In Maximum Security Prison Yet Free in Christ

  • Home
  •  / 
  • Articles
  •  / 
  • In Maximum Security Prison Yet Free in Christ


Joseph Bergamini

As I write this, I am in a prison cell.  I write this for the glory of God, for it is He alone that is worthy.  I write this with a heavy heart for Catholics.  There are many Catholics in this prison.  Many of my friends are Catholic.  I write this to sincere Catholics to show that Catholicism cannot save you.  Only Jesus alone can save a sinner from his sins.  I write this to Catholics to show that God is faithful and that by His grace He can save the worst of sinners, even those such as me.

I can remember being excited as I was about to receive the “body and blood of Christ” for the very first time.  I was seven years old and was about to receive my first “holy” communion.  I attended religious instructions for about one year, which was taught by a very sweet old nun.  After six months of practicing the ceremony, I was about to receive my first communion.  My parents had me dressed in a new suit and carrying a new black Bible.  I had shiny rosary beads to match my shiny new shoes.  This was a very special occasion.  I was told that the Holy Communion was very important and that I would be receiving Jesus into my body when I digested the Eucharist.  I would be receiving Jesus’ literal body and blood!

My First Communion

As I walked down the center aisle towards the altar, my heart was beating fast.  The priest was adorned in ornate robes.  “The body of Christ,” said the priest.  “Amen,” I replied.  The priest placed the Eucharist on my tongue.  An altar boy standing on the side held a golden plate attached to a rod.  This plate was positioned under my chin.  This was in case the Eucharist fell out of my mouth; the plate would catch the Eucharist before it would fall to the floor.  After receiving the Eucharist, I closed my eyes and waited for something to happen.  I did not feel any different after receiving the body of Christ.  I did not even like the taste of the Eucharist—it tasted like cardboard.  I had waited a year to partake of the sacrament and nothing happened.  I thought that something was wrong with me.  I was expecting some magical, life transformation to transpire.  I remember feeling guilty for not feeling different.  My family made a big fuss over this and there was nothing to it.  Maybe I was bad or maybe I did not do something right.  Even after that first communion, I still hoped for a “miracle” to happen every time that I received another communion.  I thought that there was some special “power” in the Eucharist.  That is because the Catholic Church taught me to believe this as a child.

My First Penance

When I was in the third grade, I made my first penance.  I was very nervous the first time.  Over the years, it seemed that the priests always set the same penance; say some “Hail Marys” and an “Act of Contrition.”  This would assure me that my sins were forgiven.  The priest had power to forgive my sins and to set my penance.  These were a few of my early experiences growing up Catholic.

Truth over Fiction

By the time that I was thirteen, I had many questions about God and the Church.  It was at that time that I made my confirmation.  I really wanted to learn about my faith.  I also asked many questions about the pope and Mary.  They seemed to be the most prominent aspects of Catholicism.  Every garden in my neighborhood had a statue of Mary in it.  This was to assure a healthy garden.  Pope John Paul II was the new pope at this time; he was seen on many television stations, and written about in many magazines.

I began reading the gospels and I did not see much about Mary and found nothing about the pope.  I inquired about this and the priests told me that Mary was the mother of God and that she hears our prayers.  The priests also told me that the pope was the head of the Church.  The gospels emphasized Jesus Christ, yet my Catholic upbringing emphasized Mary and the pope.

Teenage Years

In my teenage years, I began to use drugs and got heavily involved in rock ‘n’ roll music.  Occasionally, I would go to confession and attend the Mass.  My Irish/Italian heritage was steeped in Catholicism, so, although I did not attend church much, the Catholic influence still had an impact on my life.

