Freed from a life of addiction, sin, and crime by an encounter with the Blessed Mother
Editor’s Note: Fr. Donald Calloway, a priest with the Congregation of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, tells his dramatic conversion story in his book, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. It’s a story of a young man enslaved by addiction and sin, and enmeshed in a life of crime. All was changed, and Fr. Calloway’s began his improbable journey to the priesthood after coming across a book about the Marian apparitions in Medjugorje.
In the book Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, Fr. Calloway recalls how having run away from home, been arrested, and following a couple stints in drug rehab the unrepentant Calloway came across his parents’ book on the Marian apparitions:
Fascinated, I took it to my room and began reading. At 3 a.m. I closed the book, having read it from cover to cover. I had no idea who the Blessed Mother was, but when I started to read about things like prayer, fasting, Jesus Christ, and His death on the Cross for me, I was overcome with a sense of love and joy. Much of it I did not even understand. When I put the book down I said to myself, “This woman is the woman I have always been looking for. This Virgin Mary is perfect. Her God is my God. I will listen to whatever she tells me.”
My euphoric excitement made sleep impossible. I could not wait until my mom woke me up so I could share my enthusiasm with her. My whole life had been flipped upside down when my mom did finally wake up, I shakily told her I wanted to talk to a Catholic priest. Stunned, she asked me to repeat what her ears could not believe.
Fr. Calloway has given us permission to reprint this adaption from the first chapter of his book which describes his life before his dramatic conversion. To read what happens next and the complete story of his conversion, you can purchase his book at www.fathercalloway.com:
The day I was captured in Japan was straight out of a big-budget action film. One can easily picture the scene; it was just like the climax of a Hollywood movie. Imagine undercover agents, police officers, and American military police surreptitiously stalking a pair of hardened, young criminals, hoping to catch them in the act of delivering money and illegal drugs. What the criminals don’t know is that the agents have used wiretaps to monitor their lines of communication and “turn” one of their associates, who has reluctantly agreed to lure the kingpin of the bad guys into a trap.
The tension builds as the good guys close in, even as they debate the pros and cons of confronting the criminals in a busy public place. The bad guys have insisted on meeting their associate — the traitor — in a train station, so that any attempt at capture is sure to compromise the safety of innocent bystanders.
While this might sound like a stereotypical movie action scene, it was perfectly real. I was one of the bad guys in this scenario, chased through the streets by a multinational group of law enforcement officers. I was the so-called “big fish” that everyone was looking to capture, and by the time I was in hand- cuffs, the American and Japanese governments had already negotiated the terms by which I’d be released into the custody of the American military. Within days, I would be deported from Japan, on my way back to the United States where I would be confined to an institution. I was just 15 years old.
The plans for that fateful day were made over the phone the night before. As I remember it, I called my friend Nathan, who agreed to rendezvous with my friend Tommy and me — my main partner-in-crime — at one of the larger train stations in Yokohama, a major city roughly 18 miles southwest of Tokyo. The plan was to give Nathan my overflow cash — a little more than two million Yen — most of which I had recently stolen from local department stores. Then, Tommy and I planned to take him out on the town and blow the rest of the newfound money on alcohol, drugs, and girls — just as we had always done.
The morning of our capture Tommy and I were dressed in our typical garb, which instantly pegged us as your stereo- typical mid-1980s, heavy-metal fans. I was about to give Nathan the equivalent of 10 thousand U.S. dollars, but even that large a sum of money didn’t mean much to me. As was often the case, I had so much cash on my person that I could barely carry it around. The pockets of my pants — which had an almost absurd number of zippered pockets — were bulging with cash.
When Tommy and I arrived at the station, morning rush hour was over, but the station was still bustling with businessmen making their way to work. I was hoping there would be fewer people inside the station when Tommy and I arrived, and everything did look normal as we made our way into the main lobby.
I scanned the lobby, looking for Nathan’s distinctive American features — frizzy, long hair and casual dress, which would stand out amidst the buttoned-down, close-shorn Japanese businessmen. It wasn’t long before Tommy and I made visual contact with Nathan. I was just about to raise my arm and give Nathan a wave when a group of men who had been sitting nearby — with open newspapers obscuring their faces — suddenly jumped up, dropped their papers on the floor, and converged on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were undercover Japanese police officers disguised as businessmen.
