“Back in 1994, my sister-in-law Rebecca Hoard, who was a member of Team Jesus Ministries, invited me to come and give my testimony at the jail. There were about six to eight guys in a cell and I can remember being more nervous about preaching,” he said, with a soft voice.
Hoard was so impressed with Putman’s testimony that she asked him to come back. He accepted her invitation with some reservations.
“As I was driving to the jail, I pulled over at a restaurant and asked the Lord to show me a sign of whether or not he wanted me to preach. When I got to the jail, the power of God came over me and I just started preaching. At the end, about three or four guys gave their lives to the Lord. With those guys giving their lives to the Lord, God showed me that day that he was calling me to do this.”
Even though Putman has dedicated his spare time to preaching to men in the Henry County Jail, his life wasn’t always on a straight path.
Growing up in Atlanta, Putman did not live in a religious household. His dad, a cotton mill worker, was an alcoholic and routinely abused his mother. While his parents did not attend church, they did allow Putman and his five siblings to attend church with a young couple who lived nearby. According to his recently published book, “And He Restored My Soul,” he was baptized when he was about 10, but did not know what being baptized meant.
“I had no idea what I was doing. It all just went into one ear and out the other,” he said of his baptism.
Being baptized had no bearing upon his soul, and his life started to spiral out of control. Putman said when he was about 14 he started down a path of drug and alcohol abuse.
“I started drinking liquor and smoking marijuana and hanging around ex-cons,” he said, while slightly shaking his head. “While living in the Hapeville area, I got caught up in the ’70s lifestyle and got into all kinds of drugs like MDMA (ecstasy), downers, uppers, even selling and buying drugs.”
Putman continued his drug and alcohol use while his family faced numerous tragedies. According to his book, his sister Kathy, who was then 18 years old, was kidnapped from her job at a night club in downtown Atlanta by a group of bikers who went by the name “The Outlaws.” In the book, Putman said his sister was allowed to make one phone call home before she was taken away by the group. Putman later learned through his mother that his sister’s last words over the phone were: “Mama, they are going to kill me.”
Putman said that, after years of hearing nothing from Kathy, detectives eventually tracked down two young women who were also kidnapped by the bikers but managed to escape. Putman said detectives told his mother that the two women claimed the bikers had killed Kathy. Even though the women said the bikers killed his sister, Putman said his sister’s body was never found and there was no funeral.
“I wanted revenge for my sister. My mother had to leave this earth with no body and that hurt real bad,” he said with his voice shaking.
His father succumbed to throat cancer in 1969 when he was 13; his sister Connie died at the age of 43 from cancer; his sister Sandra died at the age of 49 from colon cancer; his sister Carol died in her sleep; and his mother died at the age of 79 in a nursing home in Tennessee. His brother Tommy, who strayed with a life of alcohol abuse, drank himself to death. While he was alive, the family lost touch with him. It wasn’t until doctors from a hospital in Kennesaw called to notify the family that he had been admitted that they found out he had been living on the streets. Other than Putman, his two sisters, Linda and Karen, are the only surviving members of the immediate family.
No one in his family has made it to the age of 60, Putman said. But what hurts him the most, he said, is that he is not sure whether some of them went to heaven. Even though he preached at the funeral of his mother and witnessed to his brother and sisters Connie and Carol, he said he regretted not being able to witness to his sister Sandra before her death.
Throughout the years, Putman has accepted Jesus Christ, rejected him, accepted him again, rejected him once more and finally accepted him for good. He first got saved back in 1984, but said he wasn’t really grounded in Christianity.
“It was easy for me to backslide because I came up doing drugs and I didn’t know what it was like to be straight,” he said, raising his voice. “I was like a baby on milk. I was new to it.”
In 1984, he stayed with the church for six months and got tired of living the “straight life.” For about 30 days, he dabbled in the life he was used to, continuously doing drugs and drinking. He then decided that he wanted to get back on the right path and once again started going to church. But his time in church was brief. Falling into temptation again, he continued to live the partying lifestyle for seven years.
Throughout his life, Putman felt that God had given him six chances to restore his soul, including a time when he almost drowned as a child, when he was involved in a homicide of a friend in 1973, when he was seriously injured in a head-on collision, when he was almost killed by a 15-year-old boy in College Park, when he was on cocaine on Stewart Avenue (now known as Metropolitan Parkway) in Atlanta and when he was almost killed in a robbery attempt by a young man on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta.
After seven years of consuming drugs and alcohol, Putman said he grew tired of running away from God.
“I got tired of looking in the mirror at myself. I got tired of looking in the refrigerator and seeing nothing but alcohol. I had a 3-year-old daughter and I didn’t want her to grow up with a dad who drank like I did,” he said, while gazing out the window once again.
Joining Team Jesus and giving his testimony to the men in the Henry County Jail gives Putman the flexibility to share the stories of his life he would not be able to share while preaching in a church.
“People in jail seem to be more hungry for the gospel and all I do is plant the seed and God sorts out the rest,” he said, raising his voice and squirming in his chair. Putman believes that men need three things to stay out of jail.
“A man needs a church, a family and a job ... without those things, it’s easy for a man to go back to jail.”
Putman preaches at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on the first, second and fifth Sundays with Team Jesus Ministries at the Henry County Jail. The ministry also holds Wednesday night Bible study sessions at the jail.
Putman, who lives in Griffin and attends Believer’s Baptist Church on High Falls Road, has also appeared on television in Jonesboro, on the radio in Newnan and participated in a five-day crusade with the Rev. Billy Graham at the Georgia Dome in October 1994.
Having a relationship with God is the only way people can live a fruitful life, according to Putman. When asked what one could gain from having a relationship with God, he shook his head, clamped his hands and rested them on the table.
“Peace. Peace is what people are looking for and they can only get that inner peace from God. The world gives them a false sense of peace,” he said.
That inner peace, he said, was something he longed for during his partying years, recalling the last time he was tempted to return to his previous lifestyle.
“I had some buddies come by and wanted me to go drinking with them. I walked out the door, but I stopped halfway and turned and saw my daughter watching me through the screen door. I knew then God was making me choose,” he said.
He went out to the car and told his friends to leave. Even though his friends told him that he would be back, Putman never went back. He was ready to leave that part of his life in the past and move on with a life of inner peace.
“What my friends didn’t know is that I was starving,” he said. “I was hungry for the Lord.”