At the age of eighteen, I had my first experience with Christ Jesus the Lord.  Prior to that I knew about Him, but after this experience, I knew His real presence.  I had been using many drugs, and I was in very bad shape.  I, nonetheless, cried out to the Lord as I was sitting on that cold basement floor crying, and then something happened.  It was the first time that I actually felt the peace and love of God.  This was a profound experience in my life and a real turning point.  I knew Christ Jesus in some real way, not through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, but by direct contact whereby He had graciously reached down to me.  I immediately stopped using drugs and I stopped looking at pornography.  However, I did not surrender my life completely to Jesus.  There was still sin in my life with which I did not fully repent.  I did not deal with my Catholicism because I did not know the Word of God in the Scriptures.  However, I began to see clearly.  This I will explain as we go along.  I am thankful for that experience on that basement floor because it was the first major experience in my life where God revealed to me that He was real and that He loved me.  This He did, not with any rites or sacraments, but directly.  This he did on that basement floor, not in a church building.

Early Adult and Tragedy

When I was twenty-three, a severe tragedy occurred in my life.  Words cannot adequately describe the severity of this incident.  While under the influence of drugs and alcohol, I took the life of my beloved mother!  This was the most horrible thing that could ever happen.  Only God knows the pain and devastation that I inflicted on my family and loved ones.  I was taken to a criminal hospital.  The grace of God kept my mind from snapping completely.  God also kept me away from any tranquilizers.  My mother was my best friend.  She was the first person to tell me about God.  She had wanted me to become a priest after I told her about my experience on the basement floor.

After this incident, I still sought solace in the Catholic Church.  After all, this was the only “church” I knew.  A few priests, deacons, and nuns helped me a great deal at this time.  However, they could not offer me the spiritual help that I really needed.  I needed the “sincere milk” of the Word of God.[1]

While in the county jail, I met a Christian who worked with prisoners.  God used this man mightily to reach me with the true gospel.  This Christian man very patiently began to show me verses in the Bible that were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.  He pointed out what Jesus said to the Pharisees in calling anyone on earth “Father.”[2]  Every Catholic priest is called “Father.”  This man showed me from the Scriptures that Jesus was the only Mediator.[3]  Yet, the Catholic Catechism states that Mary and all the saints can mediate for us before a Holy God.  Although I saw this clearly in the Bible, I still attended Catholic services.  My parents and grandparents were all Catholic.  I thought that being Catholic was a family thing.  I agreed that the Catholic Church was wrong in many areas, but I still considered myself a Catholic.

The Law has its Day

I was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.  After leaving the county jail, I began serving my time in a maximum-security state prison.  I was frightened, but God comforted me.  God placed me in a cell next to a Christian man who ministered to me in a mighty way.  He shared the scriptures with some Christians and me and began giving me the gospel with love and patience.  One dear Christian man gave me a book to read.  This book revealed many errors in the Catholic Church by referring to the scriptures.  After reading this book and listening to the counsel of these men, I forsook Catholicism and repented before God.

Trusting in Christ Alone

It was at this stage of my life that I looked unto Christ Jesus alone for my salvation that I might receive from Him His perfect life and the perfect remission of my sin, “Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” [4]  It was God’s grace and the payment He gave that made me right before God—wholly accepted in Christ Jesus the Lord—complete in Him.[5]  It was at this stage that I fully repented of my sin, remembering the words of Christ Jesus, “…repent ye, and believe the gospel.”[6]  I repented of all religion and of personal sin so that my eyes—and trust—were totally on Christ Jesus and what He had done in my place.  I remembered that Christ Jesus came in the words of Matthew’s gospel, “…for He shall save His people from their sins.”[7]

My aunt was furious with me when I told her that I was no longer a Catholic.  I must admit that I was a bit puffed up as well as angry at the fact that I had been following a religion and not following Jesus.  I took my frustration out on many Catholics, including members of my own family.  I then came across where Paul writes that the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle and humble.[8]  We must “speak the truth in love,” not in anger.[9]  Around this time, I was introduced to the Berean Beacon ministry.  I began writing to brother Richard Bennett, a former Catholic priest.  He gave me advice in how to witness to Catholics.  He showed me clearly—using the Scriptures—that God’s grace is in Christ Jesus.  The wonder of God’s grace is always in Christ from beginning to end, starting with His divine call to the glory of His name.  As true believers, we adhere to God only and to His written Word, as did the Lord and the apostles after Him.  We are saved before the All Holy God by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ Jesus alone, and all glory and praise is to God alone.