Before I could make a move, a group of a half-dozen officers piled on top of me in haphazard fashion. A short distance away, another group of a half-dozen men pinned Tommy to the floor. As this was happening, I caught a glimpse of Nathan running towards us, screaming, “Sorry, dude! Sorry! Oh, man, I’m sorry!”
I couldn’t believe that Nathan had allowed the police to use him as bait to catch me. I wondered why he was helping the Japanese police. Nathan didn’t even speak Japanese. How did he get hooked up with them?
I felt like an idiot for having been duped. And it wasn’t often that I felt this way. I was vaguely aware that the U.S. military and Japanese government might have an interest in trying to hunt me down. I even considered the possibility that the U.S. Navy might begin listening in on any phone calls I made to my friends — military dependents who lived on Navy property. But I was pretty confident that none of my buddies would cooperate with the authorities. I wanted to beat the daylights out of Nathan for betraying me.
Two months earlier, Tommy and I had been living with our parents at Atsugi Naval Air Station — an airfield and supply center for U.S. military operations in Atsugi, Japan, about 20 miles from downtown Tokyo — where our fathers were both employed. As the son of a naval officer, I had lived a comfortable existence on the base, yet parental authority and military culture were decidedly at odds with my nature. As for Tommy, his father was a SEABEE, a handyman for the Naval Construction Force. Tommy wasn’t quite as rebellious as I, but he had a terrible relationship with his parents, especially his father.
One night Tommy and I were totally wasted on Shochu (Japanese vodka), and we started railing against our parents. Typical teenage stuff: We were sick of going to school. We were sick of obeying everybody else’s rules. We were sick of getting yelled at. All we really wanted to do was get drunk or high, listen to music, go surfing, and hang out with our girlfriends. What else was there to life, anyway?
Being very impetuous and off-the-cuff, Tommy suggested that we run away from home. He wasn’t suggesting that we run away for a few days. He thought we should make a clean and permanent break with our families, and it didn’t take much for Tommy to sell me on the idea. Always very smooth with the ladies, Tommy said he knew a Japanese girl who could put us up at her house for a few days. Once we were there, we could figure out our next move. That turned out to be the extent of our advance planning. We didn’t even consider how we would get ourselves to this girl’s house, much less what we were going to do for money or how we were going to support ourselves. We walked off the military base expecting to make our own way on the island of Honshu, the largest of the more than 3,000 islands that make up the country of Japan.
Neither of us said goodbye to our parents. Neither of us left a note or gave any indication if or when we were coming back. We didn’t even take any money or any of our personal belongings, just the clothes on our backs. It was a pretty bold and cold thing for a pair of 15-year-olds to do. Looking back, it was also completely crazy. What on earth were we thinking? Although I had made up my mind never to speak with my parents again, I was determined to stay in touch with my friends at Atsugi. So as soon as we got hooked up with the girls and drugs, I began phoning friends to regale them with stories about our crazy adventures. As was the case with Nathan, sometimes I even invited them out to meet Tommy and me somewhere, just to show off and give them a taste of the wild lifestyle we were experiencing. And to give them a big pile of money, of course. But the Navy — not to mention my friend’s parents — began to get suspicious when questionable characters like Nathan left the base empty-handed and inexplicably returned with wads of cash or armfuls of stolen merchandise, especially guitars and surfboards. Initially, the Navy didn’t bother to take action, but when the Japanese government began to pressure them to get us under control, they realized that they would need to remove us from the Japanese community. Being in a foreign country without a legitimate occupation and scant knowledge of the native language — the only Japanese words I knew were the “bad ones” — crime was the only means we had to support ourselves. We started with petty crimes like stealing women’s purses and grabbing money out of cash registers, but it wasn’t long, a few weeks perhaps, before we ended up getting involved with a gang.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese gang immediately took a liking to both of us. We were Americans who thumbed our noses at authority and wanted nothing more than to live the gang’s fast-paced lifestyle and experience all the wildness they were involved in.
Meanwhile, committing crimes with members of the gang — mostly stealing from retail stores and running money to and from game rooms — seemed like a viable way of sustaining our- selves in Japan. Even if it seemed a little dangerous at times, it was hard for a teenaged boy to resist the perks. Music and drugs were everywhere, and their girls were extremely beautiful. Being fawned upon by 18- to 25-year-old babes made us feel like studs.
