Scared Straight: Prodigal Son’s Past Catches Up With Him
Brian D. Thomas decided years ago to follow Christ when he was arrested and held in jail on a trafficking charge. Now, he faces an uncertain future as he prepares for the possibility of returning to prison.
Editor’s note: Thomas was interviewed for Faithfully Magazine in November 2016 and in March 2017. After this story was published, Thomas was sent to jail to await sentencing for a trafficking conviction. Thomas’ sentence was to be handed down July 20, 2017. His family and friends are praying for a miracle, and have launched a support Facebook page for him.
Update (July 20, 2017): According to Jeremy Anderson, Thomas’ close friend and mentor: “The judge was really torn on his decision and he ended up giving Brian (three) years. There is a possibility that he will be granted work release…” (Instagram)
Brian D. Thomas sounded confident over the phone, and clear about the path he would take should negotiations with the District Attorney handling his case fall apart. Thomas was certain that God would have the final word.
“Yeah, we are still under investigation,” Thomas said in early November 2016 during a phone interview. “I just went to court and they offered me 10 years, serve three. And so we’re not going for that.”
Thomas was ready to go straight to trial if probation only was not offered.
The case in question stems from a 2013 arrest for drug trafficking in his home state of Alabama, complicated by a felony arrest three months later.
“I don’t have no time to give y’all,” he said of the system. After all, Thomas had already spent half of his life in and out of jail. He insisted that he would fear the ultimate Judge and not an earthly one.
As it turned out, negotiations worked out in his favor in the beginning. The D.A., impressed by letters written on Thomas’ behalf attesting to his new life and ministry work, agreed to give him probation. He would only serve time—a minimum of three years—if he found himself in trouble again.God had answered his prayers. Or so it seemed.
On Feb. 6, 2017, Thomas’ case finally came before a judge. But the judge, a former real estate attorney reportedly on the bench for just four years, rejected the D.A.’s recommendation and tossed the signed plea deal.
Thomas, 33, was rocked.
“He basically wants me to go to prison,” he said during a call the week after the hearing.
Now, Thomas was weighing his options to either get a new judge to review his case or go to trial.
After the 2013 arrest, Thomas, raised in a Christian home, began flirting with the idea of following God.
As it turned out, he needed another push before fully committing to Jesus Christ.
“You know how you kinda just pick and choose what sins you’re gonna commit and what sins you’re not?” he asked. “I ended up just being in the same type of environments, we’ll say, and caught another case in January 2014, three months later.”
That 2014 case for a felony possession charge involving guns and marijuana resulted in unsupervised probation. “By the grace of God,” he added.
Since that time, Thomas became a new man and declares that he is committed to living life on God’s terms, which doesn’t include smoking weed or drinking lean (the nickname for a drink with a main ingredient of codeine)—two habits that featured heavily in his old, flashy lifestyle.
Thomas met Sophy on Facebook in 2015. She eventually became his wife and ministry partner. They have children from previous relationships—a son aged 20 and a six-year-old daughter. He has reconciled with his estranged parents, written a book, and toured nationally with Jeremy Anderson and The Grace Tour, an evangelism and outreach ministry.
Thomas believes his redemption story is evidence that God can do anything.
Beginning of the End
It took a while for Thomas, who also raps under the name Next Level B, to become firm in his faith.
His memoir, The Plug: What Everyone Is Searching For, chronicles how Thomas’ father’s apparent breakdown ruined his family. It also destroyed Thomas’ faith and set him on a life of crime. Throughout the book, he reflects on how God intervened repeatedly to protect him from the full consequences of a wayward life that began with his teenage, foolish decision to sell drugs.
For the first 15 years of his life, Thomas was raised by God-fearing parents who taught him and his younger sister to do the same. Despite his father being frequently absent from home due to work, Thomas’ home life was stable. He had all that he needed. Then about half-way through high school things went south quickly.
In just one summer Thomas started smoking marijuana, had his first sexual experience with an older woman after lying about his age, and got the shock of his life when his father announced that he would stop working in order to focus full-time on doing what he believed God had called him to do—write a book about the End Times.
It was years before Thomas began to recover from what those three events set in motion.
