In jail, Alex Trollinger found faith, and freedom, in Christ.

“He (God) allowed me to go through that, to get closer to Him,” he said.

The inspiration he gained from two priests celebrating weekly Masses at the Charles County Detention Center in La Plata, Maryland, and the Bible studies led by deacons there inspired him to study the Catholic faith.

On the day he was released from that county jail this past summer, he went to Mass at nearby Sacred Heart Parish in La Plata, and since then, he has been faithfully attending Sunday Mass and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes there. And at this year’s Easter Vigil at Sacred Heart Church in La Plata, Maryland, he will be confirmed and receive his first Communion as a new member of the Catholic Church. He is among 30 people from all walks of life receiving the sacraments of initiation at the parish, including eight who will also be baptized.

“I’m excited to receive the body and blood of Jesus,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be the most powerful Easter I’ve had so far.”

In a recent interview, Trollinger reflected on his life’s journey, and his journey of faith. Now 26, he works as a butcher and lives in Indian Head, Maryland. He was born in Calvert County and grew up in Arkansas, before he came back to the area when he was 18. He was raised as a member of the Church of Christ.

As a young man, he had a heroin addiction and was jailed on a robbery charge.

“I was not a good person before,” he said.

After he started attending the weekly Catholic Masses and Bible studies at the jail, Trollinger said he got some ribbing from a fellow inmate, who asked him, “Are you Catholic or Christian?” The man had seen him reading the Bible.

Trollinger, who laughed as he recalled that man’s comment, said as he studied the Catholic Church, its history and its teachings, “it made sense to me.”

“If you ask me, the Catholic Church follows the Bible closest out of all of them,” he said, adding, “the first thing that drew me was it was the first Church. It’s been around 2,000 years. All the teachings have been passed down since Christ. No other person founded the Church than Jesus Christ.”

The two priests serving at Sacred Heart Parish – Father Larry Swink, the pastor, and Father Sam Plummer, then the parochial vicar – “faithfully showed up every time” for the weekly Masses at the jail, said Trollinger. He appreciated their kindness and how they were down-to-earth, talking and praying with the men and answering their questions about the faith.

As his faith deepened in jail, Trollinger said “it gave me something to lean on and take me out of the situation I was in.”

He noted what St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

On June 29, 2018, Trollinger was released from the jail after serving three years there. That day was the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

“I went to Mass the day I got out… I knew it was the feast of St. Paul,” he said, earlier noting that he may choose Paul as his Confirmation name. “I really like St. Paul. That’s my man. He had a past, too, because before (he was converted to Christ) on the road to Damascus, he was persecuting Christians.”

Since then, he has been faithfully attending Mass and the RCIA classes at Sacred Heart, where Trollinger said he feels “like part of the family.”

“I’m the only guy there with tattoos everywhere,” he said, laughing, later pointing out that he had a red Jerusalem cross tattoo inked on his neck in January to reflect his newfound Catholic faith.

Bill Wannall, the director of religious education at Sacred Heart, said that Trollinger’s witness has been a “huge inspiration” to his fellow RCIA members and other parishioners, as he has shared his story with them, and as they have seen how he faithfully attends RCIA classes and Masses there. 

“He is a sincere guy,” said Wannall, who added that when Trollinger can’t get to classes, he does the work online, and also calls him with questions about what he is studying.

Father Plummer, now the administrator of Holy Angels Parish in Avenue and Sacred Heart Parish in Bushwood, said Trollinger’s experience offers “a reminder for me and everybody that God never gives up on anybody, that those who seem farthest away are sometimes the closest.”

That point was echoed by Father Swink, who said when he first visited the jail, he could tell Trollinger “was hungry for God.”

“His story gives a lot of people hope, (that) you can begin life again with God’s grace and mercy,” Father Swink said.

And a lesson for other Catholics, he added, is “not to take their faith for granted… to love their Catholic faith and live it.”

Trollinger said he feels at home at Sacred Heart Parish, and about his journey to becoming Catholic. “It feels right,” he said. 

Asked about joining the Catholic Church in a year when it has been roiled by the aftermath of the clergy abuse crisis, Trollinger said, “I’m not Catholic because of the priests, the pope or the bishops. I’m Catholic because of Jesus Christ.”

His faith, he said, has helped him overcome his drug addiction. “I don’t have cravings to get high anymore.” He hopes that he can “help others in the same situation I was in, to show others there’s a way out.”

And just as Easter is a celebration of Jesus rising to new life and offering that same new life to those who follow him, Trollinger said that in Christ, he has found a new life. “With His help, you can change… Prayer works for everybody,” he said, later smiling as he added, “I’m not the same person.”