Under the tutelage of the members of the gang, Tommy and I were soon committing crimes that would be considered felonies in the United States. By day, we would scope out stores, looking for the easiest targets. Gaining access to stores in Japan is much simpler than stealing from the locked-down, alarm-protected businesses in America. Maybe things have changed in recent years, but at the time, it wasn’t uncommon for Japanese merchants to leave their establishments unlocked at night. Instead of depositing their daily cash receipts in the bank, some shopkeepers kept the money in a box directly below the cash register in anticipation of the next day’s opening.
At night, we would return to our chosen marks, either sneaking or breaking in to take whatever we wanted. We stole everything from amplifiers and electric guitars to skateboards, surfboards, and mopeds. Sometimes we were so brazen that we would rob a store during business hours, tucking whatever we could carry under our trench coats before walking out the door.
The only problem is when two Caucasian boys are seen running from a crime scene in Japan and hundreds of thou- sands, or even millions, of Yen are missing, it’s very obvious who is responsible. When it happens on an everyday basis, it becomes an international incident.
That explains why the Japanese wanted us out of their country — dead or alive, it didn’t matter to them which — and they wanted us out fast. Years of bad behavior by U.S. servicemen had made the government especially sensitive to any criminal activity that could be connected with the U.S. military.
When the Japanese officers rushed in, it felt like the entire train station suddenly converged on me, like I had become the center of a black hole. Within seconds, a mass of humanity was on top of me, almost taking my breath away. Some guys in my position might have panicked, but I retained my composure and focused on what I needed to do to escape. Luckily for me, the police underestimated my ability to weasel out of tight situations and didn’t coordinate their efforts. Instead of sending two men in to tackle me — leaving the rest to form a perimeter — all six men immediately piled on, per- haps assuming that the sheer weight of their bodies would be enough to keep me down. But I was as slippery as butter and began to finagle my way out of the pile.
Tommy wasn’t nearly as elusive. When the police jumped him, they quickly managed to pin both of his arms and legs to the floor. “Dude, run!” I heard him yell as I squirmed free. As I was getting up, I noticed someone out of the corner of my eye that I hadn’t seen earlier — my dad. He didn’t make a move towards me. He was quietly watching the whole scene unfold at a distance.
As soon as I busted through the station doors, I ran right into traffic, figuring the officers wouldn’t be willing to risk their lives chasing a seemingly suicidal teenager down the middle of a crowded street, where they’d have to negotiate a mix of onrushing cars, bikes, and mopeds. Ironically, I was more concerned about being hit by a moped or bicycle than I was by a car. In Yokohama, the streets are so congested — even at mid-morning — that mopeds or bicycles will often be traveling faster than cars, since they can weave in and out of traffic. And since the traffic laws in Japan are loosely enforced and only loosely observed, no one seemed compelled to yield. It was my responsibility to stay out of harm’s way.
As soon as I got to the other side of this main thoroughfare, I started running along the sidewalk, stores flashing by as I dodged pedestrians. To my surprise, the cops remained hot on my tail. When I realized I might not be able to escape, I unzipped my pants pockets and began discretely dropping wads of cash on the ground. I figured if I was going to get busted, it would be best if I didn’t have to explain how I managed to get my hands on several million Yen. I also hoped that bystanders would scramble to pick up the money, creating another obstacle for my pursuers to negotiate. Handful after handful of money I threw to the ground. I have no idea what happened to any of it, but I’m sure a few people came away feeling like they had just won the lottery.
Meanwhile, I made my way towards an open-air market — one filled with outdoor clothing and shoe stores. At this point, I was really breathing hard and beginning to wheeze audibly, like an asthmatic suffering a bad asthma attack. My pace got slower and slower, and then suddenly I felt someone grab hold of my hair, getting enough of a handful to use it to drag me to the ground. I heard the man say, “We caught you, you little punk!” For the first time, I noticed that American military policemen (MPs) had also been chasing me.