To this day, Thomas regrets not having said anything during that fateful family meeting. His stay-at-home mother, though taken aback, did not challenge her husband’s decision. He always called the shots. Unfortunately, the “divinely-inspired” book about the apocalypse abruptly brought an end to the comfortable life Thomas and his family were used to. In no time, they lost their possessions, their home, and eventually their husband and father.
“[Dad] always just told me ‘God is in control,’ so in my mind that meant this was all God’s fault,” Thomas wrote in The Plug. The abrupt disruption to his idyllic childhood soured his attitude toward both his father and God. The gossiping about his family’s downward spiral among church members didn’t help.
As his parents’ marriage fell apart and his family began living hand-to-mouth, a fed-up Thomas took up an offer from a friend’s older brother to help him sell marijuana.
At the age of 18, he and a friend set out for Florida in pursuit of fulfilling their rap dreams, only to end up homeless. To make fast money, Thomas agreed to partner with a local dealer to sell crack cocaine.
Despite his conflicted feelings about selling a drug that he knew destroyed lives, Thomas decided it was “either them or me.” He simply shut off his emotions, as he had learned from dealing with his father, and convinced himself that it was what he had to do.
Fast-forward about 10 years later: after several arrests, stints behind bars, friends lost to jail and violence, and a near-death experience, Thomas had decided to go straight—for the most part.
“I was still smoking and partying when I could,” he wrote. “I was still in the same environment I’d always been in, and I was still having sex. I didn’t understand that these things would lead you back to a place you think you’re escaping.”
The situation was compounded when his daughter was born. He persuaded himself that he would do anything, including selling drugs again, to make sure her needs were met.
“I fell deeper and harder into the lifestyle that had consumed me and taken many years of my life,” Thomas wrote. “I was able to provide for my family, but at what cost?”
It was not long afterward that he started to feel God’s pull. Convicted about his selfish choices, Thomas decided he would follow God 100 percent. But first, he “just had to do one more thing.”
“God was calling me and didn’t have time to play with me,” Thomas wrote of the 2014 felony arrest involving guns and marijuana that resulted from the last run he just had to make.
It was during his last time behind bars that Thomson had what he describes in hindsight as a fateful encounter with the Holy Spirit.
As Thomas sat in jail for about six hours, he was confronted by the failures of his choices and an internal voice telling him he needed to “choose.”
“I’m in jail and I was nervous for the first time ever,” he said. “Like, I’ve never been nervous to be in there because I’m accustomed to being there. So there’s nothing to be nervous for, right? But this time I was nervous and I was shaking.”
Thomas said he believed the shaking was a physical response to “God’s manifested presence” in the jail cell, “to give me, truly, a feeling that I’ve never had before in a place that I’m used to going. Because this was something unlike anything else.”
“And all I heard in my head was ‘choose,’” He said. “Like, I’m looking at myself in the little tin mirror in there and I’m, like, ‘OK, Brian, you put yourself in here. You did this to yourself.’ And all I hear is ‘choose.’ And I’m thinking, like, choose what?”
Thomas said he felt like his soul hung in the balance.
“I felt like I was in trouble with my daddy, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “Like I was a little boy and I was about to get the whooping of a lifetime. That’s what it felt like. I felt like a child. And I’m shaking, and all I [felt] was, “Make your decision right now—life or death, heaven or hell, Me or the world.”
Thomas asked God to confirm what he thought he heard and felt. He asked for a sign, and in return he would commit the rest of his life. He requested that no matter whom he called, only his father would answer the phone.
In an attempt to avoid the inevitable, Thomas called eight people—none of whom answered their phones. He finally relented and dialed his father’s number. He picked up on the very first ring.
“It was that moment, I was convicted and committed,” Thomas recalled. “I knew I couldn’t play anymore—and that God had something for me to do.”
After he left jail, Thomas contacted his old friend, Jeremy Anderson. He and Anderson did business together back in the day when they worked hard at smoking weed, drinking lean and making money.
But Thomas knew his old friend would be a reliable lifeline. In 2009, Anderson had abandoned his kingpin lifestyle to follow Christ.
A New Life
Thomas is “like a modern-day Saul who turned [into] to Paul,” Anderson, 37, said of his friend and mentee.
