How a Drug Dealer Street Fighter became a Street Preacher
The Salvation Testimony of Jesse Morrell
It was another day in court. By now it had all become routine to me. There were shackles around my legs which made it hurt when I walked and a big chain around my waist which my wrists were cuffed to. Only one thought was going through my mind while I was sitting in the small room behind the court with all the other criminals. It was the same thought going through everyone’s mind in that room: Will I be imprisoned or will I be released?
A woman went into the main room right outside the doorway of our holding room and was speaking to the guards. My name was mentioned in the quick conversation so I knew she had come for me. The guard called me out of the small room into the main room where I was greeted by Shannon, my probation officer. She took me into the hallway and explained to me how the court session was going to go.
At the age of fifteen everyone thinks they are invincible and that is exactly how I felt. She could tell by the expressions on my face that I was not taking this very seriously. Every time I had gone to court in the past nothing serious happened. I expected that it would be the same this time. Expressions soon changed as she continued to speak to me. Though I was going to court for violation of probation, since I had gotten into a fight which resulted in my neck being slit by a knife, she told me of new charges that were pending. It was for larceny in the first degree. And she said that since it would be my second felony (the first was when I assaulted an older kid with a glass beer bottle) I would be tried as an adult and would face five to ten years in prison.
As a fifteen year old kid thinking about five to ten years in prison, panic gripped my heart, unbelief entered my mind and tears started to form in my eyes. The guards lead me into the court room where my eyes glanced upon my mother who was nervously waiting for the court session to begin. It is a blessing when someone who lived the way I was living reaches rock bottom. Some never reach the point where enough is enough, so their lives continually get increasing worse. This was the first time I had reached the bottom. Devastation is the only way to describe it. How could I have been so blind to live so recklessly and now face five to ten years in prison? How is my mother going to handle this when she hears the news? How am I going to survive such a long time in a cell and maintain my sanity?
The entire court room knew what my emotions were as I entered. The tears must have given it away or maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t even lift up his head to see the judge because of shame and remorse. Maybe the judge will see my broken spirit and be lenient. But receiving grace was an unrealistic fantasy. They all knew me as a very violent, drug addicted, felon. I knew doom was inevitable.
Prayers from a Cell
After the court hearing they brought me back to the Juvenal Detention Center on Whalley Avenue in New Haven Connecticut where I was placed in a cell.
It was here a few weeks earlier that I had heard a preacher that preached about sin and hell. I was not invited to his meeting in the lobby because I was in a fist fight a few days earlier and was not allowed out of my cell, but he was loud enough for me to hear. He shared his testimony of how he was a criminal locked up in prison and then Jesus Christ changed his life. He asked all the inmates there, “How many of you think you are going to heaven when you die?” I looked out my cell and saw that they all raised their hands. He then said, “That is such ignorance. You think you can live in sin and still go to heaven? Who then will go to hell?” His preaching was straightforward, fiery, bold and sincere. He didn’t even know I was there or that I was listening but under his preaching I came under serious conviction and realized for the first time in my life that I was going to hell for my sins. The Holy Spirit came into my cell and was heavily dealing with me. He opened my eyes and I saw how rotten I was and that I deserved to be the kindling of hell.
I had been roasting in the conviction from that experience for weeks now, still trying to sin but couldn’t do it with ease anymore. I knew I was in trouble with God. And now facing five to ten years in prison I saw how my sins were completely ruining my life and my eternity.
I expected to wait in that cell until my next court date. Prayer was my only resort. I knew that it would have to take the hand and power of God to get me out of this. I prayed that if God gets me out of this devastating situation, I will do everything that I am supposed to do. No longer would drug abusing and drug selling be a part of my life. No longer would I be involved with the people that I was involved with. Fights would not be a part of my life or anything else that my conscience warned me was wrong and displeasing to God. Everything would change if only God would somehow get me out of this.
The Spirit of God continued to work in my life and my eyes were opened to just how filthy and wrong my life was. I saw how horribly wrong I had been! How filthy I was! I saw my heart as extremely vile and polluted with iniquity. The Lord brought me to the point where I said to Him, “Lord, even if I have to spend five to ten years in prison, I am not going to live this way anymore. I can’t do it! I must serve you!” Even if I had to spend years in a prison full of sin, I did not want to live another second in such filth.
Due to a previous court case in which I had violated my probation multiple times by failing five drug tests (all four with marijuana and one with cocaine), I had been put on a waiting list for rehab. It was only a few weeks earlier when they had put me on the waiting list. All they were waiting for was an open bed.
After a little while of being locked up in the Detention Center I was transferred to a type of halfway house for a couple months and then was transferred to a rehab.
I had initially forgotten that I was on the waiting list for a rehab so when I was transferred I was surprised. So before I had my next court appearance I was transferred to a forty five day rehabilitation program.
Reborn in Rehab
While I was in rehab I learned everything I could about staying sober. As a teenager all that I knew was drugs. The word sober itself was from a foreign language. It wasn’t part of my vocabulary because it wasn’t part of my life.
