Episode 34

August 25, 2023


Episode 34 - RJ Johnson - I Was Continually Putting on a Mask to Be a Version of Myself That Portrayed to Others That I Was Confident and Overjoyed With Life

Hosted by

Drew Deraney
Episode 34 - RJ Johnson - I Was Continually Putting on a Mask to Be a Version of Myself That Portrayed to Others That I Was Confident and Overjoyed With Life
From Caving In To Crushing It
Episode 34 - RJ Johnson - I Was Continually Putting on a Mask to Be a Version of Myself That Portrayed to Others That I Was Confident and Overjoyed With Life

Aug 25 2023 | 00:29:56


Show Notes

I lived life with distortions.  I chose to make the decision that landed me in a 20-year prison sentence. Still inside of that jail, not understanding the root of why I made the decisions I made, this sentence really forced me to step into some of my irrational thoughts and wonder what's up.

Many of us wear masks throughout our life because we believe we need to be the person others think we should be. RJ found his real self while in prison. To find out how and what happened next, listen to the full episode.


To learn more about RJ, go to LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/rj-johnson-528771235/ or you can go to RJ’s website at https://www.lukechance.com/ and https://uncommonsolutions.com/.


RJ Johnson Bio: RJ has a passion for sharing with others that God is STILL in the Miracle Business while delivering hope and support to the church behind bars. RJ is the author of the awe-inspiring and captivating book God Doesn't Waste a Thing (written by penname Luke Chance) which highlights the many miracles that he encountered while serving 7-years of a 20-year prison sentence. 

Having witnessed the transformative power of God in both his life and the lives of those around him through, RJ has founded the exceptional Not My Will Ministries, a 501(c)(3) organization. RJ strives to accomplish two crucial goals while speaking and supporting the community both in and out of prison.

First is to educate the community that God is still in the miracle business, while opening their eyes and hearts to the reality that there is a group of men in prison who need to know they are loved and not forgotten. RJ fearlessly challenges those in society to step out of their comfort zone into the Prison Ministry arena.

Secondly, RJ’s unwavering dedication lies in supporting and empowering the men behind the prison walls, to discover that their purpose, value, and identity is not defined by their circumstances, but rather through their relationship with Jesus Christ. 

RJ has made an intentional decision to live his life with transparency and vulnerability and is inviting you to join him in doing the same. RJ shares this is only possible through accepting Jesus into your heart and making Him your Lord and Savior.

