The astonishing testimony of Tom Canfield
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the 2012 edition of Northern Highlights magazine. It’s so incredible, we felt it should be resurrected.
The odds of how Tom Canfield arrived at The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis are nothing short of mind-boggling. Specifically, the odds of him meeting the man who brought him there. There’s only one explanation: divine transportation.
It happened in May 2005. Canfield, now 46, had just been released from jail in Wisconsin. He arrived to jail naked, addicted to meth and weighing a paltry 115 pounds.
“I wanted to die, but there was nothing in that cell I could use to kill myself,” Canfield said.
Upon his release, Canfield needed to get to the rehabilitation center (pictured), located 100 miles away. He had no money for a bus ride, and his friends and family refused to give him a lift. His only option was an old man sitting in the jail lobby. Canfield pleaded for a ride and the old man agreed.
The men were complete strangers … or so they thought. The old man had spent years hating Canfield for his part in a family tragedy. In turn, Canfield had spent years hoping he’d never have to meet the old man.
How could two men who’d never met have so much history?
To understand the gravity of Canfield and the old man’s miraculous encounter, you must first know Canfield’s backstory. And it’s not a pretty one.
Canfield grew up on a small farm near New Prague, Minn. His parents divorced when he was a boy. By high school, he was getting high or drunk every day.
He somehow made it to college, where he brought new meaning to the phrase “higher learning.”
“In college I was addicted to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, meth – anything I could get my hands on,” he said. “I had never liked myself. Alcohol and drugs helped me live in my own skin, made me feel powerful.”
He was a functional drug abuser throughout college, graduating in 1990 with a degree in computer science. In that time, he fathered two children.
He started working right after graduation, though not in his particular field of study: “I was making an enormous amount of money selling drugs,” Canfield said.
A year later, in 1991, he got busted with $60,000 worth of LSD and 7 pounds of marijuana. His parents pooled their money and got him released on bail.
Canfield thanked them by fleeing Minnesota with his girlfriend and changing his identity.
Canfield and his girlfriend moved to the mountains of Vermont, where they would live and manufacture drugs together for almost a decade. Along the way, they had three children.
“We lived north of Stowe on 200 acres of land in a house all by itself,” Canfield said. “We were self-sufficient and grew all our own food. We also grew psychedelic mushrooms and marijuana – two mushroom harvests a year worth $50,000 to $60,000 each, and three pot harvests worth $20,000 to $30,000 each.”
The couple laundered their profits through a jewelry business. They mined Herkimer diamonds and other stones during summer, then made the stones into jewelry during winter. They sold the jewelry to hippie shops and at rock concerts across the country all year long.
Nine years of selling drugs eventually took its toll on Canfield. And not just on his mind.
“I got shot during a drug deal gone bad,” he said. “The bullet entered my wrist and exited my elbow. My partner at the time, he got shot in the gut.”
By 2000, Canfield was beginning to lose his sanity.
“I was using so much heroin and cocaine – I turned into a monster,” he said, adding that his girlfriend took their three kids and left him. “I was being followed and watched – the cops even had helicopters flying over my place. I was holed up in the house doing drugs, completely paranoid.”
Enough was enough. In 2001, Canfield called his mother and said he needed to come home and get sober.
“I grabbed a few bags of clothes, a bus ticket and moved in with my mom,” he said.
Canfield stayed sober a few years, worked several jobs and convinced his ex-girlfriend to move to Minnesota with their three kids. But his attempt at sobriety ultimately fell flat. In 2003, he reverted to drugs.
“I started dealing meth,” Canfield said. “By 2004, I was homeless and nobody I knew wanted anything to do with me. I spent most of my time in casino hotel rooms making false identities for Minnesotans. I was cooking meth, but using it all before I could sell it.”
In February 2005, an emaciated Canfield lay naked and passed out in a scuzzy Wisconsin hotel room. He had just sold a few rocks of meth. Soon after the transaction, his customers got busted and told the authorities about Canfield.