Immediately, I tried to get up off the ground and even took a half-hearted swing at the MP who caught me. But he was so big — about six-foot-three, no neck, with arms thicker than my thighs — that he could easily hold me at arm’s length. The other American MPs began calling me names and telling me how I was going to be locked up. One of them screamed at me, “Do you know what you’ve done? Do you know what you’ve done?” I spit at him and told him off.
As one might expect, the MPs quickly got tired of taking my abuse. One of them pulled my right arm up behind my back in an arm lock, as police officers are taught to do when apprehending a suspect. They knew they were hurting me because I let out a blood-curdling scream, yet they didn’t let up. Then as they forced me to the ground, one MP put his knee on my neck and pressed my face into the cement. Even while they were put- ting on the handcuffs, I continued screaming obscenities. I knew I couldn’t take on any of these guys in a fight, but I didn’t want to let them know they were intimidating me.
It was a long ride back to Atsugi, at least an hour. Tommy was transported back to the base with me, although he was in a different vehicle. During the trip, I felt like an animal trapped in a cage. All I could think about was escaping. The fact that my dad was now in the car with me certainly didn’t make me feel any better. He didn’t say anything, but if he had, I would have cursed at him, just like I cursed at the policemen. I hated everybody at that point. I just thought, “This really sucks.” In my mind, this was yet another case of authority inconveniently getting in my way and taking away my freedom.
When we finally got back to the base, they immediately threw me in the brig, a 10′ x 8′ cell furnished only with a little cot. There was no sink, no toilet, no reading material — nothing to do but vent. One of the MPs assigned to guard me — a Filipino-American — was especially abusive, seeming to take great pleasure in calling me names. Of course, I was in no mood to take any garbage from anyone. So I started spitting on him and called him derogatory names. Then I said, “If I ever get out of here, I’m going to kill you!” His fellow guards ushered him down the hall in an effort to prevent the confrontation from escalating any further. That was fine by me. I couldn’t stand to look at him any longer.
After a while, another MP came to my cell and advised me I was going to be deported from Japan as soon as possible. He said that the American military had already made the arrangements with the Japanese government. Being that I was still a minor and hadn’t committed any capital offenses, the Japanese had agreed not to press charges for any of my assorted crimes, provided that I return immediately to the United States and enter into an institution for treatment. Oh, and my parents would have to compensate countless individuals for the merchandise I had stolen — all the thefts that could definitely be traced to me.
When I heard I was about to be kicked out of Japan, my motivation to escape was redoubled. The first few months I lived in Japan, I had hated my new home with a passion. But after a while, I grew to like it. Japan had drugs and girls, beaches and booze, just like the United States, and it was much easier to steal money over there. Now I even had a “girlfriend” — maybe not a girlfriend in the traditional sense of the word —but a “friends with benefits” arrangement.
But now the life I had created for myself was in jeopardy. As an opportunist, I had always been able to quickly size up a situation to get what I wanted. Now I really needed to put those skills into action. I actively considered all the possible options and came to the conclusion that a fight-kick approach obviously wasn’t going to work with the oversize gorillas who were guarding me. I had to get into a situation where I would have a chance to outrun the MPs, a situation where their size and heavy equipment would work against them.
Since there was no toilet in the brig, I asked for permission to use the nearest restroom. To my surprise, they took off my handcuffs and let me out of my cell. I walked down the hall towards the bathroom, but when I reached the door, I just kept going — running the rest of the way down the hall and out the door into the sunshine.
Of course, as soon as I split, the guards sounded the alarm and locked down the entire base. They shut the gates and effectively prevented me—and everyone else—from getting back out into the real world. I ran through the officers’ housing and across the golf course, heading for a wooded area that offered several potentially good hiding places. But when I heard the sound of dogs barking behind me — aggressive Doberman Pinchers that were strong, intense, and had the speed and stamina to cover a lot of ground in a hurry — my options for escape were narrowing.
When I realized the dogs were hot on my trail, I knew I had to take desperate measures, so I stopped running and squeezed myself down into a sewer drain. On the positive side, jumping into the sewer kept me from being captured and kept the dogs from getting at me. Sure enough, shortly after I took the plunge, I saw police cars go by, their sirens wailing. Then came the dogs and the crackling sound of their handlers’ walkie-talkies.
