With humility etched in his face, the former Mormon prisoner bore the feelings of his transformed soul.
"I will be eternally grateful for the day I was indicted. I wouldn't have learned the lessons I learned any other way," he said.
It's been more than a year since George, who asked that his real name not be used, was released after serving eight months in a Colorado federal prison. He was sent there in 2008 for his part in an illegal property flipping scheme that resulted in inflated property tax valuations and multiple foreclosures in Utah County.
The devoted LDS member and returned missionary was disfellowshipped. He and his family experienced painful times.
Through it all, George identified a silver lining: "Through the Savior we can overcome all things." He gained a great appreciation of the gospel and the Atonement of the Savior.
"There are consequences to our actions. I can promise we will all make mistakes. But if our heart is right and we keep trying, there will come a time when he will help us overcome," George said.
In his last letter home before being released, the changed man wrote to family and friends: "Prior to coming to prison, my stake president gave me a blessing. I was promised that I will look back and see this time as a blessing. I am grateful for this experience. I am grateful for repentance. I am a better father, grandfather, son and husband. For this experience I will be eternally grateful!"
A bad deal
George didn't want to dwell too much on the cause of his confinement. Prior to his criminal trouble, he was the branch manager at a local credit union and served in his ward's Young Men presidency. His wife had a good job and the kids were busy. Life was good.
Then he got involved with some businessmen "doing mortgages." Then one day he and others were under investigation for running a mortgage fraud scheme. Apparently properties were being purchased using false statements on loan applications and using false appraisals to inflate the market values of the properties.
It was a dark and frustrating time for George.
"I don't question why anymore. Would I have liked to learn (these lessons) a different way? Probably," he said.
Despite facing up to a year in prison and other stressful circumstances, George concentrated on having a positive attitude and improving his relationship with the Lord. He hoped he could somehow be a friend and blessing to other inmates.
Real-life Liberty Jail
Shortly after he arrived at the federal facility, George received a book in the mail from a neighbor back home. It was intended as a thoughtful gesture. The friend, however, had unknowingly sent a book whose author was the same judge who had sentenced George. He chuckles now, but at the time it was a bad joke.
Reading the scriptures, church publications and other uplifting material was how George spent most of his time in the slammer. He shared his 8-by-10-foot cell with three other men.
When he wasn't reading, he wrote long letters home to his family and friends, telling of his experiences and sharing gospel-centered lessons. When permitted, he exercised. Eventually, he was assigned a job as a tutor to help other inmates earn their GED certification.
While dealing with a serious health condition that required a kidney transplant, George endured. He befriended other LDS inmates and welcomed opportunities to share his beliefs.
"You stick out because you don't swear or look at porn," he said.
While his study of the gospel provided hope and strengthened his testimony, his heart ached for his wife, who was struggling to hold things together back home.
"Reading some of the letters I wrote home, I gained a lot of insight about myself. I could do nothing to help my family. It was like they were in prison, too," George said. "I learned to trust the Lord. I felt the spirit in that dark and dreary place as much as any place in my life. The Lord sent people to help my family."
On Jan. 7 of this year, George was moved to a halfway house to begin his transition back to civilian life.
In his final letter home, he expressed gratitude for the things he learned during his incarceration. Seek the spirit, family is everything, wear the armor of God at all times, prayers are answered and the power of the Lord's atonement were among the lessons he shared with his family. He also expressed his deep love for his stalwart wife.
"I imagined that being in prison is like not making the celestial kingdom while the rest of your family does. You get to see them and hear them from a distance, but you can't join them," he said.
That scary thought was one force that kept him going.
George's church membership was restored on July 11. His shaking hands could barely find a piece of bread from the sacrament tray through his tears.
"It was an amazing feeling to partake knowing that you have truly been forgiven and that the Atonement works for me personally," George said.
Following his kidney transplant, the former prisoner walked hand-in-hand with his sweetheart into an LDS temple in September, the first time since his ordeal.
"It was special," George said. "An amazing feeling."
In collaboration with Welfare Services at church headquarters, LDS Family Services is responsible for materials and professional resources to assist those in correctional institutions and their families. For assistance, contact LDS Correctional Services at 800-453-3860, ext. 2-2644, or [email protected]
Priesthood leaders can also find information at LDS.org, clicking on "Serving in the Church," and choosing Melchizedek Priesthood. Select "Support for Those in Correctional Facilities" on the right side of the page. Additionally, information on the Correctional Services helpline is available in the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1.
Excerpts from LDS prisoners' letters at Arizona prison
"Like King David, all of us in prison started down our paths to destruction from simply not being where we were supposed to be, then giving ourselves permission to stay a little longer, gazing at Bathsheba. (Name withheld)
"The spirit is really strong in our meetings. I think the reason is because we are all in dire need of the atonement and the feelings of the spirit." (Name withheld)
"The guilt at times is overbearing, very heavy, like the statue of Atlas with the burden of the world on his back. Through many hours of conversation with Heavenly Father, I have admitted all, but still, at times, feel terrible. It is easier to be forgiven and forgive others than it is to forgive myself. … I know that only through the gospel will I achieve happiness and true joy." (Name withheld)