Hi! My name is Anthony Vaughan #308-236 (Tony to my friends) and I am serving a life sentence for murder in the Ohio prison system. I came to prison in 1995 at the age of 22, and as of this writing, I am 45 years old. I’ve been locked up for nearly 24 years now, which is longer than I spent on the streets. I’ve wasted almost my entire adult life behind bars, and I have seen or heard nearly everything you can imagine in this place. I am ashamed to admit that I’ve even participated in some of it.
From the very beginning of my bit, I was an angry young man. I fought with the corrections staff; I fought with other inmates; I even fought with myself. I got into all kinds of trouble, but somehow I managed to avoid most of the more serious consequences of my actions.
Most of the time, anyway.
By 2014, I was pretty much what you might call a “hardened criminal.” At the Level 3 facility that I was in from 1999 until late 2012, I had slowly metamorphosed from an unfocused and disorganized troublemaker into a careful and methodical habitual offender. I had learned the hard way that I don’t enjoy the various punishments and sanctions that the DoC has to offer, so I worked hard to avoid getting caught. At the risk of bragging, I can honestly say that I got fairly good at it. From 1998 until the fall of 2014, I didn’t receive a single writeup for misconduct. That’s a pretty good run!
By that time, I had moved on from the moderately successful theft ring that I helped start in the kitchen, and was making a name for myself as a capable drug dealer. I and my partner were becoming big fish in that small pond, by being the most reliable source for narcotics. Other people had their contacts and methods, of course, but they were spotty at best. By contrast, we had developed a system which proved effective to maintain a steady flow no matter what the administration did to try and stem the tide. We were good at it, and we were proud of our prowess.
Unfortunately, sometimes living that lifestyle demands a judicious application of violence to discourage external competition or internal perfidy. At one point, a customer owed us a thousand dollars that he decided not to pay, and I began planning a course of action that would make a very dramatic example of him, as a message to others. The fact that this course of action would also result in another capital case for me only added to the attraction. I knew that, no matter where I went in the system, people would be telling the story in hushed whispers. I would be “penitentiary famous.”
As you can probably surmise, it didn’t quite happen that way. Being a consummate multitasker, I was also engaging in a scheme to intimidate an eyewitness into recanting his testimony in an unrelated murder case. The FBI got involved, and they came into SCC Lancaster to arrest three of us for Conspiracy. We were whisked away to Pennsylvania for Federal trial before I could implement my plan.
As it turns out, that was absolutely the very best thing that could have ever happened to me.
While in Perry County Prison, a Federal holding facility near Hillsboro, Pennsylvania, I gave in to boredom and went to a Christian group study called “The Resolution for Men.” I was not remotely interested in hearing a bunch of preaching and Bible talk; I only went because it was held in the library, and I needed a book to read. In fact, I had reached the conclusion long before that God either wasn’t real, or He wasn’t paying attention. Either way, I didn’t need Him and I didn’t want Him anywhere near me.
God has plans for us, though, that disregard our petty little plans for ourselves. He chose that meeting, at that inopportune time and in that unlikely place, to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that it was time to turn my steps toward Him. I had such a dramatic and life-altering experience in that little room, I can scarcely believe the walls could contain it. At the same time, it was so intimate and so subtle that no one else even noticed anything was amiss. The Lord certainly moves in mysterious ways.
After that, I will never be the same. And that is a very good thing!
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