On the downside, I had voluntarily jumped into a pool of raw sewage. I tried not to look around too much, so I wouldn’t get a good look at exactly what I was wading in. But it was hard to ignore the stench, which was so strong at times that I could barely keep from vomiting.
During the period of time I was in the drain, the sewage ebbed and flowed — at one point rising all the way up to my neckline. I was lucky it didn’t rise any higher because I’m not sure I could have extricated myself. I had wedged myself so far down — and the walls of the drain were so slick — I probably couldn’t have hauled myself up, even if it was a matter of life and death. I would have drowned in a pool of excrement.
Still, except for the brief moment when I thought I might be completely submerged, I never seriously contemplated getting out. I would have remained in that sewer drain as long as necessary if it would have saved me from being captured and deported.
Unfortunately, as time went on, I heard the sound of barking dogs again. Looking up out of the drain into the light, I saw an MP come into view, holding back a pair of madly barking Dobermans. The MP said, “Alright, come up out of there, son.” I tried to lift myself out, but as I feared, I couldn’t get out under my own power. Another MP had to squeeze in with me and literally drag me out. When he came down and made eye contact with me, he gave me the most disgusted look I’ve ever seen in my life, as if to say, “I can’t believe it’s because of you that I’m standing in a big pool of feces. This is not what I signed up for when I joined the Navy.”
After the guards handcuffed me, they walked me all the way back to the brig — a 25- or 30- minute walk. I was so nasty and foul that they didn’t want to soil the seats of their military police vehicle. Then, when we got back to the jail, they didn’t even let me take a shower. An MP took me into the bathroom and sort of half-heartedly washed me down using a sponge and a slop bucket. It was clearly going to be a long night. Of course, having learned their lesson the hard way, now they didn’t let me go to the bathroom by myself any more. When I used the restroom, an MP had to be there, to my chagrin and his, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my self-centered actions were affecting my entire family. Two weeks earlier, the American military directed my mother to leave the country with my younger brother, Matthew, ostensibly to begin resettling our family in the United States. The rationale was that my father and I would then have a place to come home to when they found me. Or in a worst-case scenario, the authorities would at least know where to ship my body. Before I was captured, the Japanese considered it more likely that I would be going home in a body bag. The Navy had already settled on Reading, Pennsylvania, as my father’s next duty station where he would serve as a supply officer.
Meanwhile, my father stayed behind in Japan to help look for me, promising my mother that he wouldn’t leave until he found me, and wouldn’t return to her without me. In this respect, I was better off than Tommy, who was deported a day earlier (he didn’t try to escape from the brig), but his mother and father had already abandoned him, having left for the United States before we were apprehended. I’m told he was sent to Texas, where his father relocated, but I’ve had no con- tact with him since the incident in the train station. It didn’t really bother me that we lost touch. Like most of my so-called friends, Tommy was disposable. Once he was out of sight, I didn’t give him a second thought.
The day after I was recaptured, my guards transported me over to Yokosuka, another U.S. military installation, where my dad and I were put on a military flight to Honolulu. From what I understand, there was no consideration given to putting me on a commercial flight. In fact, I was still so angry and defi- ant that they literally handcuffed me to the plane. We were transported on one of those C-130 cargo planes where there’s cargo in the center and web seating on the sides. They strapped me in to a webbed seat and positioned an MP on both my left and right. Then they chained one of my legs to an MP and one of my arms to the fuselage.
It was certainly the prudent thing to do. My handlers knew I had absolutely no regard for life — not theirs, not even my own. They were convinced I would do something stupid to put everyone in harm’s way. In a certain sense, they were right because I was, quite simply, out of my mind. It was ironic. When my family moved to Japan two-and-a-half years earlier, I had resisted the move. Now I didn’t even want to return to the States.
Once we touched down in Honolulu, we had to walk through the length of the terminal to reach our connecting flight, which would be a commercial flight to Los Angeles International Airport, better known as LAX. With my feet shackled, I shuffled through the terminal, the intimidating- looking MPs still at my side. Although I was handcuffed, the MPs had neglected to gag me, so I screamed and shouted the most vile obscenities at any passersby who made eye contact. I was humiliated by the fact that everyone was staring and whispering. Judging by all the attention I was receiving, one might have thought I was a convicted serial killer.