Not My Will Ministries Home Page - www.notmywillministries.com

God Doesn't Waste a Thing Publisher Page - www.lukechance.com

God Doesn’t Waste a Thing Amazon Page – Leave a review of the book - https://a.co/d/2SrVUy6.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:06] Speaker A: Welcome to from caving in to crushing it, the podcast for those who find themselves immersed in adversity and choose to write their story instead of having others write it for them. I'm Drew Deraney, and I'm your host, RJ. So good to see you, my friend. [00:00:24] Speaker B: This is a blessing. Thanks, Drew. Happy to be here. [00:00:26] Speaker A: Oh, absolutely. And I have Jack Gillette to thank for introducing us. And when I get an introduction, especially from somebody from Jack, I trust it right off the bat. Because of him, you still wonder, where did he see the connection? Why should we meet? And within the first 30 seconds of speaking with you, the first time, I knew. And so I thank you for coming on. And your story is so impactful, and it's a story where others may be fearful to tell. You're a strong man. You get it, and you've done amazing things with your life and are helping others. So without further ado, we know that life is not linear. Things happen to us and take us to a course we never expected. And yours is that such story. Share with us some defining moments as far back as you can recall. Pick it wherever you feel was most impactful. That really helped transform you and mold you to who you are today and what it took to wake you up. [00:01:30] Speaker B: Yeah, that's a very intriguing first question. I appreciate the ability just to go wherever the spirit leads here. And yes, big thanks to Jack for this introduction, Drew. I'll step back. When I grew up in Nebraska, double parent home, very loving family. And as I was going through life, I kind of continually put on a mask. I lived in a version of myself that I just wanted to portray to others that I was confident, that I was full of joy, and that I was living my best life even as I was going through high school and into college. And what that managed to do to me was build this false sense where I lived with a lot of distortions of where my true identity lied. And when I became a teacher, some of those distortions began to really show themselves where I only found value in my own life and my journey by the amount of games I won coaching, the amount of attention I got speaking, the amount of accolades I got while in front of a classroom and educating these kids. And I chose to make a decision that landed me in a 20 year prison sentence. And still inside of that jail, not understanding really the root of why I made the decisions I did that got me this sentence really forced me to step into some of my distorted beliefs, some of my irrational thoughts, and what allowed me to happen there was. I came into contact with two unbelievable mentors and best friends in life that continually showed up over and over again in this prison and helped me walk through some of the junk, the lies, the evil thoughts that ultimately caused me to corrupt a family, a marriage, an entire community. And I thank them. That's my good friend Matt and Troy. And to answer the question a little bit more succinctly is I was unaware of that identity lies in not who I believe I am, but who I know God says I am. And that's what was really cool about my journey. And I'm very excited to have this platform to talk to you about why I'm able to stand here now being confident and being hopeful and full of joy, even after spending seven years inside of a prison, because joy and hope and purpose lies in what my faith in Christ and what he says about me. And that's really exciting to share. [00:04:15] Speaker A: Well, I know you've done a huge transformation to get to what you were before the events and who you are after as a teacher, how can those distorted thoughts of yourself and how you need to prepare yourself, how could that impact you and the community so much that would land you in prison? [00:04:40] Speaker B: Yeah, I got to a point where I felt I was only valuable to the community if I was in front of people. Even though I had a marriage and I had what most people would deem to be a successful life, I never actually sat back and recognized that the true value comes in the relationship, the relationship with others. But like I said, that relationship with yourself and being comfortable in your own body, in your own belief on who you are, and not letting all the external factors kind of define myself. So I was chasing always after the next rush, the next accolade, the next amount of attention. And that is a terrible place to lie, because when you're not in control and when you don't have a valuable belief in truly what you're set on this earth to do, which is to love others, to share the gospel, to instill hope and joy and be courageous about it, you tend to start making some really bad decisions. And most of them aren't always illegal. Mine just happen to be. And the cool part of the journey is when I got in trouble. My story took me to a place where I wound up laying on a train tracks, trying to take my own life. And so that's the power of these distortions. And when your identity is not rooted in something firm and rock solid, praise God that the story didn't end there, but that it took me to a place that's even darker and deeper, because that's where true freedom was found. When everything is ripped