The Turnaround Man
Published 12:17 am Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Legacy of the Cross Ministry brings the Word of God to prisoners, former prisoners
by Michael O’Hearn
Being sentenced to prison can turn a person’s world upside down in an instant.
But being released from prison just 21 months into a 45-year sentence at the Florida State Penitentiary is what prison minister Michael Hamm calls a “miracle,” one that completely changed his whole life’s focus.
What led him to, and later from, that prison cell, makes for a fascinating tale.
After returning to the states after a tour in the Vietnam War, Hamm said he became a broker and a millionaire many times over by buying and selling hotels, ranches and horses.
In Atlanta, Hamm said he also ran with a crowd who introduced him to recreational drugs, to which he became addicted.
“I came back to a confused country as a confused young man and I wanted to make my mark in life,” Hamm explained, about his life after the war. His financial fortunes went up and down with the vagaries of the lifestyle.
“I recovered [financially] within a few years and was back on top again,” Hamm recalled.
But, he said, he “didn’t recover from my addictions and they increased, so I went bust again.
And finally, some guys came to me and told me, ‘Listen, we know a way for you to make a lot of money with your airplanes.’”
That conversation landed this recreational pilot in the business of what he euphemistically referred to as “importing exotic plants” from Central and South America.
“I thought that was the kind of business I needed to be in,” Hamm said. “My first run was to Central America on a 14-hour turnaround and I brought back a thousand pounds of marijuana and they paid me $85,000. It got my attention and brought about a major career change.”
After about five years of this high-flying lifestyle, Hamm’s business partner and his two sons were arrested and sent before a judge; they made what Hamm referred to as a ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ exchange “I was the deal, and on July 14, 1985 I was sentenced to the Florida state prison,” Hamm said. “I was sentenced to a mandatory sentence of 45 years to life. When they slammed that prison door shut, I didn’t know if I would ever see the free world again.”
Hamm, who was released almost two years into his sentence – an out-of–the-blue action by the prison system for which he still cannot explain – is now one of the founders of the Legacy of the Cross Ministry, a 52-week program designed to mentor men who have exited the prison system.
“God had a better plan for my life, and I got born again and filled with the Holy Spirit,” Hamm said. “I got kicked out of prison and I’ve been going back in ever since. That’s why I am in prison ministry. I was in prison before I had ever been behind bars, in that prison that has no walls.”
From his prison experience, Hamm said he developed a heart for people like him who had made some bad choices and bad decisions.
“I wanted to help those who had their wives and their children impacted by incarceration and their addictions,” Hamm explained.
Hamm relocated to Alabama to build the Crossroads Ranch as a chaplain and guided the ranch for 25 years.
“I would take guys out of jail and out of prison, some with drug and alcohol problems and some right off the street,” Hamm said. “I would give them life skills, set them on the right path and on a solid foundation with the Word of God. I would teach them how to be good husbands and good fathers and how to begin that reconciliation process back with society and their families.”
His explanation for doing prison ministry stems from wanting to give convicts a positive environment to return to once they finish their sentences.
“Most crimes that are committed by these guys, over 90 percent are drug-related and are because of their addictions,”
Hamm explained. “When they come out, if they don’t have a positive environment that they can go back into, they will go back to the places they were in, they fall back in the same crime or the same situations.”
Hamm moved to Tryon in 2015 after one of his friends passed away, leaving a widow with four boys. While visiting Midway Baptist Church one Sunday, he met Steve Collie, a financial planner who works at Wells Fargo in downtown Tryon, who happened to be playing with his band at the church that day.
Hamm said he was interested in Collie when he saw him playing his guitar at the church, particularly when Collie said he had made the guitar he was playing.
“I said I was impressed with it and we realized we had some things in common,” Hamm, also a guitar player, said. “He got interested in the ministry and began to go into the jails and prisons with me. At that point, I asked him if he wanted to be the treasurer of the ministry.”
Collie said he was astonished at what Hamm had been through and knew about prison systems.
“He knew exactly what was going on because he had been through it,” Collie explained. “From my standpoint, I want people to know that not everybody judges them, that I want to help them and their families. Our teaming up has been great, to have him on my side so I can share my faith as well.”
Having a heart for helping people too, but not knowing exactly how to, lead Collie to team up with Hamm.
“We have completely different backgrounds and skill sets,” Collie said. “I feel he can add to what I’m doing and he’s certainly taken to my heart. We have teamed up here and want to get this concept out.”
Collie and Hamm are going into prisons together now in Polk County as well as in Spindale.
“We want to make a difference in Western
North Carolina and South Carolina,” Collie said. “We want to do it here. That is our only intent. Knowing what we know about fatherless families and the vicious cycle of those continuing to go back in, I feel like the prison population is our greatest mission where we can make the biggest difference in the families and communities.”
Currently, Collie and Hamm do not have a stationary location for their ministry like Hamm had when he began in Alabama. But, they are hosting a fundraiser March 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Midway Baptist to help launch the Legacy of the Cross Ministry in this area. To attend, r.s.v.p. to 828-231-9319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Collie said he hopes to show people in prison systems that no one will look at them differently and that they can come out into a better environment.
“Getting them out of this vicious cycle and getting them to be fathers again is the mission that we’re on,” Collie said.
According to Hamm, 27 million people are growing up without fathers today and 86 percent of the men and women who are incarcerated come from fatherless homes.
“I got kicked out of prison after 21 months. One time was enough,” Hamm said. “No parole, no probation and I had a mandatory sentence. That was the first miracle God did for me. The second one came when Jesus became the Lord of my life.