Personal Testimony of Penn McMichael
When I was very young, maybe 9 or 10, I was visiting my Uncle Doug’s family in Rocky Mount, NC. My cousin Matt, my brother Jule and I were playing when Doug came in and said we were going up stairs to invite Jesus into our hearts. I did not have a clue what he was talking about. Sure, we went to church, but that was something everybody did. Having Jesus come into our hearts? What was that all about? So we reluctantly went upstairs, kneeled on my cousin, Matt’s bed and said a basic sinner’s prayer. And that was that. It meant nothing to me since I did not know what it meant and I did not really think about it anymore.
Later on in my life when I was about Junior High age, my mother, being the spiritual leader of the family, wanted me to start reading a student study Bible she bought me. I was not interested. However, she knew how I loved money at that age and offered me $5.00 per week if I read a chapter a night. I was reading immediately. As she planned, it did not take long before I was enjoying reading the Bible without getting the $5 from Mom.
I continued to always try and read my Bible before going to bed. It was as common as brushing my teeth. I enjoyed the lessons it taught, but I failed to apply those to my life. Now, looking back on that time, I did not understand what believing IN Jesus really meant. Even though I partied hard in late high school and college, I still read my Bible daily. I can remember being totally wasted trying to read the Bible before I went to bed. I shamefully admit that I never once attended church in Chapel Hill during my four years at UNC.
After college, I moved to Virginia to work for the Caterpillar dealer, Carter Machinery. They ran a tight ship, so I cut out the drug use completely, but still drank only on the weekends and still struggled with the lusts of the flesh. I justified my sins in my mind by still reading the Bible every night. I had a great job and everything seemed to be going perfect, or so Satan had convinced me.
I came back to Reidsville on Friday, April 25th, 1998 to attend the wedding of the daughter of some old family friends. That Saturday night the wedding reception was one of the biggest ever held in Reidsville. Over 400 people attended the black-tie event that flowed with alcohol from many open bars. Everyone was having a grand time, catching up on old times. As the party was winding down, my brother Jule, a bridesmaid named Lisa Cresenzo, and I were discussing what to do next on the front lawn. We agreed that were just getting our evening started and were not about to stop partying. We discussed how we had all been drinking, but that any of us would be fine to drive. So I said, “I’ll drive, my car is here.” The three of us piled into my ’69 Corvette convertible and turned left as we were leaving the party. That is the last thing I remember.
The next thing I remember is waking up, with many bright white lights beaming in my eyes, with my Mom beside my bed saying “Lisa’s DEAD! Lisa’s DEAD!”
I will never forget those words as long as I live. I still think about them daily.
What I did not know is that we were in a single car accident that consisted of me running off the road and flipping the car, resulting in our bodies being flown 50 feet from the car. I could not believe that I had done something so stupid. I had done something that I have been told not to do thousands of times. My stupidity costed the life of a friend. Like most people, I thought that a tragic drinking and driving accident would happen to someone else, anyone, but not to me, not to Penn McMichael. “Those things only happen to people you don’t know” I would tell myself. My pride had overrun me.
The next few months were more than I could stand. I had resigned from my job and was staying in my parents’ basement mending my fractured skull, broken hip and broken foot. The overpowering of my guilt and remorse was almost unbearable. I remember staying curled up for hours on the floor, crying and wailing, wishing the pain would end. I was destroying myself thinking of the pain and suffering I had caused to not only Lisa, but also her parents, sister and friends. Vic and Betsy Cresenzo lost their first born child. Jenny Cresenzo had lost her older sister and best friend. The weight of guilt and being personally responsible was more than I would wish on my worst enemy. My mom later told me that at night she could not sleep because I sounded like a “dying animal in the basement”. Many people tried to comfort me, but it never worked because no one I talked to could come close to relating to such an experience. There was no way I could deal with the pain and suffering that I had caused. My life was in a downhill spiral.
About a week or so after getting out of the hospital, Victor Cresenzo came to my parents’ house. He told me that Lisa once had boyfriend named Tom, who had discussed with Lisa the possibility of getting married. However, Tom was killed in a drinking and driving accident a couple of years ago. Victor said that the family of Tom was outraged that the driver who was responsible for Tom’s death never once apologized to the family for what he had done. He asked me to personally apologize to every one of Lisa’s family members for causing her early death. So I did.