away, when all of your comforts and all of your normal lifestyle situations are gone, now you're sitting there face to face with who am I and what am I supposed to be doing in this situation? [00:06:43] Speaker A: Right. So if you can be specific in what was the transgression, then get to the part where you're on the tracks and where there was God intervention and you didn't realize it at that time. [00:06:56] Speaker B: Yeah, totally. [00:06:57] Speaker A: And then one of the biggest defining moments when you were in prison, when you realized God was showing up, I think if you can go that very quickly, that process. [00:07:06] Speaker B: Yeah. As a math educator, I ended up having an inappropriate sexual relationship, illegal sex relationship with one of my students. And as I said, that is what eventually got me a 20 year prison sentence. Well, prior to going into prison, clearly I didn't think I was strong enough capable to deal with that consequence. So I quickly decided, I can't deal with this. So I'm going to go and take my life. So one evening, I gave my best friend, my Brother, my mom, my dad, a phone call and said, I love you guys, but I've committed a crime that I'm not able to deal with the consequences. I'm going to go lay on the train tracks, and this is the last time you'll talk to me. And I'd made that decision just because I know trains don't lose. And laying on that train track that night, I was brought up around trains. I grew up in Nebraska, where trains are a big part of it. My dad drove a train for over 30 years, and I know how to tell if a train is coming. You feel the tracks, and if that train track is vibrating, even if you don't see it, that's the track the train is on. And there was multiple tracks there. It was a pretty busy part of the city of Denver. And so I laid down, covered myself in a black sweatshirt, and the train goes on the track behind me. And I get up just hyperventilating and really freaking out a little bit, like, what just happened? And I didn't know at the time I had zero relationship with God. That that was the first of very many miracles that he did in my life and is still continuing to do. But what came from that was eventually, with the support of my dad and my mother and my whole family, I went and turned myself in and began the journey through prison. And it was not an easy journey. Within the first 72 hours, there was three guys who came into my room because they had found out about my offense and had prison shanks out and were threatening to kill me. So I had to leave that prison without even making it a weekend. And then I get to a second prison and similar situation. About six months later, the same kind of a gang showed up and is not pleased with who I am and that I'm living in their cell house, which is always a weird dichotomy that you're inside of a prison full of men who've made a litany of different mistakes and crimes, but they can still find a way to point a finger and say, well, at least I didn't do what you did. And that was about the pinnacle of where I really started to see God work. When I was able to look in the past, about 45 minutes before a murder attempt would have been taking place on my body, I was swooped up, moved to a different part of the facility, kid, for about four or five months, where I eventually personally wanted, asked to be placed into protective custody because I've now been threatened to be killed twice in six months, and I've still got 19 and a half more years of this to go. Yeah, my mom and my dad came to the prison to visit me, and I had all but lost. Dang. Or all of my social skills because I was stuck in a cell for 23 hours a day, not able to speak to anybody. And my dad's looking at me, and he's seeing that his son is literally deteriorating in front of him. And the thought no longer was, how do we thrive through this? It immediately turned to, how do we survive this? [00:10:49] Speaker A: Yes. [00:10:50] Speaker B: And so we had asked to go to protective custody. State of Colorado thought that was not the best idea, so they sent me off to another prison against my own wishes and against my own complaining. And so thankful for that, because that is where I ran into chaplain Matt and chaplain Troy and chaplain Abner and a whole bunch of other men who just continue to show up and pour love and joy and compassion. Regardless of your past, none of them have ever condoned it. No one in my life has ever condoned it. I don't condone it. What I did was illegal, massively inappropriate. I take full responsibility. But understanding the gospel, understanding what Jesus Christ has done, understanding the power of redemption, that was a three year, hyper focused masterclass. On dealing with your distortions. [00:11:49] Speaker A: Yes. [00:11:51] Speaker B: And dealing with literally the things that were the worst part about you and watching when you no longer live in shame of those and be secretive of those. But you bring them to the forefront, you identify them, you lay them at the foot of the cross and you just really step courageously into what your callings and your gifting are. I found more freedom inside of an eight by ten prison cell than I ever had in my 1st 30 years as a coach and a teacher. [00:12:24] Speaker A: That is unbelievable. And that's such an impactful comment that one wouldn't think that that's possible. And there were certain people who allowed that to be possible. When did you become one of those people who helped