Finding Freedom While Serving Hard Time Behind Bars

‘It is through Christ that we find true freedom,’ says Tom Naemi

Book cover of ‘Freedom Behind Bars’ by Tom Naemi
Book cover of ‘Freedom Behind Bars’ by Tom Naemi (photo: Shutterstock / Vanessa Denha Garmo)

In 2012, I sat down with Tom Naemi to talk about his life in prison and what led him there and how he found freedom in Christ.

He spent years filled with anger, resentment, hatred and revenge. He was in prison long before he ended up behind state prison bars in Michigan. 

Naemi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and came to the United States with his family as an 11-year-old in 1967. He was raised Catholic but says God never lived in his heart until he truly found him while serving a life sentence.

I spent several hours interviewing Naemi about his journey which he shares in his newly released book Freedom Behind Bars, now available on both Amazon and on the Ave Maria Radio online bookstore. 

While growing up, Naemi’s family lived in Detroit, and his parents attended Mass every Sunday. He recalls learning a hymn his mother would sing about the Blessed Mother — a hymn he would continue to sing even while in prison.

“I became an altar boy, and always prayed,” Naemi said. “But I never really knew God.”

In his book, Naemi tells the story of the bully brewing inside him and how anger led him into a corrupt world of violently competing businesses.

He and his competitors spent years trying to bring down the other, to the extent of ransacking stores, physically beating up people and destroying a building with explosives. Naemi even ended up on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

In May 1990, Naemi was sentence to prison for 60-90 years — essentially a life sentence. For the first 10 years of his incarceration, he was filled with deep anger and set out to create a plan for revenge.

But as prison ministry volunteers visited and spoke with him, they encouraged him to seek to forgive the people he hated — a process that slowly began moving him toward forgiveness and healing.

“Through their prayers and direction, I began to transform,” he said.

Naemi dedicated his book to prison ministers.

Through prayer and reading Scripture, he became more peaceful. His sentence was eventually reduced and Naemi was moved to increasingly lower security prisons. 

He continued to walk the path toward healing and reconciliation and Naemi knew God had a plan for him. In fact, while sitting in his cell, he surrendered his life to God and began evangelizing the faith to his fellow prisoners. 

He organized Bible studies and church services and prayed with and on people in prison. Naemi found freedom in Christ after spending 10 years of his life behind bars. He spent nearly six more years trying to bring others to Christ. 

Upon being released, Naemi joined the Eastern Catholic Re-evangelization Center (ECRC) in Michigan and started a monthly healing service with Bishop Francis Kalabat of the St. Thomas Chaldean Eparchy, who wrote the forward in Naemi’s book. 

“I wrote the book with the intention to give people hope,” said Naemi. “It is for people not just in prison, but anyone locked inside vices even though they walk around the world physically free. It is through Christ that we find true freedom.”

Cardinal-elect Víctor Manuel Fernández was appointed by Pope Francis on July 1, 2023, to become the next prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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