This website is the joint effort of myself, Amanda Schmitt and my fiancé, Dustin Harwick. The body of the website is my work, and Dustin will be contributing most of the essays on the blog.
Our relationship is demonstrative of the purpose of this website, as our backgrounds are almost perfect opposites, spiritually speaking, and yet, here we are together in the Faith. Dustin had no religious instruction as a child, was plunged into the criminal underworld by a parent, and grew to manhood in a maximum-security prison. I, on the other hand, was raised traditional Catholic, taught Catholic doctrine and the lives of the saints, was home-schooled, and kept isolated from bad influence as much as possible, in an idyllic country lifestyle. Worldly wisdom would have said Dustin was a lost cause; and I was surely “saved”. But this worldly wisdom leaves out the working of God’s grace, and the wiles of Satan, that touch every life on earth. Lost in the darkness of a hellish dungeon, God was teaching Dustin Himself, in the depths of his soul; at the same time, I was brought to the edge of despair and spiritual destruction by Satan’s wiles that had found their way into my supposedly perfect world.
Seeing so many traditional Catholic “children of the Kingdom” living worldly lives and often turning away altogether, I was convinced that we, as a whole, have become like the Chosen People of the Old Testament, and will share the same fate. So, I decided to “go out into highways and hedges and make them come in”. This is how I met Dustin.
We have found our different spiritual beginnings have brought a clarity and understanding that neither of us would have had alone. Dustin came to God directly through meditation and natural reason on his own; so his basic foundation and principles are very solid. However, that natural knowledge is limited and leaves blanks. I brought the knowledge of Catholic doctrine, which filled in those blanks. On the other hand, we "cradle-Catholics" can sometimes get lost in the higher, finer details, and fail at the basics. Many times Dustin has reminded me of the most basic things of the Faith.
Our unimaginable relationship is testimony of the power of God’s grace, and is the fruit of a little work done for the love of God and of neighbor. Our personal stories follow.
DUSTIN HARWICK: MY STORY
My name is Dustin and I found God in a unique way. In my life I have had many of experiences and met a lot of people from all walks of life. This has given me a very different road from which I was brought to God. It is easy for others to judge one another for our sins and wrongdoings. This is why I feel the need to reach out to people and fellow Catholics to hear my story. Belief is the most powerful force upon this earth as it has the ability to move those into actions once they feel God's guidance in this life. Here is my life story and how I came to accept God's guidance for my path towards freedom from the pain, trauma, and scars on my soul from the actions I chose in my life. We all feel pain but with the help of our Lord and Savior we can earn the right to be free from it. This is the ultimate goal we all strive for in our life.
I grew up in a broken home with two sisters, Billie(oldest) and Cassandra. My parents only got married because Billie asked why they were not. My life has been surrounded with drugs, alcohol, and violence. My parents got divorced when I was four and after this my life had a lot of instability. This was due my mother being the sole provider for three kids and our grandmother. My grandmother
was a good influence in my life. Needless to say, Billie raised me and Cassie. Cassie is 10 months older than me, but Billie is 8 years older than me. She ended up raising both of us while my mom was providing for us by keep a roof over our heads and food on our table.
As you may well know kids supervising kids doesn't turn out well and this was the case for me. I had my first fight when I was four and I was fighting a five year old while my sisters watched. My father didn't teach us much, but he did drill into all of his kids a blind loyalty to family, especially him. His favorite saying was “do as I say, not as I do”.
His early influence led me to blind allegiance towards him. This was my downfall as I never questioned my actions regarding any of his misconduct. His actions led to me coming to prison, but he didn't teach me about morals/integrity. My grandfather taught me what it meant to be a man and a person of integrity. This wasn't without a negative influence, though, as he was an alcoholic.
He used alcohol to cope with the trauma and pain of his tours in the Vietnam War as an army medic, and also the loss of his two sons in an alcohol-related accident when my mother was a teenager. As you can imagine most of my influences in my life are centered on pain and trauma. There were glimpses of good intentioned ideas and principles, but they were always accompanied by painful experiences.
I started to question the world and my family’s intentions when I watched my father overdose in a suicide attempt, but survive it, when I was 11. Billie and I could only watch as he lay there on the floor. We called the ambulance, but he was awake enough to refuse treatment. This is when I learned a person can just sign an X for their name on forms as he did, and the ambulance left. We left him there not knowing if he would live or die. He ended up living but not changing his ways, just masking them better. I was taught good natured habits by my grandfather shortly after this, but it came with mixed blessings in my mind. I say this because he was always drinking and I knew he was doing what my father just did, only on a smaller scale.
