Our hillbilly family lived in the mountains of Tennessee. My father was an alcoholic and he abused my mother, me, and the other children in the family. We had very few possessions. I was always barefoot, and wore ragged clothes. When I was seven years old I usually had to walk home from school through the mountains, and at one point go through a woman’s yard.
One day the woman came out, and said she had something for me. As she led me round the corner of the house, I saw a snow-white lamb that was to be mine. This little lamb became much more than a pet. It was almost my life. He would follow me, and we would play together. He would often come to the school bus stop, and wait for me to come home in the evening.
This particular evening I got off the bus, and my lamb was not there. I ran home. As I came to the house, dad was working outside on his car changing a flat tyre, cursing. This meant he was drunk as usual. Walking up behind him, I tried to be as quiet as possible, so I could slip into the house without him hearing me. When I walked around by the car, I saw my little lamb laying on the ground beside him, now red with blood. My dad had killed it with a tyre tool in a drunken range. All it had wanted to do was play with him.
The hate and confusion welled up in me. I covered my ears with my hands and screamed at the top of my voice, ‘He’s killed my lamb!’ At that moment, with the sight of that blood red coat still before my eyes, hatred for any kind of authority was born in me.
I managed to exist, but only just, until I was 12 years old. Then I ran away, working where I could. I washed dishes, worked in road joints, or worked at whatever was available. I was constantly running from the law. They tried to take me to juvenile detention centres because I was so young, and I hated them. I would sleep in bushes and old buildings. But one night, I crawled under a big rose bush at the side of the road. It was pouring with rain, and I was shivering and hungry. The black county police cruisers were up and down the road, shining their spotlights looking for me. About a hundred yards away was a little church. I had never been in a church, or introduced to Jesus. All I knew was cussing and hatred. As I lay there I could see the lights shining and hear singing, ‘Lord I’m coming home’ and ‘Amazing Grace how sweet the sound’. I can remember thinking how I wished I was in the church, instead of out in the cold and wet. But I knew it was no good. I would be arrested again. Different people had tried to keep me, including my grandparents, but nobody could do anything with me because of the hatred in my life.
At 15, thinking I was a man, I stole my father’s car. I had no driving licence, of course. I invited a group of similar minded young men along. I drove towards the mountains, racing and driving on the wrong side of the four-lane highway. I crossed the double yellow lines, playing chicken, racing, cursing, and listening to rock music. Some of us were drinking or taking dope, or both. I remember rounding a curve with no time to stop, or swerve, from the oncoming car. At almost 100 miles an hour, there was a blinding head on collision. I remember waking, lying in the middle of Chapman Highway. I looked around me, and on each side I could see bodies, and hear groans, cries and screams. I was drenched in blood that was pouring from my head. I could see the automobiles torn to pieces, yet the radio still blasting. I can still hear those tunes in my head. The Tennessee State Highway Patrolman came over, looked down into my face, and said, ‘Son, I’m charging you with manslaughter’.
The following months were like a nightmare. I went through the courts, hearing the screams of family members, and the friends of those killed, maimed, or brain damaged for life. Within me I knew I was at fault, and that caused the demon of hate to grow even stronger. I screamed at the judge as he sentenced me. I told him I hated him, and cursed to such an extent they had to put me in chains to take me down. I wanted to injure my head against the wall. Who could have made a world like this? Who could make people this way? They sent me to the Correctional Institution (Reform School) in Nashville.
For some reason, I was discharged when I was 17, but was told to clear out of the County. I went up to North Carolina and got married. Elaine, my wife, was only 15, and very quickly we had two babies. My lifestyle had not prepared me for work, and though I lied about my age to get jobs, robbery became part of my life. Elaine got involved in robbery with me, and would often be the car diver – a bit like Bonny and Clyde. My whole life was dominated by hatred and violence. I was almost as if, when I was beaten, shot or cut, I really wanted to die, but was not brave enough to take my own life. I would walk into bars and pick a fight with the biggest guy there, and often lose!
When I look back at all the things my wife Elaine, and my children, had to go through at that time, I find it incredible. They were afraid of me! I had many of the same attributes as my father. My wife separated from me, and took the two children. She was suicidal herself.
At one point we were living in Atlanta, Georgia during the sixties. It was a rough time. I rode with the biker clubs, and I would be gone for weeks at a time. Elaine would have no groceries, and was in a terribly bad shape. I was so high on drugs that, although only in my early twenties, my hair was beginning to fall out. My whole body was in a real mess through taking so many different drugs. Not only was I high on drugs, but I would drink anything, often pure grain alcohol, until I was almost insane through the abuse done to my body and mind. Often I would have no idea where I was. I was about as low as it is possible to get.