you? Because I know at one point you were still doubting stuff, still pushing back. There was a moment where you understood how you could be one of those men you just talked about no judgment and help and believe in God and help somebody else get out of that dark hole. Yeah. [00:13:01] Speaker B: The first three years when I was at Colorado territorial prison once I kind of gave my life to the Lord and I had asked a thousand questions that were in no order whatsoever that had to do with the Bible. Not even understanding that there was a new and old testament. I was that new to this. But once I kind of began to feel some of the release and the freedom, I just kind of stepped fully in and was asking these mentors and chaplains and guys that I was around like, well, now what am I supposed to do? And their answer was so weird. At the time. They're like, well, pray and see what God's calling you to do. At the time, that was so ridiculous. But I started to feel this spirit and this in my heart say, just love those that come around you. And for me, a friend of mine told me this phrase. He calls it me three, which is God's first. The person who's in front of me is second. And I'm the third most important person in any situation, which was totally opposite of how I used to live my life. It would have been like me, 1235 and six. And when I started to take on that mindset of whomever walks in front of me today, I'm going to do my best to just love them, to care about them. And I don't care one bit about what you've done in your past. Clearly, we're all in prison. I'm just going to support you and encourage you and just see how I can best help you. And it wasn't easy. Those first three years I struggled. I still struggle doing that. But I continually showed up in these moments and saw God work these unbelievable miracles to where I know that. I know that. I know God is with us and he's for us, and he's still in the miracle business. And if I can just take a few minutes to tell you about one of these moments that. [00:14:51] Speaker A: Please do. [00:14:52] Speaker B: Has just changed my whole perspective on stepping in courageously and just loving people. We would go down in the prison. I worked for the chapel, and every Friday, after I'd set up the muslim service in the chapel, they'd ask for some privacy, so we would leave. We would go down to the men who were in prison who had dementia or Alzheimer's. And that's already a sad situation, because some of these guys don't even realize why they're in prison, because they've lost their mind. And there was a man named Mr. Green who used to be a brilliant lawyer on the streets, and he was one of the most brilliant legal minds while he was incarcerated. Well, for three years, all this man had ever done was sit in his wheelchair, rub his stomach, and pat his head, and he never spoke a word. It was just a really sad situation of, this is what his life has come to. And every Friday, we'd go down there, and we'd sing to him and the others and the nurses and the men who are taking care of them, and I'd always get down right in front of them and say, hey, Mr. Green, ready to have a good day today? We're going to sing I love you, man. And so does God. And one of the nurses came up on one of these days, three or four or five months into this, and she goes, why do you do that? I go, what? She goes, why do you talk to him? He doesn't hear you. He can't understand you, and he doesn't talk. And this is right when I'm chasing after Christ, and I'm in that knee three moment where I just look at her, and I said, I guess I just love him, and I want him to know that. So I went off and we started singing. And we're singing like we do every single week, drew. And what was really cool was this one time, the four or five of us were singing, and we started singing amazing grace. And out of the corner of my eye, I see tears rolling down Mr. Green's face. [00:16:39] Speaker A: Wow. [00:16:40] Speaker B: And I hear him singing every single word to amazing grace. [00:16:46] Speaker A: Unbelievable. [00:16:47] Speaker B: I immediately start crying. The chaplains that are with me are crying. My buddy Mike, who served 27 years, is crying because this man, whom everybody claimed can't speak, can't hear, can't even know his own name, is singing every single word to amazing grace. I mean, that's the definition of God showing up, the Holy Spirit moving. [00:17:08] Speaker A: Yes. [00:17:08] Speaker B: And it was amazing. He didn't miss a beat. And as soon as the song was over, Drew, he stopped talking. He never spoke again. [00:17:17] Speaker A: Oh, my God. [00:17:17] Speaker B: But the really powerful part of this is, and this is what I want to continue sharing with everyone. That nurse came over, and she's looking at chaplain Matt, and she goes, what was that? And he said, what do you think it was? Because he's always been a big fan of asking questions rather than giving answers. [00:17:35] Speaker A: Right? [00:17:36] Speaker B: And she don't. I don't know. And I'm still kind of a smart alec. I'm still new in the faith. I'm like, yeah, what? Did you change his medicine? Did you give him different foods? Did you have a special shower? [00:17:47] Speaker A: Yeah. [00:17:48] Speaker B: And she goes, well, no, but what was that? And Chaplain Matt said, the bigger question is, what are you going to do with it? And she realized that was God moving. And it wasn't until I get out of prison, and I'm putting this book