One day in rehab I saw another patient sitting on a couch in the living area reading a big black book. I asked, “Is that a Bible?” She said, “Yes.” I asked, “Can I borrow that sometime? To read it?” She said, “You want to read the Bible?” I was not the type that you would have thought would want anything to do with the Bible. My head was shaved like a skinhead, the scar on my neck was red and bulging, and my knuckles were broken and swollen from the constant fist fights. I remember overhearing other patients in the bathroom talking about who the scariest person in the rehab was. One man said, “Jesse Morrell. Have you seen his knuckles?” Another patient, during a group discussion, said, “We need to talk about Jesse’s demons. He has demons.” So this girl reading the Bible was very surprised that I would ask for it. But I was insistent and sincere. She let me borrow it and it changed my life.
At first I read about the priests sacrificing animals and spilling their blood upon the altar. I thought this was very strange and thought to myself, “Wow! I’ve never seen my priest do that! Do they do that after the Mass when we all leave? This must be a private event because I’ve never seen them sacrifice animals in my church.”
There was a Christian counselor there that would minister to us, though this was not a Christian rehab. I talked to him about this and he explained to me that this was not talking about Catholic Priests but Levitical Priests and that it was the Old Covenant. Now that we have a New Covenant in which Christ shed His blood for us, he explained, we do not sacrifice animals anymore. He encouraged me to read the New Testament and so that is where I continued.
I read Jesus saying that you should love your enemies. That was so contrary to everything I knew in the world that I knew that was not from man but from God. And I read where Jesus said you must be born again. I was taught as a Catholic to stay away from “born-again Christians” but here Jesus preached that you must be born again.
I asked this Christian counselor many questions about the Bible and he was the first person to ever explain to me that Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins, that through his sacrifice I could be saved and forgiven. He asked me, “Have you ever said the sinner’s prayer?” I had never heard of such a thing but said, “No, but if anyone needs to say that prayer it is me.” He explained to me what it was, that it was a prayer for forgiveness and the new birth. So I went into my room and prayed alone, crying out to God to forgive me of my sins through Jesus Christ and make me born again. It was a sincere prayer of intense desire for a new life and I was radically changed that day from the inside out! I had a new heart, a new mind and a new life! I had been cleansed and purged and washed clean from the inside out! I was wonderfully and marvelously born again by the Spirit of God.
Other counselors in the rehab noticed the difference. They were not Christians so they were the first people I ever witnessed to. They said, “Jesse, there is something different about you.” I said, “I’ve been born again.” They said, “We can tell. Don’t take this personally, but when you first arrived here at the rehab there was like a very dark and scary presence about you. We saw your writings and they looked very disturbed. But now, it is like your face and your eyes are glowing!” I said, “Yes, I am a new man. Jesus Christ has changed my life!” They said, “You are not the same man that first came in here.”
I continued the program and then my forty five days were up. I was released from rehab on a “promise to appear” in court. My first day out I went to a church service, to start my new life out right. But I knew it wasn’t be too long before I would be in court again and I was worried about the new larceny charge and the possibility of facing five to ten years in prison.
Eventually that day arrived. It was early in the morning when my mother and I went to the court house. The guards and the public defender were standing by the metal detectors. As my mother and I walked into the building we saw the public defender speaking to the guards. They were laughing and smiling. I thought to myself, “This is a very serious day for me and they are laughing and smiling?” It didn’t seem right.
As I started to empty my pockets to go through the metal detectors my public defender said, “You don’t have to do that.” Assuming that he couldn’t have been speaking to me I continued to empty my pockets. Then the defender gently grabbed my arm and said “You don’t have to do that, you can turn around and go home right now.” I was shocked. What did he mean I could turn around and go home? It was only about three months earlier that my probation officer told me that I would be facing 5-10 years for a possible second felony.
That’s when my mother stepped up and said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I already went and talked to the judge and the prosecutor. They have agreed to drop everything.” I was in disbelief. My mother said, “What about probation?” He said, “No more probation. No more drug tests. No more court dates.” He looked at me and said, “You are a completely free man. Now go and live your life.”
The Lord has answered my prayer and He did much more than that. He saved me from prison in this world and prison in the next. He reached out to me, opened my eyes, convicted my heart, died for my sins, ministered to me the gospel, brought me to repentance, and gave me newness of life. And I have never been the same since.
The change in my life was very drastic and very deep. I joined a local church and the youth group and after studying the Bible at youth group we would all go back to my mother’s house to study the Bible even more. It used to be that I would sit with friends in my house when my mother was away to do drugs and alcohol. Now I was bringing friends home to study the Bible and pray and worship!
One day after youth group I was driving with some friends back to my house for more bible study. My friend Gary was driving and his black car looked suspicious with tinted windows and chrome rims so he was often pulled over. On the way from the church to my house Gary was pulled over.
The Officer asked him, “Where are you going?”
Gary said, “To my friends house for a Bible study.”
The Officer said, “Who is you friend?”
Gary said, “Jesse Morrell.”
The Officer said, “Jesse Morrell is your friend?”
Gary said, “Yes. He’s sitting in the back seat right now.”