All this instability led me to bottle up my feelings a lot. They would come out in short bursts of violence and anger. I didn't figure out why until I was put in a position where I took the life of another person. This incident came from my father’s drug abuse and eventual nose dive into the criminal way of life.
To put it simply my father trafficked drugs for a criminal biker gang. He did this on and off for years, but it really got bad once he got his license to drive tracktor trailers. In the summer of 2002 he ended up doing something and it led to a falling out with his supposed friends. Instead of them killing him and his family, he worked out a deal to recruit his kids into the lifestyle. I was put into a situation where I was told to be someone I wasn't and in went downhill from there. All of the anger I felt towards these people, life, and my inability to stand up for myself led me to taking that anger out on a person. I took the life of Sandra Iverson on August 2nd, 2002. I will forever regret this action because I could've handled it differently in so many ways. However, this wasn't the case and it led me to falling into the criminal element of society.
I was taught by my father (when he was there for his brief moments), to manipulate, intimidate, and deceive people for personal gain. So long as it wasn't done to family, you could be as bad as anything so long as we finished ahead at the end of the con. This was my downfall with him, as again, he taught all his kids to do as he said, not as he did.
I was exposed to a lot of the criminal lifestyle and in the end, I was caught for the murder of Sandra Iverson in March 2003.
It took the court system almost 17 months to give me a life sentence with possible release after 30 years of confinement. I was 14 when I took the life a woman who didn't deserve it and 15 when I was arrested for it. I was sent to an adult maximum security prison when I was 16. Green Bay Correctional Institution is the most violent and hardest prison Wisconsin has to offer and has a lot of gang violence. I'm not a gang member and will never be one. When I got there in 2004, I had a very hard time trying to adjust to my home that I thought was for the rest of my life.
My grandfather taught me many things and if it wasn't for him, I would've never have survived prison. He taught me endurance, the defense of self (not self-defense), and why we need to be violent in certain circumstances. I used these tools to survive my first couple of years incarcerated. Unfortunately, when you are thrown into this pit of despair and hell and told this would be your home for the rest of your life, it pulled me further into criminalistic thinking. I was also exposed to paganism and all of it's so-called wondrous monstrosities.
After years of using violence to solve my problems and falling into false worship, I had a breaking point in 2011 and 2012. My sister Cassie overdosed on drugs my father gave her. Due to lack of evidence her death is still an open homicide investigation and he got away with it. I fell deeper into paganism and found a sense of purpose. It was with a big consequence though. I got very sick and was diagnosed with cancer. I ended up going numb and waiting for death to take me when I got into a fight over next to nothing in March of 2013.
I just gave you a lot of information with very few references, but it comes with an explanation. Prison will bring out the worst of you if you let it and it did for me. I found out early on I was good at fighting. My attitude put me in situations where I was always fighting for some reason tied to pride or a sense of purpose. This was a false sense of purpose as it led me to falling into a deeper pit of a hell of my own creation.
When I was deep into paganism, I always felt this connection to positivity and light. Even when I was falling into the deepest parts of myself and this evil, I couldn't help but feel a connection to what I could only describe as God in my heart. This connection saved me when I hit the bottom. This bottom came from violence.
My last fight in 2013 was very bad in that I broke both of my hands and really hurt the other person. I was put in solitary confinement for over four months and was told to change my ways or I would spend the next decade in that cell. The prison officers were true to their word as I didn't come out of this cell for anything. I was also denied treatment for my broken hands and this led to tremendous pain years later. Remember also that I have cancer and didn't take treatment for it as I was stubborn and didn't care about living anymore. Needless to say, I hit rock bottom and was going to die in a 9’ by 10’ cell with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company.
This was my lowest point in my life and I knew I couldn't blame anyone but myself. I looked myself in the mirror and felt everything. All the pain in my life, the trauma I went through, and all the pain I caused others. All of it I felt and I was shown a way to find salvation. My sense of purpose in this life came in these four months I spent in a hole with nothing but my own thoughts and this feeling I couldn't explain in my heart showing a different way.
God works in mysterious ways and I was led to believe this in these moments of self-reflection. I say this because He got me to think about what forgiveness really means. What I mean by this is we are very quick to forgive others but are not so quick to forgive ourselves for our transgressions.