Re-baptized

I had been baptized as an infant into the Catholic Church, but now that I was reading the entire Bible, I realized that I should be baptized again as a new believer.  So, I was baptized in the prison baptistry on March 25, 1995.  I was immersed into a portable tank that was set up in the chapel.  I was convinced by the Scriptures that I now had to live totally for Christ.

The Bible Reveals the Truth about Salvation

At this time, I was really studying and meditating on the Scriptures.  It was then that I realized that many Evangelicals have departed from the truth of the Gospel.  I encountered a lot of legalism and elitism within the prison walls.  I also witnessed that many Evangelicals have no problem with Roman Catholic doctrines and traditions.  Throughout the centuries, Evangelicals had maintained that justification was by faith alone and that a sinful being was declared justified before the All Holy God by His grace alone.  I see that many Evangelicals of every denomination have become quite confused on this subject, and other subjects, and some of them have begun even working together in a relationship with the Catholic Church, not being aware that the Church of Rome is preaching another Gospel.[10]  Here in prison, I see the same thing that is happening in the world outside, that chaplains and others are working together with the Roman Catholics and no one is quite sure of the doctrine of salvation.  The Church has come to be in a very sad condition.  Much of the work that I have done during my time in prison is trying to show what salvation really is, not only to the Catholics, but also to people who call themselves Evangelicals.

A New Friend

I have corresponded with a brother (a pastor) who has been imprisoned in Zambia, Africa for many years.  His name is Stanley Kunda.  He had found in Zambia the same thing that we find here in the United States, that many people have no understanding of what it is to be saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ Jesus alone.  Brother Kunda and I have encouraged one another by sending letters through the Berean Beacon ministry of Richard Bennett.  It is amazing what the Lord has done in giving the true gospel.  There in Zambia, many have come to see the true light of the gospel.  As I write this testimony, Stanley Kunda has been released from a maximum-security prison; my prayers and thoughts go with him.

The Gospel: The Power of God unto Salvation

As I grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, I see that the gospel is a simple, yet profound truth.  The gospel is also the “…power of God unto salvation….”[11]  No man can add to what Jesus has done.  The sacraments of Catholicism cannot contribute to anyone’s salvation.  Water baptism does not save.  Christ alone paid the price for our redemption.  Prayers, church attendance, positions, and good works—none of these can declare us righteous before an All Holy God.  Jesus alone was well pleasing to His father.[12]  “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”[13]  Jesus took the penalty that we deserved.  Christ alone is our righteousness.  Christ became for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.[14]  To God be the glory!

The Blessings of God

Now that I have been incarcerated for 12 years, I find that I am still learning and unlearning.  I have had to let go of certain beliefs that I have held to because they were not based upon God’s Word.  God has been faithful to me.  He has kept me safe all these years.  He touched my father’s heart, and we have a relationship today.  God has brought a beautiful Christian woman into my life, and we are engaged to be married.  God has bestowed His grace upon me by bringing me into a wonderful family of believers.  He has made me a new man.  I am in a relationship with Almighty God.  I remember these words: “Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.”[15]  The world may see me as a murderer and convict, yet God sees me as royalty!  God has set me free from the bondage of sin and darkness, from the chains of drug dependency, and from the bondage of religion.  The Son has made me free, indeed.[16]  I now stand fast in the liberty that Jesus has granted me.[17]  Blessing, honor, glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever, Amen![18]

Joseph Bergamini


[1] 1 Peter 2:2

[2] Matthew 23:9

[3] 1Timothy 2:5

[4] Romans 3:24

[5] Colossians 2:10

[6] Mark 1:15

[7] Matthew 1:21

[8] 2Timothy 2:22-26

[9] Ephesians 4:15

[10] Galatians 1:6-10

[11] Romans 1:16

[12] Matthew 3:17

[13] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[14] 1 Corinthians 1:30

[15] Revelation 1:5-6

[16] John 8:36

[17] Galatians 5:1

[18] Revelation 5:13