His mom walked towards the elevator, but Sean stayed in his seat in the nearby hallway, just like she told him to do. She pushed the ‘down’ button and waited until the doors finally opened. He watched as his mom stepped in, and he watched as the elevator doors closed behind her.

Sean Welton wouldn’t see his mom again for 25 years. He was eight years old at the time.

With his dad in prison, Sean’s mom had driven down to La Porte, Indiana from Michigan for one reason…to sign her middle child over as a ward of the state of Indiana.

In vivid detail, Sean told me the story over a recent meal we shared, and I was floored by the tale.

At eight years old, how does a child comprehend the realities of such an experience? How does a child reconcile the confusion and bitterness that inevitably follow?

After his mom left, Sean was shuffled through a long string of strange places. Before long, he started running away.

On a brisk autumn morning, Sean straps a balaclava on before riding to the start of a recent charity ride.

At the age of nine, he took off from a foster home, and for two days, he wandered. But he had nowhere to go, nothing to do and no one to find. He was utterly alone, and despite his age, he felt true desperation.

“I got lost, and I didn’t have nobody,” he recalled. “I came up to this streetlight, and I sat there wondering what I should do.”

He had never grown up in church, but in Michigan, where he was initially raised, he had overheard the name Jesus mentioned by some of the Amish that resided nearby. He had a vague notion of who Jesus was, but he cried out to this Stranger anyway.

“Jesus,” he prayed. “If you’re real, I need ya right now.”

Two headlights suddenly approached and pulled up beside him. It was a cop, and he extended kindness to Sean, ultimately driving him back to the foster home. Sean found the front door was unlocked, so he sneaked inside and went to bed, hoping to avoid his inevitable punishment, at least ‘til morning. When he awoke, the family acted as if nothing had happened. They welcomed him back as a member of the family.

It was a turning point for Sean, and soon after, he went to live in a Christian housing facility. At the age of 17, he was adopted by a Hoosier family, after they saw him highlighted on television during an adoption-awareness program. At the time, he was the oldest child to be adopted in the state.

Sean pulls in to the first stop of the ride.

Once he hit adulthood, he enlisted in the Army and was there for 16 years before getting injured and discharged.

Then it happened.

“I made a stupid decision and got locked up,” said Sean. “Greed…that’s exactly what happened.”

He was charged with a class C felony for burglary and sentenced to seven years behind bars. He was initially sent to Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, and it was there where he had his first encounter with the Unchained Gang.

“It was cool,” he recalled. “A lot of these guys had been locked up themselves, and they’re coming back to talk to people. That takes a lot of courage. You’ve got to respect’m.”

Sean (second from right) shares a few laughs with “Midget” (far right) and a couple of others before a charity ride.

Regardless of his own criminal charge, Sean was a believer, and he wore his faith on his sleeve, despite his surroundings.

“At Wabash, my nickname was Preacher,” Sean recalled with a smile. He even helped a prison buddy named Mark get saved.

As his sentence neared an end, Sean was transferred to a work-release facility near downtown Indianapolis, where he developed a deeper rapport with Unchained.

Jim Harmon, President of the Marion County Unchained chapter, and his wife Yvonne would hold Bible studies at the facility, and as time went on, they fostered a genuine relationship with Sean.   

“(Sean) and I, we just really hit it off,” said Jim. “We had a lot of the same interests. We lifted weights together. And I could see he was a hard worker too.”

Sean flashes a peace sign as he takes off with the group of riders.

Knowing Sean’s work ethic, Jim even helped him land a job at a machine shop on the west side of Indianapolis, Indiana, even though he had to ride a bicycle two hours each way to get to work back then.

“There’d be snow on the ground, but I’d ride anyway,” Sean said. “I’d show up to work with my pant legs froze.”

But his dedication has paid off. He was released in December of 2010 (after 3.5 years served), and is still working at the machine shop. He’s riding with the Unchained Gang and heavily involved in their ongoing ministries.

Plus, he’s now on the verge of starting a small ministry of his own to help others like him.

“It’s called House of Pillars,” he explained. “And it’s going to be an 8-12 month program for guys getting out of prison, even though they’re still on paper (parole).”

“When people get out, they generally go for three things,” he explained. “They want to get their fix or their drink, they want to get laid, or they return to their original hustle.

Sean has experienced plenty of struggles in life, but he’s still smiling and ready to help others break the cycle of pain.

“I want to change those three things…the people, places and things.”

He has the blessing of the Unchained Ministries too, particularly since it’s “something God laid on my heart.”

And remember Mark, who Sean helped save while at Wabash? Well, Mark’s helping him start the new ministry as well.

“God changes people,” Sean explained as part of his new mission. “And changed people change situations.”

Unchained Ministries embodies that message. Here are a bunch of folks who have been changed by God, and they’re willing to get knee-deep in the muck to help change the lives of others too!

Sean’s story includes ups and downs, successes and failures, but his heart is dedicated to the cause. And the Unchained Gang has played a pivotal role in guiding Sean’s steps as he stands on his own two feet again.

Now, he’s ready to do the same for others.

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Next Steps
    • A story like Sean’s reminds me of the complexities that go into every person’s story. On the surface, we might dismiss the incarcerated as simply “deserving what they get,” but in reality, the place is filled with pain, struggle and hopelessness.
    • As Christians, we are called to minister to the incarcerated. The excuses are endless to not get involved, but at the end of the day, those excuses are just that. Think about Unchained Ministries and all the work they do. Pray about getting involved with them. You don’t have to ride a motorcycle. Visit their website, or call George “Midget” Whirley at 317-881-3556 (or 317-213-3578), or Jim Harmon at 317-459-5498.
    • Pray for Sean and his outreach upstart. He’s based out of Indianapolis, so if you live in the area, think about supporting his cause, whether through volunteer efforts or financial assistance. He can be contacted at 317-397-9111, or you can email him at swelton1967@gmail.com.
    • Add the prison system to your prayer list. Pray for the inmates, pray for the employees and for those who minister to them.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Darla said... 

    Reply

    November 25th, 2011 at 6:47 pm  

    Thanks for sharing, Stephen, you’re a Word Warrior!

    • Steve-O said... 

      Reply

      November 27th, 2011 at 3:45 pm  

      Thanks Darla! I appreciate it…
      But let me tell ya, it’s a privilege!! These dudes are the real deal!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    December 3rd, 2011 at 12:34 pm  

    “knee deep in the muck”…there just aren’t that m any people who would do that, unless you have experienced the muck yourself. Great story, greater life!

  3. steven may said... 

    Reply

    March 6th, 2012 at 10:53 am  

    i know sean and the Unchained Gang personally. they r dedicated to “ALLOWING GOD TO CHANGE THEM, SO THEY CAN CHANGE SITUATIONS”….i’ve recieved the same love from them. i enjoyed meeting sean, and sharing a part in his life experiences. I hope all who seek God will find the GRACE= THAT UNDESERVING FAVOR….. becuz JESUS didnt have to die for us…..

    JUST WANNA SAY, PLEASE IF U SE THEM UNCHAINED GUYS, TAKE A SECOND TO SAY THANK U. THEY STAY IN THE FIRE, FIGHTIN THE GOOD FIGHT. LOVE U GUYS MAN

  4. Janus Cook said... 

    Reply

    March 12th, 2016 at 10:00 pm  

    Hi Sean, Havent seen you for awhile. I hope you are ok. Take care of yourself!!!

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