Anderson, an author, speaker and international ministry leader, knows a thing or two about the struggles Thomas had to face in his decision to walk fully with God.
“I’m not surprised that he gave his life to God and that he’s all the way in, sold out,” Anderson said. “He was facing some pretty heavy consequences from getting his life [right] with God and leaving the dope game.”
After witnessing that Thomas was willing to sacrifice “to a point where he was willing to be a martyr for Jesus Christ,” Anderson determined that his friend’s conviction was “real” and “rare.”
“When he’s down for something, he’s all the way down,” Anderson said about Thomas’ loyalty. “Ain’t no fake stuff with him here.”
“Everybody has things in their life that they regret having done,” Thomas said. “That’s just human.”
When asked how he views the decisions that negatively impacted his life and the lives of others, Thomas said, “I think the peace comes in where you know that God’s grace has covered you and that everything that you’ve done was for a purpose. Everything that I’ve ever done is now being able to be used for somebody else.”
Those were mistakes, he added. “That’s just what I’ve done. That’s not who I am. So knowing that, I’m able to release those things and let it go.”
Part of the healing process was reconciling with his father, whom he said God had restored. Thomas’ relationship with the church also required healing.
Anderson said, “There was a season when he was really bitter with the church because he [believed] the church abandoned him and his family.”
Anderson noticed that Thomas’ story during gatherings gradually changed little by little in terms of softening toward the church. He knew “the Holy Spirit [was] working all up in this young brother.”
“It’s amazing to see what God has done in his life over the past couple of years,” Anderson added, “and I believe He’s just getting started.”
After the recent ruling by the judge, Thomas didn’t sound as exuberant over the phone in February as he did during the November interview or the brief meeting during FlavorFest months prior in Tampa.
Thomas sounded challenged, but determined.
“You know what I recognized?” Anderson asked. “God puts kings up and takes kings down and at the end of the day, God is in control. I believe that God has put him in this position so that God can be most glorified and turn the situation around.”
Anderson believes that Thomas, or B, as he calls him, is in the process of making peace with the possibility that although God can turn things in his immediate favor, He might choose not to.
“It’s one thing to get it and then have it taken away,” Thomas said of the near resolution to the case. “I don’t have the logic as to why God allowed that to happen.
Finding himself at square one suggests God might be preparing to do something “that’s so amazing” it will stretch his faith, he said.
Thomas had previously said that the position he found himself in was “miracle territory”—a place where God sets out to do powerful work.
“Like, the world was created from darkness and it was without form, it was void,” Thomas said. “So, to me, God is always doing His greatest work in the dark, where nobody sees it, where nobody knows what’s going on, when nothing can be seen.”
Understanding that is partly what keeps Thomas’ wife, Sophy, encouraged, he said, adding that she can be “a worrier.” Sophy left a well-paying job in March 2016 to join him full-time on The Grace Tour and to do ministry using their own “Activate Series,” a program tailored to connect with and motivate troubled youths to work intentionally toward positive futures.
As for their daughter, Thomas hasn’t mentioned the possibility of prison to her yet. “For now, I just want her to be a baby,” he said.” I just want her to be a little girl in kindergarten doing well in school, focused on her studies, not focused on the possibility of losing her father for three years.”
And he isn’t letting the threat of incarceration deter him from expanding his ministry outreach.
Thomas and Sophy had prepared for six weeks of intensive training in Thailand with Thrive Rescue, an organization that fights trafficking. When they complete the program, they will be certified to lead an anti-sex trafficking ministry. The couple has already founded a non-profit agency through which to do their work. Their Galatians-inspired G51 Project focuses on rescuing and restoring victims of human trafficking.
Acknowledging that he might not be able to join Sophy for the overseas training this coming summer, Thomas spoke resolutely about his determination not to be separated from his family by prison.
Thomas was also determined to let God be God.
“You’re God,” Thomas said as if praying aloud, “so if You decide to come through, if You choose this, that’s just going to be above and beyond. That would mean full exoneration. That means I would beat the case.”
“I don’t know what He has in mind,” he added. “We’re just moving forward.”
Thomas shared some of his story in a 2015 mini-documentary on YouTube.
This story was edited by Heidi Wallenborn.