Tony Cash quit counting at No. 50.
“From the age of 11 on, I did nothing but get worse,” said Cash, 51. “I was in so many prisons I stopped counting at 50. I actually tried to count, ‘How many jails, prisons and institutions I have actually walked in and out of?’ Whether it be a week, month or decade. It’s been over 50. It’s amazing to share this because it’s like I’m telling someone else’s story. How in the world did I get to this point? This is what drives me to help other people be set free.”
Most Sundays you’ll see Cash, the man with the long, gray ponytail, baptizing men at Southeast Christian Church’s Blankenbaker Campus.
Since September 2018, Cash has baptized 94 men he has discipled at a local halfway house, and he is passionate about seeing those men make disciples who make disciples.
A long road
Between the ages of 11 and 49, Cash spent 36 years of his life incarcerated and two of those decades in solitary confinement.
As a young boy growing up in Ohio, Cash ran from the law and anyone who would try to get between him and what he wanted.
However, reflecting years later, he realized he was running from himself.
“I had two older brothers and a tough father, uncle and a line of tough guys,” Cash said. “Me being the youngest, I was competing, keeping up and proving myself in those early years. If they were going to smoke a cigarette, I was going to smoke a cigarette. I did that at the age of 5. I smoked my first marijuana joint at the age of 7. Between 7 and 11, I was stealing and robbing … I look back now and think, ‘Wow, the tender heart of that little boy was just doing what they were doing.’”
That’s considered child’s play compared to what Cash graduated to as a teen.
“I went on a crime spree from Ohio to South Carolina, robbing and stealing,” Cash added. “I had stolen a few vehicles. I’d ditch one and get another. I was going to stores, putting a gun in their face and taking money from them.”
For almost four decades, that tender heart was buried beneath a whole lot of pain, pride and power.
“I was driven to be independent,” Cash said. “‘No one tells me what to do.’ I had no boundaries and acknowledgment of authority. The mindset I had was, ‘I don’t obey laws.’ I was just so ignorant. I was proud to be an outlaw … I had all these extreme tough guy stories I grew up listening to. I thought, ‘This is who I am.’ I strived to be as tough as I could, and I surpassed every one of them. I eventually graduated to be one of the top three worst juveniles in Ohio.”
While Cash’s mom was overwhelmed at home with her five sons, Cash’s father was on the road as a truck driver.
After hearing of the mischief his sons got into, Cash’s father beat them.
However, Cash never blamed anyone in his family for his personal problems.
“It wasn’t right, but in my heart I say, ‘He wasn’t a drunken, abusive dad,’” Cash added. “It’s how he grew up. I don’t want to paint a negative picture. My father was a tough man who didn’t know what else to do.”
In 2000, Cash briefly got out of prison, but he had trouble functioning in normal society.
“I was destroying everything in my path, and I was at the brink of self-destruction,” Cash said. “I had a mindset of suicide by cop-killing. I blamed the system for ruining my life. No one wanted to be around me.”
It was at this time, contemplating murder, when things took an unexpected turn.
“I ran into a man that I knew from a previous prison,” Cash added. “I met him in a parking lot, by chance, but it was God. I said, ‘You look great.’ He said, ‘I’m a Christian now.’ He was wanting to let me know because we were very close … God became an option that day.”
A few weeks later, Cash was sent back to prison and began thinking about killing someone.
But God’s grace intervened.
“I was going to kill one of the guards,” he said. “I was in the shower area, ready to manufacture a weapon. I took a mop bucket to make a homemade knife out of it … In the middle of breaking that bucket apart, as clearly as I’m speaking to you now, I just looked up at the shower light, and it was like I was looking at God. It was like He said, ‘Don’t.’ I said, ‘Do something because I can’t.’ At that time, someone was cleaning and said, ‘Who wants this Bible?’ Right then, God audibly said, ‘Come to Me.’”
Cash then immersed himself in Scripture.
“I started seeking Him with everything I had,” Cash said. “For the next two years, I spent my time in prison digging into God’s Word. That’s when I began the journey of rising and falling.”
Cash was released from prison in 2002; however, following Christ was completely foreign to him. He continued his life of crime and was in and out of jail cells.
In 2010, Cash was sentenced to 21 years in prison, and after serving seven years, he was paroled in January 2017.
“From the time I came to know Christ to surrendering completely, I acquired a 19-page criminal history,” Cash added. “Almost 10 years ago, I went back to prison for the last time and in that period I finally surrendered everything to the Lord. My passion today is to help men grow spiritually because we have many Christians turn to God and fall away. I had to learn the hard way, up and down, in and out. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
In those years, Cash fought hard, but God fought harder.
“I went on a journey for a long time, fighting and battling,” Cash said. “When I was at the bottom of the barrel, God intervened in my life and said, ‘I didn’t save you for you to keep falling.’ I spent the next years pouring into the lives that God put into mine.”
During his last year of incarceration, Cash had the opportunity to stay at a halfway house in Louisville.
That’s when a ministry came and brought him and some other bunkmates to Southeast for his first authentic church experience.
When Cash was officially released into civilian life and briefly began working in construction, he continued to attend Southeast.
He dove into the Great Adventure Weekend Group, which is where Cash met his future spouse, Kim.
Cash now leads a 3/3rds Bible Study at a halfway house each Saturday evening for the sole purpose of “making disciples who make disciples.”
After he shares the message, Cash offers the opportunity for men to learn more about publicly declaring their new faith in Christ through baptism.
“Sept. 22, 2018, was when we went into the halfway house for the first time,” Kim Cash said. “There were nine men. Through those men, taking the tools we gave them to be fishers of men, we’ve had 133 baptisms. First, second, third and fourth generation disciples, meaning men discipling men who disciple more men. It’s multiplication for the Kingdom.”
Of the 94 men Cash has baptized, they have baptized 19 more men. Those 19 men have baptized 19 others, and that group has baptized one other man.
Along with the help of volunteers and staff at the halfway house, the Cashes bring men to Southeast services on Sundays.
The Cashes are now local missionaries for Team Expansion, a missionary agency helping missionaries multiply disciples and churches among unreached people groups worldwide.
“I tell them, ‘If you go a mile, I’ll go two with you,’” Cash added. “‘I’ll give you everything I’ve got and pour everything I know into you. We’ll help you to continue this journey to be a disciple who makes disciples. That’s what we’re about. I don’t care about getting you back to your family, getting you a job or keeping you sober. Those things will come from following Christ.’”