Conversation: John Rowland
In 1994 at the age of 37, John G. Rowland became the youngest governor elected in Connecticut history. He would win re-election in 1998 and 2002, capping a political career that began with his first term in the Connecticut State House of Representatives in 1980 at age 23. Nothing seemed out of reach — even the White House.
But in 2004 Rowland pleaded guilty to tax charges and misuse of his office. He served 10 months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa. Rowland spoke recently with Scott Harrup, senior associate editor, about his new direction in life.
tpe: Could you talk about the personal crisis you faced during your prison term?
ROWLAND: About halfway through my sentence, my attorney told me the state was going to pursue state charges. When you're halfway through your time, all you're thinking about is getting out. You're looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.
I was serving on federal charges. If convicted, I could end up with another five years in a state jail. Additional prison time is one of the most devastating things you can hear when you're already in.
tpe: How did you face that possibility?
ROWLAND: I had recommitted myself wholeheartedly to God. I was deep in my walk with Him. I realized He was testing my faith. I'd been reading and memorizing The Purpose Driven Life. I'd been mesmerized by chapter 25, ÒTransformed by Trouble,Ó and I went back to my room and looked up that chapter.
It begins by saying God will use circumstances to test and grow your faith. Then Rick Warren goes into a great description of Romans 8:28, which basically says God will cause the right thing to happen to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I wrapped myself around that promise.
tpe: So how did Òthe right thingÓ happen?
ROWLAND: I was told there would be an investigation and in 30 days they would issue an arrest warrant. I would be moving from minimum to medium security in the prison for the remainder of my term, and then who knew what would happen next. It was pretty devastating. But I surrendered the situation to God and told Him it was in His hands. I felt His peace during those 30 days.
As the deadline approached, my attorney called and said the judge wouldn't sign the arrest warrant. God had intervened. That sort of thing just doesn't happen. It had never happened in my attorney's 40 years of experience.
tpe: Later, you found out someone had been praying for you.
ROWLAND: I went back to my room in time for mail call. There was this letter from a woman in New York. Here's what it says:
ÒDon't panic. It's only a test. In the school of God there are tests. There is a similarity with our earthly schools — pop quizzes, entrance exams. I have good news for you. God is with you, and He hears you.Ó
When you send a letter to someone in prison, it takes about a week or two to get there. It gets opened and examined and often held for a while. So when I factored that in, her next remarks really hit home.
ÒA couple of days ago from out of the blue, I was apprehended by the Holy Spirit to pray for you. I knew something was up, and I was glad to obey. I prayed God would bring good out of this horrible ordeal, and He will. Please read Romans 8:28: ÔAnd we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose.' God bless you and your family.Ó
tpe: Since your release you've been involved in speaking and writing. Could you talk about the book you're working on?
ROWLAND: The book is about the destructiveness of arrogance and how it takes people down. Arrogance destroys marriages, careers and corporations. It can destroy a lifetime of achievements.
You read of people in the Bible who fell through arrogance. You read of people falling today. All the Enrons of the world are related to arrogance.
I hope my story will encourage people to avoid the trappings of power and the sense of entitlement that comes with success. People need to be the best they can be, but they have to retain their moral compass in the process. And God has to be that compass.
When you have God as your compass, you know what the rules are. You're not trying to come up with your own code of ethics. You're not trying to remember who told which version of what happened.
tpe: What are some keys to recovering your life after it seems everything has derailed?
ROWLAND: First and foremost, you have to shift away from a selfish, ego-driven lifestyle. I spent 25 years in public life, and politics is very satisfying to the ego. You have to embrace humility. You have to focus on God and serving Him rather than serving yourself. When you do that, you can have faith everything will come together.
People don't believe me when I say the best thing that ever happened to me was going to prison. But I have a better relationship with my family. I get more satisfaction now out of teaching recovering drug addicts how to do a job interview than I did in winning an election.
The only way anyone is going to stay out of trouble when they get out is by having an overwhelming, faith-driven connection with God. Otherwise, when they get out, working at Wal-Mart for $10 an hour or selling drugs for $1,000 a day is going to be a difficult choice. Sixty-seven percent get rearrested within three years.
You have to change your life, and the only way to do that is through a spiritual transformation. Having a strong, personal relationship with Christ will give you the strength, comfort and hope you need to get you through the days on the inside. More importantly, that transformation will prepare you for the temptations of all the things on the outside that are easy to fall back into.
tpe: Summarize what you have learned from being incarcerated.
ROWLAND: As our family started this year, I've reflected on how blessed we are. We have five children. Three are in college. My son just got back from Iraq. God is helping us in so many different ways I can't even keep track of it.
My daughter likes to say, ÒYou're not a failure if you have fallen; you're a failure if you don't get back up.Ó I fell from a 100-foot cliff. I went from my highest dreams of political success to being Prisoner #15623-014 almost overnight. Yet, I'm better and stronger and more faithful and happier than I've ever been in my life.
I hope others who are incarcerated will hold on tight, get through it, and build the faith foundation they need. When they get out, Satan will be working to destroy them. With spiritual warfare, the more you work toward building your faith, the greater the attacks can become.
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