Twice Elaine filed divorce papers. Her family were helping her because she would never know where I was, or whether I was alive or dead. At one point she became so depressed that she even considered taking not only her own life, but also the life of the children. At one point she took a pistol out of the drawer, and was preparing to do commit suicide. All the powers of Hell were telling her to kill the babies, and then herself. It was the only way out. But, as she was trying to summon the courage to kill the children, across the screen of our old TV, with a coat hangar for an aerial, a man called Bev Shea started singing, ‘How Great Thou Art’. Then up stepped Dr. Billy Graham and began to preach. ‘But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.’ According to Elaine, so much power came though those words that she put the gun away, took the children, and went back to her parents’ home. It was almost a year before we saw each other again.
Meanwhile I was doing everything I could to kill myself. There were many times when I came within an inch of death. I was in at least a dozen automobile accidents at over 100 mph, dunk, high on drugs, and often barely able to remember afterwards. I have been shot, knifed, and many times should have died from overdoses.
Then I became really desperate. There were a series of killings, (known as the Atlanta mass slayings), and I was accused of these. I escaped from the courthouse, and borrowed money to ring Elaine at her parents’ house. Not knowing if she would be there, I was very relieved when she answered the phone. I explained the trouble I was in over the killings, and that I did not know what to do. Convinced I was losing my mind, because I could not think straight from one day to the next, I begged her to let me come back to her. I promised I would find a job, and quit the drugs. She said, ‘Come home.’
We had to hide out in a little house in the mountains, and every day the police came looking for me. I would hide, keeping away from the area until they had gone. This went on for some time. Finally a man confessed to the murders and I was freed from the charges. I got a job driving an 18-wheeler truck all across the country, full of liquor and dope all the time, despite all my intentions to stop them.
One day I decided to take my little son, Ronnie Paul, to a little market at Pigeon Ford. As I started to go through the door another man was coming out. He would not back off, and neither would I. Hatred and violence rose up in me, and I hit his head right into the doorway. He fell into a stacked up case of bottles, and they burst all over the store. People were screaming and running. He picked up a broken bottle and came towards me, swinging the broken bottle near my face. As I lifted my left arm to try and stop the blow, he severed all the tendons and the artery in my upper arm. In a fit of rage, I hit him again, and kicked at him. This time, with that bottle, he severed the heel tendon and the arteries in my leg. In minutes the blood was pumping out of my body like out of a water hole. Every time my heart beat the blood would squirt out, and I quickly became faint.
The manager who ran the market told me that unless I got to hospital quickly I was a dead man. He positioned me in the passenger side of my car, while he drove the car. My young son, watching it all, was screaming hysterically. The floor of the passenger side was awash with my blood, and my feet were immersed in it. I was transferred into an ambulance.
Someone had contacted Elaine, and she climbed into the ambulance with me. As we set off the paramedic, aged about 21 or 22, looked into my face and said, ‘Sir, do you know Jesus Christ?’ I cursed him and God, with all the strength left in my body. ‘There is no God. Who is this Jesus you are talking about? Look at me. Do you think there is a God?’ The young man just looked at me and said, ‘He loves you. Jesus will help you. Call on Him.’ Something inside me caused me to cry out, ‘God, if you’re God, come and try me on for size.’ Then something else in me would cry, ‘God, if you really exist, help me. I cannot help myself. Help me please.’ The young man continued saying, ‘Jesus died for you, and He gave His life for you.’ And all the time I listened, I could hear my wife sobbing.
Smoke filled the ambulance. I could not breathe. I could see. I thought the ambulance was on fire! ‘What is wrong,’ I called out, ‘I cannot see.’ Then through the smoke I started hearing different voices.
‘Razor, Razor Reagan. Ronnie! Turn around. Don’t come here. Go back. Stop now. Don’t come here!’ As I kept hearing these voices, the smoke opened up. I could see what looked like the old quarry pit that we used to swim in when I was a child. In fact it looked exactly like it on the night we poured gasoline on the water, and set it on fire. It was burning and blazing, and I was getting nearer and nearer to that pit. I could see people in there, and they were burning. Their arms, their faces, and their bodies were blazing. The fire was not going out. And they were screaming my name! Closer and closer I went, until I could see the individuals, and I could not understand what I was seeing.