You may be thinking about my last statement and I encourage you to do so. It is easy to look upon others and let the anger go from someone who harms you as it is the right thing to do. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. That is what our Lord's Prayer says and it is true. It is also true to seek an understanding of why we sin. Why we are the way we are. We are sinful creatures but allowed to be redeemed by the grace God gives us through the Sacrifice of His only Son.
To question our vices leading to sin is the growth we are supposed to have spiritually. What I mean when we need to forgive ourselves is simple really. We go to confession to ask for forgiveness of our sins and if we do not understand why we sin does it really matter? Or are we just lying to ourselves by saying we are sorry but not processing the pain that comes with our trauma. This was the case for me.
I was never one to blame others for my actions, but I always came back to the fact that this is who I am. I cannot change. I need others to understand that this is how I function. I was very ignorant and a little scared of all of this. I chose to follow the feeling in my heart and seek a different way of life other than what I felt was comfortable for me. This is what God seeks for us while we are here on this earth. I found my sense of purpose and asked God for a road towards earning back my freedom I threw away all those years ago. When I say freedom, I mean to be free from the scars upon my soul, not the freedom we think we have while on this earth.
After this I got out of solitary and found my purpose in life. My first relationship I chose to fix and earn back the respect I was supposed to show was my mother. I fought my sickness because she asked me to. I also sought to become a person that she could be proud of and not afraid of. I have become a son she can now be proud to call her own and be safe around me. She also helped me to meet my love and wife-to-be Mandy.
Years after my change and purpose-driven life I hit a road-block in my change. I couldn't get any more growth from my environment as it was prison. It was designed for chaos, negativity, and making better criminals, or reform through torture. I was placed on a website for meeting people who would correspond with me and I asked other people to help me learn from their experiences in life. I did this because most of my experiences I could think of or on were from tremendous suffering I went through, or I forced others to go through because of my actions. I reached out to a pen pal website for a different aspect of life I never knew, to learn how to be human again, and to seek a better understanding of why God chose me to keep on living through all this suffering. God brought me Amanda Schmitt and it changed my life. I had learned all I could but still felt as if I was lacking information to change as taking information. Mandy brought me the light of Catholic truth. I found she was a person who was also hurting. She was grieving from the loss of her parents and I was grieving from my separation from God and everything I thought I had a handle on but clearly didn't. Over the course of years we guided each other through so many hardships and painful experiences. Within all of this God showed us that we are more alike than we think but are different in ways that compliment each other’s strengths. We also are strong in our convictions to curb our faults.
My life is all the better that I know God and have those who are in my life to help carry out His purpose. I came from nothing, lived as a modern day slave in a hell of my own creation, and was shown a way towards salvation through “honoring thy mother”. Whatever you may be going through or what you may think you know to be true understand that we are connected to God always. We feel his presence and we understand when we sin as we feel the guilt. This is why my family chooses to abuse substances to numb this pain.
We all can be one with our sense of purpose so long as we are honest with ourselves, the people around us, and our feeling that God guides us with. It has for me and has made all the difference. I now know what love from others in my life truly is. Whether it is from family, friends, or my wife-to-be, Mandy, I know that being true to my beliefs will keep me in the grace God gives us all. It is there for everyone who seeks it so long as we understand that HONESTY is how we are to live while on this planet. After I chose this, it has led me to be a man of faith. I live for God now and I urge you to seek the same.
AMANDA SCHMITT: MY STORY
Hi I’m Amanda Schmitt, and I am the author of the main body of the website. I will explain to you where I come from and how I came to pursue the goals you find in the mission statement.
I have been tremendously blessed with some great advantages in my life; but also with some very significant disadvantage. That’s true for most people; what’s different about me is my advantages and disadvantages weren’t the usual. Traditional Catholic since 4 years old; I was home-schooled, spiritually fed on a wealth of Catholic books; and sheltered from bad influence. I was privileged to grow up in the country, gardening, raising farm animals etc. Most would think it was “ideal”. However, it was far from it.
I grew up and spent most of my life in the midst of the jarring conflict of a divided and very volatile family. My mother had reversed course from a very worldly life that was focused on fun and fashion; living for the weekends, bars, nightclubs, all-night parties and so on. While my father changed the lifestyle, it was unwillingly. My brother and sisters were already quite formed by the time my mother changed her ways. The level of conflict in our divided home was battle-field level. The bad effects of this are obvious; but what was less obvious was the subtle “flaws” running through the good parts. These “flaws”, which seem relatively harmless or even good on the surface, bore their bitter fruit in time.