The Officer then put his head in the window and looked back at me sitting there with my Bible. He said, “Jesse Morrell!” I said, “Hello” awkwardly. He said, “You don’t know me, but when I was a rookie on the force the first person in town that they briefed me about was you. They said that you were the worse criminal in town. In all my life I have never seen anyone turn their life around like you have. Whatever you are doing, keep it up.” I was able to witness to him and testified, “The Lord has changed my life. I have been born again.”
What About You?
Do you see how I didn’t take my charges seriously until I realized how serious the punishment was? I was continually breaking the law but never received any serious punishment so I didn’t take the law seriously. Maybe you are just like I was except with Gods law. Maybe you’re continually breaking Gods holy law. Maybe you are living in sin and aren’t taking it seriously because nothing to serious has happened yet. God promises that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the Judgment” (Heb. 9:27). You may be living in sin now and are not taking Gods law seriously, but Judgment Day is coming. Remember this and think soberly and seriously about it: you too will have your day in court. Once judgment is passed on that great and terrible day there will be no appeals. You can’t have your charges dropped on that day. You can’t have a fancy lawyer for yourself but rather you yourself will give an account to God. Be sure about it, you will give an account “in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Rom. 2:16).
How do you know if you should be worried about giving God an account? You might be thinking to yourself, “Well that’s fine, I will tell God all the good things I’ve ever done.” God says that even your “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), until you get a new heart with pure motives. When God looks at your life tell me, what is He going to see? Remember that nothing is hidden from His eyes. Every deed done in darkness will be brought to light. Have you any secret sins that you wouldn’t want God to see?
The 10 Commandments will be there on that day. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Have you ever stolen anything? Did you know that Jesus said that if you look at another person to lust then you commit adultery? Have you ever done that? If you have then you’re a lying, blaspheming, stealing, adulterer at heart who is in big trouble when you die and stand before God.
The Bible says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived” (1 Corinthians 6:9). The Apostle says “do not be deceived” because deception on this point is possible. Many who are living unrighteous think they will go to heaven when they die. But as sure as God is good, they will not.
Get honest with yourself and admit that you have “fallen short of the glory of God.” “The wages of sin is death” God warns us. Well what sin? All sin, no matter if it is big or small in our eyes. Is not all sin rebellion against God who deserves our complete obedience to his Kingship? All sin leads to damnation. It does not matter who you are, if you have ever sinned against God then you deserve to go to hell. The punishment for sinning against the King of kings is eternal death – a never ending execution. In hell you will be an ever dying soul in an ever burning flame!
Just like me, you deserve the wrath of God. It doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor or if you’re a politician. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or if you are poor. You deserve hell for your sins. Even your socially descent good works, done for selfish reasons, are sins – sins for which you deserve hell. But let me say this: I don’t care who you are, if you have sinned against God, you could be pardoned of all of it and restored back to God!
Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was born of a virgin and lived a sinless so that He could be the “unspotted Lamb” to “take away the sin of the world.” He provided an atonement to substitute our damnation. He suffered on the cross so that you don’t have to suffer in hell. Every bit of wrath that you’re sinning stored up for yourself, through Christ, can be remitted by God’s grace and mercy. It was prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruise for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Get honest and admit that “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Through Christ God offers you a full pardon for your crimes. If you will turn from your sins and turn to Christ, God will turn away from His wrath and anger that He has against you for your sinning. If you have never turned away and forsaken your sins before then you need to do that right now. Tomorrow is not promised but Judgment Day is, so get right with God today. Jesus said that you need to be “born again” in order to see the Kingdom of God. If you turn away from your rebellion against God and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior, God will grant you the free gift of everlasting life by His grace and mercy. The greatest gift you could ever receive is eternal life and the greatest gift you could ever reject is the mercy of God. Don’t be foolish with your soul. It is the most valuable thing that you possess – so valuable that Christ paid the price of His own preciously blood to redeem it from eternal damnation.
The best thing that ever happened to me was when my life was the worst and I hit rock bottom, as I then sought the Lord. How long does sin have to ruin your life and bring your soul closer and closer to damnation before you will open your eyes and turn to the Lord?
If Jesus Christ can cleanse me, surely He can cleanse anyone who cries out to Him! If you have sins in your life today, repent and cry out to God for cleansing! Christ gave His life for you, now you ought to give your life to Him.
Guilty as Charged
The guilt of sin had seized my conscience,
My defense was gone, I had no reliance.
But it’s when you’re stripped that the Lord can clothe,
With the blood of Christ, the Messiah foretold.
This covering for sin is offered to you.
The judgment is coming so what will you do?
Flee to Christ and find His protection,
Be transformed by His Spirit, moving on to perfection.
Since the Lord can save me
He can surely save you.
Although many are called
The chosen are few.
 I later read that Daniel Webster thought the same thing. He said, “The sermon on the mount cannot be merely a human production. – This belief enters into the very depth of my conscience. – The whole history of man proves it.” The New Dictionary of Thoughts, 1971, P. 241
This testimony is Chapter One in my book, “Cleansing the Temple: A Call to Radical Christianity.”
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Jesse & Krista Morrell
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