together, and I'm speaking to people about this phrase, and it's called God doesn't waste a thing. The God that I serve, the God that loves me so much that he showed up in a prison cell and on that train track to save me, he wasn't going to waste Mr. Green's three years of silence, because the first words he spoke, that loud roar, drew, that nurse gave her life to the Lord. [00:18:30] Speaker A: Wow. [00:18:31] Speaker B: Because you can't witness that and not be moved. [00:18:34] Speaker A: Yes. [00:18:34] Speaker B: You can't just chalk it up to a good. And that's my passion, is helping and sharing hope and joy with people who need to know that God's still in the miracle business and he's not going to waste their life or their circumstance. And so I know that's a really long answer to get your initial question, but I didn't step fully into being one of those mentors until I got moved away from that prison where I was reliant upon my chaplains and my support. That's when I showed up at another prison called Fremont, and I really, truly just kind of stepped in, was like, all right, God, you've shown up for three and four years now. Whatever you tell me to do, I'll do. [00:19:14] Speaker A: Yep, that was it. Very powerful. [00:19:17] Speaker B: All right. [00:19:18] Speaker A: Before I get to my last two questions, I want to give the audience a sense of what it was like when you got word that your day of freedom was coming. And briefly explain when you stepped out of the prison cell to a different form of freedom. And we're out in the real world. And then I'll ask you the last two questions, and then you can tell us what you're doing now with your business and life. [00:19:48] Speaker B: Yeah, it was cool. Once I started going through treatment and completing that, the signs were starting to show up that I was going to be allowed to get released. But that whole story is one that is well worth reading in the book, because it wasn't just one or two things. There was a long laundry list. But when my therapist came down and found me while I was at work and said, hey, I need to bring you to my office. You need to call your mom and dad, I was thinking, of course, there might be something bad. And when I get to his office, he says, we got a date. It's May 27 of 2020. You get to go home. And it still brings tears now, because if you go way back to after the second death threat, I sat in a meeting and begged to be hidden in protective custody until 2032. And so the fact that all of these things had worked its way out for good 13 years early, or as a lot of my friends would say, right on God's time, it was really cool. And stepping out into society and stepping back out into freedom, it was weird. It was different. Things had changed. People were paying for stuff with their phones and just clicking things, and there's this thing called Uber. But what's really cool about it was my whole perspective on life had changed. When you can find joy with the same green outfit for seven years, the same exact meals every single month on end, on end on end, no real money, no real identity other than what you have now taught and learned yourself. [00:21:24] Speaker A: Right? [00:21:25] Speaker B: Freedom becomes like, I'm winning. Every day I wake up, I get to go for a walk, I get to see dogs. I get to go to a gym, I get to sleep in a bed that's bigger than two x 5ft, it's really been something else. And the real passion is now is helping those that are still in prison understand that joy and purpose is not defined by your circumstances or your address. Probably. If I'm being honest with you, Drew, I was more productive, I was more beneficial, and I was more impactful living inside of a prison than I will probably ever be outside. And that's just a simple fact, because when you're in there, you're just with people who need to know that someone is there and that they love them. And I'm trying to take that mindset out here now and just capitalize on every single amazing opportunity that God's given me, and it's really been a fun ride, and I'm excited to see what's next. [00:22:31] Speaker A: I love it, man. I love what you're doing. Tell the audience a little about your book and professionally, the managed services company that you're with right now. [00:22:41] Speaker B: Yeah, I authored a book called God doesn't waste a thing, and it walks you through the entire seven year situation, from laying on the train tracks to getting released. I penned it under the name of Luke Chance, which protects the identities of those who are still incarcerated. And that's a pretty cool shout out. One of my best friends, who is one of the chaplains that would come in, his name's Troy. He has two boys, and their names are Luke and chance. So it's a tip of the cap to the man who fearlessly showed up every day to tell me that I'm worth it. And that book has become like a passion project, because it just is a way to constantly point back up to God and just recognize even those smallest moments when you think, nothing good can come of this. It might be setting up the next thing, which might be setting up the next thing for the really big release or the really big miracle. And being able to take a step back and see that was really profound. And I'm very excited about it. And I hope everybody gets a chance to pick it up, share it with others, and more importantly, share it with people who don't necessarily have a relationship with the Lord yet. Because that's where I