just stop and pray about it,” she said.
When Frank doesn’t attend Mass with her, she and her children bring Communion home for him.
“It’s a way I keep him connected,” she said.
As Frank reflected on the journey he’s traveled in his 46 years, he said, “I finally realize now that there is a reason for all this, but that didn’t come until a lot later,” he said. “I should be dead but God always had a hand on my head. God just sort of put me on a path and said, ‘You figure it out yourself.’”