I was a small child during the early years of the Novus Ordo. Sold out by their rightful shepherds, Catholics were on their own. Doctrinal and moral anarchy reigned. Catholics had lost their anchor. Those that realized what had happened were like dazed survivors wandering in the rubble after a bombing. They were forced to make decisions far above their capacity, without adequate resources to supply the lacking information. A reckless zealotry became “normal”. Of course, the devil was at work with anyone who allowed pride to creep in. Subtle errors became deep-seated. And sometimes unshakeable, even when information became available that proved their falsehood. I will cover each of those errors and their effect on me in a series of upcoming essays. For now, suffice it to say their fruit almost destroyed me, both mentally and spiritually, and set my life on a hard path. However, God has a reason for everything that He permits, and my experiences have given me a unique perspective that I would not otherwise have. This is what I seek to share.
I saw clearly the absurd disorder and moral perversion of the American way of life, and I wanted none of it. I abhorred the phoniness, the shallow thinking and the materialism of the “normal” American, as well of the rebellion of those who ran counter to it. I came to hold the average person in contempt.
I felt no kinship with my fellow traditional Catholics, either, as most were walking in the same path as everyone else, only with certain limitations. As a result, I saw many come to despise their Faith. Meanwhile, the handful of “zealots” in the mix were too exclusive to deal with each other. I was alienated, angry, anxious and walking on the edge of despair. My only friend was my mother, and that relationship was rapidly deteriorating.
At age 33 I had an experience that changed my outlook. We had a neighbor who lived across the road, that I had a particular dislike for. He was about my age, had a shaved head, and arms covered in tattoos from wrist to shoulder. He didn’t work, nor take care of the place, and apparently didn’t have a driver’s license. He had a cocky manner and troublesome pit bulls. I could not stand him! Then there was the day the sheriff’s deputies came; he’d been involved in a car burglary/theft; money for drugs, I suppose. We didn’t see him for a few months, and then I saw him again. I was so disappointed. I thought he was out of my way. The next day, he was. As I watched his death investigation unfold from my front door, I was stunned by the realization that he was no different than me. He had just stood before the same judgment seat of God as I will. Despite his non-religious lifestyle, now that was all there was to him. The somber realization of where he mostly likely was now, shook me to the core. I realized the spiritual advantages that I had, compared to him. I realized the pain he was in. I saw him as a fellow human being now, but it was too late to be of help. My contempt was replaced with compassion, and a burning desire to reach lost souls. I no longer despised my fellow Americans. I was filled with hope for them, while I came to think the same fate that befell the Chosen people before, would befall most traditional Catholics, for the same reasons.
But he said to him: A certain man made a great supper, and invited many. And he sent his servant at the hour of supper to say to them that were invited, that they should come, for now all things are ready. And they began all at once to make excuse…” Luke 14:16-18
“And the servant returning, told these things to his lord. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant: Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the feeble, and the blind, and the lame. And the servant said: Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the Lord said to the servant: Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. But I say unto you, that none of those men that were invited, shall taste of my supper.” Luke 14:21-24
My parents, with whom I had lived all this time, passed in 2015 and 2016. Despite our failed relationship, my mother’s death was one of the most painful experiences of my life. It seemed, perhaps, I could never be happy again. At this point, I finally yielded all to God. I resolved to do His will, and His will alone. I resolved to share what had been given to me. I am a creative type, so I had a back-log of ideas and possible future projects. But now, I wasn’t really interested in any of them. However, I resolved to do whatever would seem to be the will of God, whether I wanted to or not.
One of the first things I did, was to “go out into the highways and hedges” of prisons, to see if I could make them come in. I was astounded by what I found: deep thinkers, very willing and capable of discussing the things of God and of the soul. I found a level of seriousness, straightforwardness and candor almost never encountered in the free world. It was like stepping back in time several centuries… Hearing them recount the workings of God in the depths of their souls gave me a much clearer grasp of God’s love and mercy. My initial success (which was a bit unrealistic) brought and incredible level of joy to my life. However, human nature being such as it is, I was soon to see all the scenarios in the Parable of the Sower play out. That led to some painful, and even frightening experiences. Meanwhile one of those prisoners was standing out as the most awesome man I’d ever known. And that was Dustin Harwick, the man I plan to marry.
Through our conversations, I found that a fundamental thing was lacking everywhere, and that thing was capable of bringing both the pagan and the traditional Catholic to the same path of salvation; and that thing was charity.