was when this whole journey started. Absolutely. To talk a bit, I work for a company. We're a faith centered company, Uncommon Solutions, in Denver, Colorado. And we do exceptional it work. We help out companies with any of their it headaches. And that's been a joy, to just step into a company that cares about people as much as they care about their business. [00:24:19] Speaker A: I love that. I love that. Now, clients for the it company. Can it be all around the nation or specifically to the Colorado area? [00:24:26] Speaker B: No. Nationwide. [00:24:28] Speaker A: Nationwide. [00:24:28] Speaker B: Beautiful. [00:24:30] Speaker A: Two final questions. RJ. You're sitting down with seven to ten year old RJ, and you want to give him advice about life. What are you going to tell him? [00:24:46] Speaker B: To stay serious, because I think the hilarity in me would probably say to put down the gummy bears and twizzlers. It's not going to help you in the future. But the serious piece is, I've made a choice now to live off of three words. To be transparent, to be vulnerable, and to be intentional. And that is not just with others. But with myself. And so I tell my younger self to step into some of the hard truths, to have some of the hard conversations. And when you're speaking with your loved ones, your support, your friends, your mom, your dad, young RJ, try doing this. Try being very vulnerable and not worrying so much about what others might think about you and what may come from being honest and having a scary conversation. [00:25:40] Speaker A: Absolutely love that, RJ. All right, I'm going to ask you to put on a different hat. And now you're sitting with young RJ, the young businessman, young entrepreneur, and you want to give him advice about business. What are you going to tell that? Young RJ? [00:25:53] Speaker B: Yeah, I like that. I really love the idea of relationships pretty much over anything else. So I would tell the young entrepreneur and businessman is to focus solely and strictly on the heart and the person, the man, the woman that's in front of you, what their need is, what their goals may be, and try to connect with the person instead of pushing an agenda of getting more, winning, more sales, moving on to what others in society may think is the better job. Chase after your passion. Chase after what you feel. Now I can say God is calling you to do and focus on the relationship piece of it. And if I have this piece right, the rest of it's going to take care of itself. And you're going to find yourself in an opportunity to do a lot of good work and help a lot of people find joy and hope. [00:26:55] Speaker A: I love that. RJ. Well, the audience has certainly, and I have certainly captured the essence of RJ Johnson. People are going to want to get. [00:27:04] Speaker B: In touch with you. [00:27:04] Speaker A: Please tell them how they can do so. [00:27:07] Speaker B: Yeah, I appreciate this platform. My website is not mywillministries.com. They can go there. You can find me, have some of my book opportunities there. You can find a book love for you to pick that up, share it, leave a review. Also, there's an opportunity to go on there and book me for a speaking engagement. I'm really passionate about sharing this testimony and sharing what God has done for me. So if there's a church or a men's group, or even a Rotary club or a college, whatever it might be, if there's someone who has an interest in hearing someone who's persevered through some difficult times and come out more joyful, instead of being bitter, being better, I'd really love to step into that conversation. So you can find that on there, too. And I have a goal to get right now, 200 donors, 200 people, faithful supporters who want to tithe who want to step in and support $25 a month because the money that is raised through this goes to support those men and women who are still incarcerated and $25 in the community. I love that. Continue to support your food banks and your churches. But a part that people don't recognize much is the prison economics. A normal inmate only makes $12. And when a phone call is 250 and a stamp is still fifty cents and soap is still something to purchase, $25 can reunite families. It can reconcile relationships. That can provide one inmate ten letters and five phone calls home a month. [00:28:45] Speaker A: Wow. [00:28:45] Speaker B: Which is life changing. If I didn't have the ability to talk to my mom and my dad when I was locked up, I honestly, Drew, don't know where I would be. Right? [00:28:56] Speaker A: Wow. That, that hit me. RJ, thank you. I'm grateful you're in my life and that we're friends and that you're on the journey you're on and keep doing it. You're making such a difference in people's lives. Thanks again for coming on, my friend. [00:29:12] Speaker B: Big pleasure. Appreciate you. God bless you and God bless all you who are listening. Thanks. [00:29:16] Speaker A: God bless you too. Thank you so much, everybody. Be well and be happy and go where your heart leads you. Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed the episode, please subscribe and give us a review to help others find it. If you find yourself immersed in adversity and would like to find support from other men in times of struggle, please become a member of my men's supporting men collaboration tribe by emailing me at [email protected] expressing your interest and I'll get in touch with you. Speak to you soon. Bye.

Other Episodes