Naturally, the guards kept telling me to be quiet, but it was no use. One of the MPs even made the silly mistake of trying to cover my mouth with his hand. Like an animal, I tried to bite him. Looking back on it, I can only imagine what my father must have been thinking as this surreal scene was unfolding. At the time, I couldn’t have cared less.
As we boarded the connecting flight from Honolulu to LAX, I got more of the same stares and heard more of the same whispering that I heard in the terminal. Although I was still annoyed by it, I stopped fighting and venting my anger. It finally kicked in that I was a bad dude — that I was probably freaking out the other passengers. I’m sure they were thinking, “Who is this kid that he needs to be shackled, handcuffed, and chained to two policemen? And is it safe to be on an airplane with him?” Plus, I was so tired and disgusted at this point that I just didn’t want to fight anymore. “Would you like chicken or beef, Sir?” asked the stewardess at one point. Whatever. I hadn’t slept or had a shower in almost three days — since before the sewer experience — and I was feeling it. To say that I was nasty would be an understatement.
When we got off the plane at LAX, the MPs escorted me as far as the main terminal. One of them then turned to me and said: “Here’s the deal. Your mother and brother are in Pennsylvania. As you know, your dad is here with you, and we are going to release you to him. Do you agree to go with him to see your mother and to enter into an institution? If so, we are going to take off your handcuffs.”
My first thought was, “Idiots. If they take off the cuffs, I’m going to run.” I had friends in southern California from a few years earlier and thought I might be able to track them down. And to go surfing again in SoCal would be awesome.
But what exactly was I going to do? Everyone I knew in southern California was also a military dependent. Since I hadn’t stayed in touch with anyone since moving to Japan — that out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing again — I had no way of knowing if any of my friends were still living in the same place. Without money, transportation, or any particular place to go, my normally cocky bravado was cooled temporarily. The idea of making my own way in Los Angeles was a frightening enough prospect that I decided to stay put. I reluctantly agreed to the MPs’ demands, and the guards went back the way they came. I boarded yet another plane with my father, this time en route to our final destination — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It was on this long flight that I spoke with my father for the first time since running away from home. Like everyone else, I had cursed him out a few times since being captured, but this was the first time we had a somewhat civilized exchange of words. I don’t remember what we talked about — and make no mistake, I’m sure I was still an arrogant jerk — but for the first time, we had some semblance of a conversation. I suppose a lot of awkward silence was better than total silence.
When we landed in Philadelphia, my mom was waiting for us at the gate. In those pre 9/11 days, friends and relatives could meet arriving passengers as soon as they exited the jet way. I knew she was going to be there, but I didn’t really care. I was so tired and disgusted that all I cared about was having a place to crash.
Yet when we got off the plane, my mother rushed up to me, hugged me, and smothered me with kisses. She told me how happy she was to see me. It had been almost two-and-a- half months since I had last seen her, right before I ran away in Japan. She was so motherly, telling me how much she loved me. It didn’t seem to bother her that I looked awful — disheveled, stooped over, my eyes vacant and cold. She even called me “Donnie,” a name that only she used with me.
But something about the way she approached me got me really agitated again. When she tried to embrace me, I immediately pushed her away, pointed my index finger in her face, and said with the most hateful voice imaginable: “I hate your guts!”
And I meant it. It was years of teen rage and frustration wrapped up in a single statement and gesture. Of course, no mother could handle that kind of response from her first-born son. Right there in the terminal, my mother broke down. She snapped like a twig and started crying uncontrollably. I didn’t care at all. I was as unfeeling as a rock.
My dad was furious about me talking to my mother that way. He said something like, “How dare you talk to your mother that way!” But somehow, in spite of my behavior, we all made it out to the airport parking lot together. When we got into the car, I demanded to know where we were going. My mother whispered, “You are going to a rehabilitation center in central Pennsylvania. It will be a chance for a new beginning.”
A new beginning? “Yeah, right,” I thought. All I said was, “Fine, it will get me away from you!”
Fr. Donald Calloway has been a priest for 13 years and is currently the Vocation Director and Vicar Provincial for the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Steubenville, Ohio. He is the author of 8 books and leads pilgrimages all over the world. To find out about Fr. Calloway’s books, pilgrimages, and to purchase the book No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy, please visit his website, www.fathercalloway.com.