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Cattleman's son finds God in jail

Staff writer

What would it be like to sit in a jail cell feeling totally isolated from family and friends?

Todd Beneke of Lincolnville knows the feeling. He spent 149 days in the Chase County Jail in Cottonwood Falls in 2010 awaiting sentencing on a criminal charge. He had been in and out of jail several times before, but this time there was no one to bail him out. No one visited him or gave him a call to see how he was doing. He felt abandoned.

Beneke said he was arrested June 7 on a warrant he knew nothing about. He did not have the money to post bail and had no means to fight the charges. At his preliminary hearing, he pled no contest to a charge of criminal trespassing and three counts of theft less than $1,000.

He was sentenced to two years’ probation Nov. 1 and was released.

Looking back on the experience, Beneke sees his incarceration as a good thing: it led him to God.

Sitting in jail, Beneke had never felt so alone in all of his life. He had lost everything. The strapping 6-foot-8, 26-year-old young man was used to long days of physical labor working on his father’s farm — feeding cattle in a feedlot and doctoring sick calves. Now he had nothing to do but to think about his life and contemplate his future.

He spent the first 10 days confined to his cell. After the first three days, he began looking for something to pass the time. There was no TV and nothing to read.

Then he looked under his cot and spotted a Bible. He took it out and started to read. Using paper and pencil, he started to write down his thoughts and feelings as he read portions of Scripture. By the end of his jail time, he had filled six notepads.

The book of Ecclesiastes made a special impression on Beneke. King Solomon, the author, talks about the vanity of life and the need for wisdom to know what is really valuable and worthwhile.

“I felt God wrote that book just for me,” he said. “I had not been a religious person. I thought I could do everything by myself without God.”

One day, when it finally sunk in that on one was going to come and help him, he began to reach out to God. He sensed the presence of someone in his cell.

“Jesus came down and took the form of another person in my cell,” Beneke said. “He talked to me, and I talked to him. I became aware of how much God loves me.”

He said the presence stayed with him for three days. He realized that God could protect him from the “demons” or evil forces that were ruining his life.

He said his outlook on life began to change. It was as if he had become a new person.

“I went from being totally independent to being totally reliant on others and God,” he said. “That’s how God works.”

Later, Beneke found more books under his cot, books he had not seen before. He believes that God wanted to help him and led him to see only the Bible and not the other books until later.

Freedom and the real world

When Beneke was released from jail, he had nowhere to go and no one came to pick him up. He didn’t know what he was going to do.

He had decided earlier that his best hope was in his grandparents, Alfred and Donna Beneke, who live on a farm three miles north of Lincolnville. He began walking and had traveled about 16 miles on Middle Creek Road when someone picked him up and took him to his grandparents’ farm.

At first, they hesitated to take him in, but after reading his notes, they sensed that he was a changed person, and they consented to let him stay with them.

Meanwhile, Gary and Pam Diepenbrock, who were long time friends of his mother and father, offered him a job working with them and their sons at Diepenbrock Farms until he could get back on his feet.

Now that he is a free man, Beneke said he realizes how important it is to stay connected with God. He said he seeks God throughout each day.

“In the real world, the ordinary things of everyday life can take you farther away from God,” he said. “Every day, I thank God for my life and ask him to help me get through the day.”

He is looking forward to having his driver’s license reissued in March, which will allow him to get a job and pay bills that have accrued. Out of the money he is making at Diepenbrock Farms, he already is making payments to Marion County for unpaid fees and other charges.

Beneke said he enjoys spending time every morning with his grandpa conversing and sharing stories. It’s something, he said, that he wished he could have done with his dad.

The Diepenbrocks, including their three sons — Tyler, Lance, and Jared — have become like family. They pick him up every morning for work and take him home every night. He enjoys fishing and hunting with Jared.

Beneke sees a bright future for himself. He is confident he can stay on the straight and narrow and make a new life.

Beneke said after he gets squared away and returns to a life of his own, he plans to move away, out of state, where he can start all over again: “Once I get over this mountain, I don’t need to stay here and be reminded of what I had. I want to move on.”

As part of his sentencing, he was assigned to a counselor on drug and alcohol abuse. However, he said that never was a problem for him. He said he isn’t an alcoholic and never hung out with “druggies.” He said the counselor has concluded that he doesn’t need further help.

Beneke said it’s difficult to contemplate getting a “job” after he has spent most of his life working for himself. He anticipates working on a farm or ranch. Most of all, he hopes that someday the relationship he had with his father will be restored.

Last modified Feb. 24, 2011

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