There were two standing closely together. I saw they were Billy and Freddy, two brothers that I grew up with, and they were burning and screaming. ‘What are you doing here?’ I yelled, ‘you died on the highway in a 1957 Chevrolet, drunk, when you hit the wall doing 100 mph. What are you doing here?’ They said, ‘Don’t come here, there’s no way out. It’s horrible. Don’t come here!’
I looked to the side. ‘Oh, no. Charles! Charles, what are you doing here. Last time I saw you, you were in Pigeon River. When you went into the river we couldn’t get you out! We saw your face looking up through the water, but we couldn’t get your out!’ ‘Go back,’ he said, ‘don’t come here’.
I looked and could see flower children standing against the wall, just like I had seen them in the sixties, dazed. Flower children so blown away, during the Age of Aquarius! And I saw many that had overdosed and died. Then I saw my friend, Richard. ‘Oh Richard, I can’t help you. When we robbed the liquor store in Atlanta, you didn’t know what you were doing. You had an old pistol that didn’t have any bullets in it and you didn’t even ask for the money. You told the man that ran the cash register to give you a bottle of Muscatel wine. Oh, Richard. And when you walked out of the door, you forgot where you were and what you were doing. But the man didn’t know the gun was not loaded. He reached under the counter, pulled out a 357, fired point blank, and blew your heart out of your chest. You fell against a parking metre, and slipped down in the broken glass with the wine and the blood spilling over you. The last thing you said was, ‘Oh, God.’ Richard cried out, ‘Don’t come here. You can’t help.’
I cannot convey the horror and terror of what I saw and heard. All I knew was I did not understand it. Suddenly everything went black and I woke up. Forty-eight hours later I came round in the hospital. My wife was sitting beside me. I had hundreds of stitches in my body. But I was not interested in my stitches, because I remembered what I had seen. I could not forget!
In the following weeks there was no light turned off in my house at night, because I could not bear to be in darkness. Every time I turned a corner I was afraid I would see it all again. I had never been afraid of anything in my life. Now I knew that I wanted to die, but had not the courage to do it. Week in and week out I tried to get stoned. I tried the booze and the dope, but they did not help.
One night I came home at 3 o’clock in the morning. I walked into the bedroom. The three children were asleep, but there was a light in the bedroom. My wife was sitting up in the middle of the bed, with a big family Bible open. Her face was shining brighter than the light on the ceiling. She did not have to say anything. I knew something was different. She said, ‘Honey, tonight I went to a little church with Aunt Mary, and Jesus Christ saved me and came into my heart.’
‘I know there is something different’, I told her. The next day she asked if I would go to church with her, and I said I would. Now I had no idea what to do. I did not know if you had to knock on the door. I did not know the pew from the pulpit, but I went. We sat down at the back, and all the people were singing, smiling, and laughing. And they were so friendly! All my life I had not trusted anybody. But, here, something was different.
The next week I went back, and the man preached as if he knew everything about me. He stood up, looked at me and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.’ And I listened because he hit a note. He was talking about my lamb. ‘How he knows, ‘ I screamed within me. ‘How dare he talk about my lamb?’ As I raged inside, the preacher said, ‘God Himself will provide a lamb. That Lamb is Jesus Christ.’ I began to weep. ‘O God, Jesus – my Lamb?’ ‘He bled for you,’ said the man, ‘He shed His blood for you, no matter what you have done, and no matter how bad you have been. God gave His only son, His Lamb, for you.’
By now the tears were flowing hard. I did not want anybody to see me cry. What on Earth would they think? I looked for the door, and it seemed a hundred miles away. Finally the minister said, ‘Come to Jesus and live. Old things can pass away, and all things can be made new.’ I stood to my feet and started walking down the aisle towards the front, something pulling and drawing me. My heart was beating very fast, and before I ever reached the front, God saved me. Now I did not know how to pray. I did not know fancy words. I prayed, ‘God, hear me or kill me! Jesus, if you’re really real, help me because I cannot help myself.’ At that point it was as if something burst inside me, and twenty-five years of hatred left me. The blackness went. I was clean! I was forgiven!
That was 2nd November 1972, at a quarter to midnight. I was twenty-five years old and Jesus has been real every day since. From an 8th grader in an Elementary school in the Smoky Mountains, God has taken me around the world to share my story, and preach the gospel. When I was in my thirties I told the Devil that I was going to take back everything he had stolen from me. I learned about that in the Word of God. I went back to school, finished High School, went to college, and earned my BA degree. Then, just to spite the Devil, I went back and earned my Masters degree. I want to tell you, Jesus Christ is real!
Ronald Reagan of the USA relates his experiences of Hell on the free movie THE FINAL FRONTIER which is viewable on this web site.