“The cops found out about my operation, came in my room and found everything,” Canfield said. “When they hauled me off to jail, I was wearing nothing but a bed sheet. I literally laid there in jail, alone, as a bare-naked soul.
“All I could think to do was pray. I said, ‘God, if you’re really out there, I need help.’”
The old man
Canfield would spend the next three months in jail in Siren, Wis. A county attorney said Canfield was looking at 12 years in prison. Canfield begged for mercy, asking to go to rehab before his sentencing. The attorney agreed, saying Canfield could enroll in The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis.
“The problem was I had no way of getting there,” Canfield said. “I got on the phone and called everyone I knew, but nobody would talk to me.”
Canfield exited his jail cell and walking into the jail’s waiting area, clueless about how to get a ride to the rehabilitation center. There was one other person in the lobby – a scraggly old man with long hair.
“Given my hippie past, he looked like someone I could relate to,” Canfield said. “I told him I needed help. He said he was there visiting a friend, but when he was finished, he’d see what he could do.”
Canfield’s wait was excruciating. With tears streaming down his face, he prayed, “God, please get me to The Salvation Army. There’s nobody else to help me.”
The old man returned to the waiting area. Turns out he lived just 10 miles from the rehabilitation center. He told Canfield to hop into his car.
Then it happened. During the ride, one mind-boggling piece of information surfaced: The old man was the father of Canfield’s former drug partner, the one who got shot in the gut in Vermont five years prior.
“It still gives me chills,” Canfield said. “Of all the hundreds of thousands of people who could have been at the jail, on that day, during those few minutes, it was this guy.”
They talked and talked. Canfield learned that his former drug partner spent months in a hospital bed and almost died. The old man blamed it all on one person: Canfield.
“Then,” Canfield explained, choking back tears, “the old man said because of the ordeal with his son, he came to know the power of Christ. He said he learned how to forgive me for doing that to his boy.”
Canfield and the old man became friends and still talk to this day. Their encounter was Canfield’s first glimpse at the love Jesus Christ had in store for him.
At the rehabilitation center, the glimpse came into full view.
From the second Canfield walked into the rehabilitation center, he knew he was in the right spot.
“Everyone there was so happy,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it before. It completely freaked me out.”
Canfield would spend the next nine months getting sober, attending counseling and spiritual classes, developing lifelong relationships, and surrendering his life to Christ.
“I had an addiction to drugs and the lifestyle of being a drug dealer, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – and God washed it all away,” he said.
By the time Canfield’s day of sentencing came on December 1, 2005, his faith was unshakeable. Moments before seeing the judge, he prayed for God’s will to be done, even if it meant spending the next 12 years in jail.
Several Salvation Army staff members spoke to the judge on Canfield’s behalf. His sentence: one year.
In retrospect, he’s thankful for the jail time.
“That one year in jail turned out to be a blessing,” Canfield said. “I spent the whole time writing letters to the hundreds of people I’d hurt. It taught me the true meaning of forgiveness.”
One of those letters was to an aging couple he bilked out of thousands. He used their identity to buy a $5,000 snowmobile, then sold it to buy heroin.
“That man and his wife were Christians and they came to visit me,” Canfield said. “They said they forgave me and didn’t want any restitution. They came in every week after that and had Bible studies with me.”
Canfield’s time in jail was the last bit of work needed to restore his spirit. Since then, he’s never looked back. He is now married and has repaired all the broken relationships in his life. He works for The Salvation Army (pictured) and manages all nine Salvation Army store locations in the Twin Cities.
Most importantly, Canfield’s relationship with God remains intact and gets stronger every day.
“God and His love are 100 percent real,” he said. “Whether you’re a drug addict or a wildly successful person, without Him, you’re lost. If you receive Him, a light will come on inside your head. You’ll discover, with great clarity, the truth about why we’re here and what’s happening in the world.
“He’s knocking. Let Him in.”