WHEN Dionne Chang asked God for a good husband, she had no idea that His plans involved her marrying a man behind bars who had 36 arrests, including a conviction for murdering an elderly woman in her house during a home invasion gone bad. But this has been the case for the mother of three, who has been happily married to her former incarcerated penpal for the past 15 years.
Chang said her relationship with her husband David began in 1994, just a year after she became a Christian. She was a 23-year-old mother of one at the time, who on a whim, decided to respond to some penpal requests she saw in the daily newspaper.
"I loved to read the daily newspapers and I saw his name seeking penpals, but I didn't know that he was behind bars," she said.
Chang said she sent out a few penpal requests of her own, however, David was the only local person she wrote to. Although David's request had indicated that he was in an institution, she had misunderstood this, thinking that the word 'institution' was in reference to a workplace.
"[Most of] those whom I had written were overseas, because I was saying, 'Bwoy, things hard, so why not seek a chance to go away?' That was my motive, to write to somebody overseas, to get a response, and give the place a break. But he was the only one I got a response from," she said.
The fact that he was in prison didn't sink in until he wrote her back after she had expressed an interest in being his penpal. She recalled that she was unable to decipher much of the letter because he mostly used drawings to communicate. The word "prison" however, was one of the few legible words and it hit her like a tonne of bricks.
"That's when I withdrew and said, 'No man, this man coming out to kill me', and I began to talk to myself and said, 'Bwoy, I can't let anybody know'," she said. "I was saying, 'how could I have sent my address and my name to a man behind bars and I don't know this person'. But then I had this church sister and we were very close and I said it to her and she said, "You know what Dionne, just pray for him, because many times they are there behind bars and some are innocent and some are not."
He was no innocent
But David was definitely not one of those who fell into the "innocent" category. He had, from an early age, set out on a quest to become a gunman, and was groomed to achieve this ambition after spending time behind bars at just 15 years old. That conviction came after he and two friends broke into a New Kingston business place and he turned himself over to the police who at first thought he was joking.
"I gave myself to the police because I wanted to experience jail. While in jail, other men taught me how to fire gun and pick pocket," said David, whose life of crime started at 10 years old with him picking his classmates' pockets, stealing grocery items off the supermarket shelves, and snatching snacks from off the school vendors' stalls when they weren't looking.
In 1990, he was sentenced to prison for eight years after pleading guilty to manslaughter for stabbing a woman to death during a break-in he had planned with a few of his friends. David was on the Montego Bay police's most wanted list for three months before the police finally caught up with him in Majesty Gardens, Kingston. During his stay at the St Catherine Adult Correctional Centre, he formed a gang and was involved in a major gang feud at the prison in 1991. He was subsequently transferred to the South Camp Adult Correctional Centre (Gun Court) to serve out the remainder of his prison term.
David became a Christian after three years in prison and started praying to God earnestly for a wife. He eventually told Dionne about his past as they grew closer during their correspondence. The fact that she lived in Clarendon made it difficult for her to visit him regularly, but Chang said she continued to write and encourage him in his new faith.
After one year of writing, both sent pictures of themselves to each other and she eventually took up his invitation and visited him. When she first set eyes on him, she realised that his picture didn't do him justice.
He looked good
"I was so surprised, I was actually stunned, because I was looking for somebody [dishevelled]. But when I looked at him, I said, 'Oh, my God, this couldn't be him, because he was looking good, he was so attractive," she said.
"I said, 'Bwoy, God is good'."
She said she wondered what she was getting into, "but I am a praying woman and I began to pray and trust the Lord".
She eventually wrote and expressed her feelings to him and he did likewise in a letter which he wrote on his own for the first time ever. All his previous letters were written by a friend of his, because he was unable to read or write up to that point. After becoming a Christian, David started taking classes in prison to improve his literacy skills. With no third party involved, he spoke to her openly about his family situation and the fact that most of his relatives, including his mother, had turned their backs on him.
"I began to encourage him and said if he continued to trust in God, He would give him the family desired and he will be happy and that's basically what happened, but it didn't happen overnight," Dionne said.
She confided only in a few people about her relationship with David during their relationship, in order to avoid criticism. During their four-year courtship, she also turned down several proposals, one of which was from her son's father, just a year before David was scheduled to be released.
"I thought that something was wrong with me, because I didn't know this man and yet I was turning down other proposals in the church. But then the word of God encouraged me that, 'they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles'," she said.
There was no denying their attraction to each other, but this was clouded by fear as well. Dionne doubted her choice on several occasions, but then she said God showed her a vision with David and her pastor in it, which helped convince her that it was OK to trust her feelings.
"I wrote him and I said, 'David, yes you are my husband, this is what God says' and I asked him, 'Did God speak to you about me' and he said 'Yes'.
He said he had written 14 letters and prayed over them, and told God that his wife could be one of the 14.
"Out of these 14 letters, I was the only one who responded to him, encouraging him about his Christian faith and all of that," Dionne said.
The couple got married two months after David was released from prison. Their 15-year marriage has produced two daughters and the two are currently pastors of the Majesty Transformation Community Church in Majesty Gardens. David also pastors at another church in Trench Town and also went on to complete his first degree in theology. He now goes to schools in the Corporate Area to motivate youths and he and his wife started a number of social outreach projects in Majesty Gardens. David hopes now to secure funding to pursue a master's degree in counselling psychology, so he can be even more effective.
"God is good to us although we have our ups and downs as anybody else in a relationship. I am really proud of where he was and where he is now," said Dionne.
"I am very happy that I stood with him. Many times I felt like I could have just walked away, but then I looked back and I said, 'God, this is about you'," she added.