After about 2 months of barely making it, my father came downstairs to talk with me. Of course I was a little surprised since Mom was the spiritual leader of the house. He told me that I couldn’t live my life beating myself up, that I had to forgive myself. I could forgive myself because even though I had made a terrible mistake, God forgives all sins through Christ if I would accept His payment on the Cross for my sins. Any sin! Not just some or a select few, but any! How awesome! What a powerful love God has for all of us! It took a while to set in, but once I realized he was right, I accepted Christ’s sacrifice to wash my sins away with his blood. Yes, Lisa was dead because of what I had done, but I am forgiven. Since God forgave me for the death of Lisa, I forgave myself. It took a while for me to truly stop beating myself up, but I had to keep reminding myself that God had forgiven me and that is what matters. I had come to terms with what had happened and got myself ready for the legal punishment that was to come.
That summer I was charged with 2nd degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, I could have served up to 16 years in prison. To show my repentance to the family, I stayed in the county jail for one month before posting a $50,000 property bond.
The Cresenzo family came to me and said they would forgive me if I served two years. In order to please them, I agreed, waived my double jeopardy rights, and pleaded guilty to felony death by motor vehicle and involuntary manslaughter. On January 10th, 1999, I said goodbye to my family and went to prison.
Before going into prison, lots of my friends told me I should spend my two years studying something that would help me when I get out. The suggestions went from Spanish to corporate finance and marketing. I decided to study God’s Word. Since God’s love is so strong that he can forgive me for the death of someone He loved, then I should do everything I can to learn more of Him and His ways. So for 2 years, I did something 6 days a week to learn more about God. Most days I attended Bible studies held on the prison camp, but also attended prison Church services and Yokefellows. When noting was offered, I would either study with other inmates or work on a personal study.
I used my time to build a solid foundation in the Word so I could fight off the wiles of the Devil when I was released. It worked.
When released from prison on December 10, 2000, I had just $20 to my name. However, I did not fear of what I would do. I did not worry about how I would make ends meet. God is an “on time” God. He has guided me down this long road of life with Him directing my paths. I knew that through Christ I was given the right to be a Son of God, and He was going to look after me. So I borrowed money to pay for bills until I could pay my own. It has taken me over three years to become free of debt from my accident. But it was not easy.
I had no idea that earning a job after getting out of prison would be so difficult. Even though I had a Bachelor of Science from the UNC Kenan-Flagler School of Business, people hiring for jobs were shutting doors in my face because I was a twice-convicted felon without a driver’s license. But I persisted on. Eventually, I was able to get a position in sales on a commission only basis with Trax Inc. out of Atlanta, who my father retired from. They were a large heavy equipment dealer that had offices all over the Southeastern U.S. I was working with my brother who had joined Trax about a year earlier. Things were going slow for us in the poor economy in 2001 when we got word through the company that Trax Inc. was going to close its doors in the next 6 months. We had to get up a plan. Were we to close this office and try to get a job for someone else in the industry? Were we to switch industries all together? Could we open Trax under a different name and pursue it by ourselves? I prayed for God’s guidance and wisdom. He told us to do it. We took $5,000 from a sale we had just made. On October 1, 2001, Trax North Carolina opened its doors. With determination, planning, hard work, and blessings from God, Trax North Carolina has done better than we had hoped for. When things started really picking up, we got the idea to use the business for ministry by sending customers that either bought or sold a machine from us a leather, Life Application Study Bible with their name engraved on the cover. The response has been wonderful. Since opening, God has blessed Trax North Carolina by taking just $5,000 and turning it into a multi-million dollar business.
Since then, my brother and I have decided to split Trax North Carolina on peaceful terms. We love each other, but we just could not work together. He kept the name and I joined with a solid Christian friend Scott Woody to form Tar Heel Machinery.
We sold Tar Heel Machinery in 2015, and I am off on another adventure with Penn McMichael Equipment Trading.
It has been a long road that I could not have traveled without the friendship of Christ. I hope that you will not only ask Him to be your friend, but your savior as well.
If you ever what to discuss what Jesus did for you and how you can accept His love, please contact me anytime.
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