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Bitterness Behind Bars

Bitterness Behind Bars

by Joe Paduano

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” -Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)

My home life looked normal from the outside…

…but it was far from it. 

See, my father was a bitter man and didn’t know how to love others. I still loved him for being my father though, even through all the abuse my mother and I endured from him. He was a Vietnam veteran and had some major mental health issues. 

All through my childhood, I went to church and all kinds of Bible studies. I almost went to a Bible college after high school, but went into the military instead, just so I could get away from home.  When I came home after my service, I decided to become a firefighter and paramedic. I had a career and eventually got married as well. Things were going well for me. 

Then one day, I got a call to go to my parents’ house and found out that my father had committed suicide. 

My life went into a spiral that day. 

I wound up getting a divorce and losing the career that I loved. A while later I married someone else, but the relationship was toxic. Ultimately, through some lies and deceit, I wound up in prison. I was angry and bitter. I had tried to hold my family together, and I had failed. I hated everyone around me and even thought about joining a hate group.

But even through my bitterness, God was working. 

He had a different plan for me. 

While I was in prison, He brought me back to my church roots. God put a Christian brother that I had gone to high school with back into my life. He talked me into going on a weekend Christian retreat, hosted inside the prison, called Kairos. The Karios retreat is built around two questions: 

“Who am I, and how do I build a relationship with God?” 

That weekend brought me back to the basics of what God wanted with my life. It also began a journey through which God turned my bitterness into something better. 

I have been able to forgive the people from my past, including myself. I’m also making the most of my time in prison—I’m singing in the choir, and I’m becoming the Christian leader that God always intended for me to be. Through God’s grace, I am able to identify others who are hurting like I was, and share Christian love with them.

I used to be lost, but now I know what God wants with my life. God protected me through the waters. He took care of me through the flames.  My time here behind these prison walls was not, and is not fruitless. I pray each day that God continues to reveal to me what He wants me to do. 

Psalm 91:1 reminds us that “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest under the shadow of the Almighty.” God continues to provide for me and protect me while I’m in prison. He brought me through the bitterness and is helping me live into His plan for my life.

“The [Israelites] got to Marah, but they couldn’t drink the water at Marah; it was bitter.… And the people complained to Moses, ‘So what are we supposed to drink?’ So Moses cried out in prayer to God. God pointed him to a stick of wood. Moses threw it into the water and the water turned sweet.” -Exodus 15:24-25 (MSG)

“If my people would only listen to me, if Israel would only follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! …you would be fed with the finest of wheat, with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” -Psalm 81:13-14, 16 (NIV)

Additional Resources

WATCH: Bitter Waters
WATCH: Bitterness
READ: The Bitter Beginning

Categories: Relationships  Self  

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Written by

Joe Paduano

Published September 1, 2022

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