Put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, a man finds true freedom in the gospel.
The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways and in unique places. For Casy Phillips, also known as Shia, that place was a jail cell. Casy’s story is one filled with turbulence, but the Holy Spirit worked within Casy and brought him peace.
Trapped in a snowball
Casy’s childhood was complicated. “The word people use to describe my childhood is tragic,” he says, “but it’s not the word I use necessarily; it’s not the outlook I have on it. I think I had a pretty good childhood and people who loved me, but there were also people who loved me who were not in their right mind or weren’t the nicest of people. There was love, but there was also abuse.”
That incongruence could also be seen in his family’s religious life. Family members of various religions—Catholicism, Judaism, Christianity—didn’t practice their religion consistently or would go against what their religion set as a pathway for life.
One of his only positive role models was his Aunt Sharon, whom he considers his second mother and who played a major role in his future and his faith.
As a result of the trials he had faced, Casy’s teenage years were filled with conflict in his quest to push down the pain he experienced. His view of the world was one of frustration and anger.
Little annoyances or situations would set off his rage. Casy describes those years like a snowball. He was rolling down a snowy mountain, the snow clinging to him and the ball becoming bigger, but he became so comfortable sitting inside the snowball that he didn’t want to break the pattern.
“There was a person in there,” he says. “Beneath the pain, I needed help.”
The crowd he hung out with and the music he listened to reinforced Casy’s anger and violence. He began to sell drugs, vandalize property, and create satanic music.
For a time, Casy actually attended a Christian middle school and high school; however, his love for the Savior did not flourish. Quite the opposite: Casy considered himself an atheist.
Casy remembers having a counselor at his school who would bring up God, but it made him feel like he was being berated. Casy would tell the counselor he didn’t know if God even existed.
As he got older, Casy thought of Christians as a threat. If people tried to talk about Jesus or the gospel, he would attack them and had a series of responses ready about statements in the Bible he found to be false or contrarian.
“Satan had a hold on me in everything I did,” Casy acknowledges. “He made my sin my identity. I was an utterly wicked person and the only reason I was alive was because God had mercy on me.”
Searching for a new way
One of the major turning points for Casy was the birth of his daughter. He and his daughter’s mother met in June 2013 in Jacksonville, Fla. Four months later, they found out they were expecting a baby.
The couple moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., to start fresh and raise their daughter there together. Casy was 20 years old.
“My daughter was born in May 2014, and when I saw her, it was the first reason I had to live,” he says. “It was the first time in a very long time I felt love toward someone.”
Although Casy discovered newfound happiness in his daughter, he still struggled with his past demons. He thought that if he was the world’s best dad, everything else would be fine, just like he thought moving away from his bad influences in Florida would fix the anger he felt in his heart. But he was still missing the most important piece of his life, something he kept trying to push away.
“I would’ve said at the time I didn’t know there was a God, but really I was doing everything I could to make him not real to me,” he admits. “Because if I acknowledged he was real, then I would have to give up my way of life and let him be Lord. I wanted to be the master of my life and do whatever I wanted. Satan was really sitting on the throne of my heart.”
Three years after moving to Pennsylvania, the couple decided to move back to Florida. About a year after that, Casy and his partner split up. Casy raised his daughter mostly on his own for the next two years. “Being the sole parent most days created a real bond that didn’t exist before,” he says. “She was my little best friend and still is one of my best friends.”
For a brief period, everything seemed like it was going well in Casy’s life. But soon enough, depression crept in. Casy tried his best to keep his anger and violence tucked away. Much like someone driving a milk truck filled with glass bottles, Casy attempted to avoid any speed bumps that might set off his temper and cause the glass to shatter.
Finding true freedom
Then Casy experienced another turning point in his life. He was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.
In September 2020, he was interrogated by the police and sent to jail for 42 days. The police uncovered that Casy engaged in suicidal ideation and confined him to an empty jail cell for one week. The only person who came to his cell was a therapist for five minutes each day.
The isolation and stress caused Casy to hallucinate and think he was having conversations with Satan. For the first time, he began to realize that evil is real and everyone has evil inside. He also realized that God is real and could use an evil situation, like the one he was in, for his good.
At one point, Casy called out to God and admitted that he deserved death and hell for his sins. He also pleaded with God to show him the truth before he died so he could leave this earth with that knowledge.
God didn’t end Casy’s story there, though. Toward the end of his time in jail, Casy was put into a cell with a Christian. The man had a Bible, which Casy began to read voraciously.
He first opened to the book of James. “I thought that book had been waiting for me my entire life,” Casy shares.
It was the first time Casy read the Bible without looking for contradictions. The Holy Spirit used this time in jail for him to see the Bible in a different way and experience the power of the gospel. “It opened me up to understand how God could love me,” he says.
Casy was eventually released from jail, since no evidence had been found against him. He began to write music again. This time, however, he created Christian songs. In February 2021, he recorded a song about his story and put it on the internet. One day, he received a message from someone who said he had been planning to take his life. He was listening to music on Spotify and heard Casy’s song. After hearing the song’s message, the man explained that he ceased his previous plans and decided to get baptized instead.
Throughout this time, Casy continued to study the Bible and watch YouTube videos to understand more about God’s teachings. He tried out different churches, hoping to gain an understanding of their differences.
Casy’s Aunt Sharon, an active member of Victory, Jacksonville, Fla., invited Casy to attend church with her. One Sunday, Casy agreed and brought his daughter with him.
Casy’s first impression of Troy Schreiner, pastor at Victory, was that he was faithful to the Word and his preaching was consistent with what Casy read in the Bible. He also noticed that the hymns and songs emphasized God and his truths, rather than the individual.
For years, Sharon had talked with Schreiner about her nephew and had asked for prayers, so Schreiner was thrilled to see Casy in church that day. “You look at Casy and he’s not necessarily someone you’d expect to be passionate about his faith and the Word,” Schreiner says. “We tend to gravitate toward people who look like us and act like us and have the same background as us, but we should see every person as an opportunity to reach out and share God’s Word. Look at everyone as a soul who needs Jesus.”
It was a few months until Casy returned to Victory, but he knew that he had found his home. “If I went anywhere else and asked too many questions, they got upset with me or they’d make up answers,” Casy notes. “If I had a question Pastor Troy couldn’t answer immediately, he’d admit that he didn’t know and would need to look it up and come back to me with the answer.”
Casy started attending Bible information class and didn’t want to miss a single session. Eventually, he was baptized and accepted into membership at Victory.
Schreiner says that although he’s grateful to be a part of Casy’s story, the Holy Spirit is the one who deserves all the credit for Casy’s faith. “It wasn’t me sitting down with him,” Schreiner says. “It was Casy reading his Bible. This is an amazing example of the Spirit working through the Word. Let the Spirit work. Get the Bible into people’s hands.”
Today, you can find Casy in church most Sundays and attending Bible studies multiple times a week. His thankfulness and appreciation for the gospel are seen in everything he does and in his efforts to share the good news with others in the community.
Casy leaned on God and his Word to overcome his old demons and enjoy the peace that’s available through Christ. Getting to that point is not something that happens overnight; he continually works on it each day.
“To those who love their prison, freedom looks like punishment,” Casy says. “Before I knew Christ, whenever someone would offer Christ, it looked like a punishment to me. But finally, I don’t love my prisons anymore. The freedom of Christ is a release.”
Featured image at top: Casy with his two cousins; his daughter, Lyllah; and his Aunt Sharon at Victory, Jacksonville, Fla.
Author: Gabriella Blauert
Volume 110, Number 12
Issue: December 2023
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