“I was sent to a maximum security prison which housed about 1,100 convicts. I was at the time just 17.”
On November 16, 1989, in Miami, Florida, Matt Kern faced a 60-year prison sentence. Even though he was a teenager, he was housed with career convicts – most, more than twice his age.
Violence ruled the prison yard. Matt tells The 700 Club, “I was a 17-year-old kid that was trying to survive. So my reaction to that environment was to become as violent or more violent than they were.”
Until seventh grade, Matt had been a model student in school. Then something happened, he started hanging around with a bad crowd. He thought they were having more fun.
“Started with going to the classes late, hanging out in the halls a little too long. You know, then eventually it leads to skipping school altogether, then drinking and smoking cigarettes and it’s a slippery slope.”
Soon they wanted bigger thrills, and began stealing cars.
“We just used to break into the vehicles and then we’d have them for the rest of the weekend. Sunday we’d ditch them somewhere.”
Then one weekend, one of his friends decided to bring a gun. Instead of stealing a car they were going to car-jack one.
“We didn’t think that the gun would be used. It was for a threat. You expect that they would get away from their vehicle and you would just take their car. It was the first time we had done anything like this.”
Late that night, a teenage boy stopped on a dark, quiet roadway. He thought was a going to help some guys with a broken down car.
“The friend that I was with pulled the gun on him and this other guy who stopped was a young kid as well, and he refused to give up his car. Came towards my friend who had the gun. At that point my friend shot him. The victim of the robbery, he died on the scene from the gunshot wound.”
Before the victim died, he gave a description to the police, and one month later they were arrested and charged with murder.
“If you’re involved in a felony and somebody gets killed, everybody involved in that felony gets charged with the murder. So all of us were charged. So I realized then it was serious.”
Matt was sentenced to 60 years and was sent to a maximum security prison.For four years he lived in this jungle of violence, fighting at every turn to protect himself.
“So if I thought there was a problem, I would strike out. I would stab somebody. I would pipe somebody. I would hit somebody. Just to try to make a reputation for myself.”
Then after one fight, Matt had beaten the other inmate so severely he went into a coma. He wound up in solitary confinement. But for the first time—he felt guilty. He started reading a Bible that his father had given him years before.
“I didn’t know what to do with that guilt. I wanted to address it somehow; I wanted to get rid of it. I picked up the Bible that my dad sent me and just started reading it. The guilt didn’t completely go away, but I felt like I was addressing it somehow. That this is what I needed to do.
Matt spent a year in solitary confinement, reading his Bible. He says that’s when he became a new man.
“I could feel, like a fire within me. It was a change from my perspective of my surroundings and my world. I realized God had touched my heart. I understood from Scripture what that meant. I knew that from that day on, I was changed. I was still a sinner. I still had done a lot of things bad. I was still in prison, but I knew I was on the path of getting my life together, of committing my life to Christ. And trying to live a life that was going to glorify Him.
“The simplicity of it just amazed me. I can give God all of my brokenness and my sin and in return He gives me grace and peace and everlasting life.”
When he returned to the regular prison population from solitary confinement, Matt faced all the enemies he had made over the years.
“I’m saying to everyone, ‘I’m a Christian. I’m not going to react violently. I’m not going to be that person I was.’ And I received a lot of threats. But God was faithful in protecting me.”
Matt reconnected with his family and wrote them about the changes God had made in his life. His father had been working on a campaign to get his son released from prison.
“They put together a clemency packet and submitted to the clemency board, which is the Florida cabinet and the governor. Before Governor Lawton Chiles passed away, he granted me clemency.”
After 10 years behind bars, Matt was released. Years later, he shared his story at a meeting where he met Connie. They married and now have four children.
Connie says, “None of us deserve what God’s grace is to us. I think just seeing what God has done in his life and continues to do, that’s amazing to me.”
“It was almost too simple,” Matt says. “I’m reading these passages, these quotes from Jesus, that ‘if you believe in Me, and you confess My name, you will have everlasting life.’ It’s so simple a statement, yet so powerful.”