My name is Caleb Stern. I would like to briefly explain where I came from. My family life growing up was very unstable to say the least. There was a lot of drug and alcohol use and violence. I was exposed to this for as long as I can remember. It was nothing out of the ordinary, for I thought this was how people lived. It was what I was taught to be acceptable behavior. I was not exposed to faith or religion. It was just not a part of my family’s routine. I do not blame my parents. God knows they struggled with their own demons. At the age of 13 I was using marijuana regularly and catching my first criminal charges. In my family it was as if to become a man meant to get locked up and do your time like a “man”. I thought that in order to make my father proud I would have to follow in his footsteps. In my hometown the Sterns have a notorious reputation for being “outlaws” and “druggies”. By the age of 19 I was using crack cocaine and heroin regularly. All the stuff I had seen growing up (a lot of which I am leaving out) had me angry with everyone. I blamed God. Why would he let me or anyone go through what I had went through? I spent a lot of time looking for love. The love I felt robbed of. I found it in the streets. Over the next couple of years I would find myself in and out of jail. I just could not stay out of trouble. Again I thought this is what real men do. By the age of 25 I was in York county prison 9 times. I moved out of York believing that if I could escape the area, I would escape my past. I continued to use drugs and alcohol and ended up homeless on the streets of Harrisburg. Cold and hungry with no money I eventually found my way around the city and met other homeless people who showed me and my girlfriend at the time where we could catch a hot meal. This happened to be the turning point in my life although it would take me two years to realize it. In a parking lot on 2nd street in downtown Harrisburg there was this feeding line that was a big hit in the homeless community. They only came two nights a week, and almost the entire homeless community was there. These people were bringing GOOD home cooked meals and serving them to all who wanted or needed fed. My first night showing up I was drunk which at this point was the norm for me. There was a brief altercation and I ended up punching another homeless man to the ground and kicking his face. I was still raging mad at the world. Before I knew it I was in the air and on my back. Dazed with the wind knocked out of me I looked up to see this man telling me he was calling the police and that I had better clear out before they got there. Needless to say I ran. I found myself under a bridge with another homeless man who had claimed that bridge as his home for quite a few years. I thought that I wouldn’t have to see those feeding people again. Little did I know they also knew this man under the bridge and would come down to that spot and feed him and whoever else was down there after their 2nd street stop. I was drunk still and started apologizing and crying and making a blubbering fool of myself, yet these people did not judge me. They accepted the fact that I was lost confused and sick. They asked if I wanted to eat and I did. They made a plate and told me I was still welcome at their feedings. From that point on I was at 2nd street every time they fed. The food was great! But they did this thing I was not comfortable with. They prayed before every meal was served. I of course stayed outside the circle and scoffed. These people were nuts and I was not joining their little cult! The more I came, the closer I got to the family. The kids especially. I loved those little guys! They accepted me for who I was! We would talk and laugh and for those brief periods of time on the cold streets of Harrisburg they made me feel like I was a part of something. One day they extended an invitation to church. I agreed to go only because word on the street was they usually took every body for pizza afterward. At this point I believe I may have known these people for a month. They knew I DID NOT and WILL NOT believe in God. That was that. But somehow something I heard that day got me thinking. I approached the man who was doing all the talking on that stage after he was done and told him I didn’t believe the stuff he was saying but I was opening up to the idea. Eventually the Ocasio family invited me and my girlfriend to their house for Christmas dinner. We went of course. FREE FOOD! That day I saw a love I will never forget. I seen a family as a real family is. These guys by no means had everything a family could have. But they sure acted like it. There was a warmth in that house I had never experienced before. There was more going on here than I could understand at the time. I left that house that day knowing for the first time in my life what unconditional love was. I will NEVER forget that feeling I had there. From that day on I started asking questions.
Does God forgive everyone? Can I be forgiven even with all of my tattoos and piercings? I started going to church more often with them. I even started joining the prayer circles! Not only that, I started asking for prayers on other peoples behalf. But this was far from the happy ending that I would love to say happened. It just didn’t. I eventually got out of Harrisburg and in so doing lost contact with the Ocasios. Things didn’t work out with the girl I was with at the time and we went our separate ways. I was still using heroin and drinking daily. I was taking anything else I could to not feel like me. I had a big void I was trying to fill with women, drugs, and alcohol. I knew there was something missing, I just didn’t know what it was at the time. My addiction eventually lead to me being charged with attempted homicide, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, and a slew of other charges. When I was arrested the severity of the charges had not sunk in until the judge read my bail to me. $500,000! A half million dollar bail. I only ever see stuff like that on the news and movies! This was it. I knew I had to do something. With little hope and nowhere to turn, I thought back to that family and the love I felt in their home. I wrote a request to see the chaplain in the prison. Chaplain Dave and I said a prayer together and he told me I must first develop a relationship with Jesus Christ and I needed to start doing that by reading the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I went back to my cell and just ate the gospel up. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted, needed to know more. It is hard to develop Christian values and beliefs in jail. The devil is everywhere thriving in others. Chaplin Dave warned me about it, and told me my only defense was prayer and God. One morning I was woke up for mail call. I never get mail! I looked at the return address and it was the Ocasio family! They had sent me a card and each member of the family wrote their own greeting. But the one that stays with me to this day is what Angel wrote. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Kind of a fitting name for a person who was clearly doing God’s work. I cried, and cried. Then I prayed. And I felt a warmness that I have felt only once before in my life. I again thought back to that Christmas day with the Ocasio family. And I knew what that warmness was. It was God. This family had God. After five months in that jail I got the attempted homicide dropped and in return my bail drastically dropped. I was bailed out Christmas Eve of 2012. I did however relapse and went back to heroin. I struggled with it for a year and found myself homeless again. When I found I had no hope left. It was either life or death. I chose life. I prayed and prayed and begged for forgiveness. The next day my father came from two hours away to get me. He had enough of me killing myself and told me I was coming with him. I went to the mountains around lock haven and detoxed off of heroin and went to crossroads church up there. I came back from the service that I attended and called a man who is now my sponsor in AA. He got me set up in a recovery house in York PA. I have a relationship with Christ today. I have peace of mind today. I am completely comfortable being who I am. And I am not proud of who I was or where I came from. But I am very proud of the man I am becoming. November 27th 2013 is my sobriety date. As I’m writing this I am a few days shy of celebrating 60 days clean which is a huge thing for me. Had it not been for the Ocasio family and everyone involved with the Isaiah 61 Ministries I would not have had that seed of Christ planted in me. I thank God every day for placing those people in my life. Christ was my salvation, but the ministry was the catalyst. If there is anyone reading this who is without hope, please know that through Christ hope has come. By the grace of God you will find peace. And only through Christ will you find salvation. My name is Caleb Stern. It is my God given name. And I can honestly say that I am finally proud to be Caleb. Thank you for taking time to read this. God bless each and every one of you.