SPRING HILL — Many years ago, as an inmate in a Florida prison, Paul Haulk learned that, despite the very improbable likelihood, pigs really can fly.
Though he didn't realize it then, the idiomatic expression would become an important part of his Christian testimony.
The man who had once sung in a band, become addicted to heroin and committed enough felonies by 1988 to land him in the federal penal system with a 62-year sentence wrote a book in 2008 chronicling the life that took him from hardened sinner to minister of the Gospel. Not surprisingly, the book's title is When Pigs Fly.
Life began for Haulk in 1950. Reared in Ybor City, he said he became involved with drugs as a teenager. Soon, he was selling as well as using, and with hair halfway down his back and hippie-style clothing, he fit the cliche of someone connected with the drug scene of the late 1960s.
Haulk's increasing dependence on drugs ended a short stint as the lead singer with a band from Ohio. Despite a hit record that led to U.S. and European tours, and earning enough money to buy himself a Jaguar XKE, the band asked him to leave.
Over the next several years, Haulk's life went from bad to worse.
"Between 1970 and 1976, I was arrested no less than seven times for crimes ranging from possession of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, to possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony: extortion, false imprisonment and assault and battery," Haulk writes in his book.
Haulk made an effort to change and stopped using heroin cold turkey. He'd used a number of aliases and, in starting over, settled on one that belonged to a friend who died of an overdose. Developing a reputation as a hard worker throughout the 1980s, he became the manager of several restaurants and a couple of Florida resorts. He married and had two sons, settling in Destin.
But the day of reckoning came in 1988 after Haulk helped a former friend establish a false identity. The man had neglected to tell Haulk that he recently escaped from prison. The connection soon led to Haulk's own arrest. His crimes had caught up with him, and the punishment would be stiff.
Bitter to find himself back in prison, Haulk decided his wife, who had unknowingly married him under a false name, should move on with her life. He said goodbye to his two young sons, not wanting them to visit their father in prison.
Though Haulk will tell you today that his troubles were because of his own poor choices, he said he allowed himself back then to become hardened by the turn of events. He was uncooperative with prison guards and fought with other prisoners. He was put in solitary confinement.
As the weeks went by, Haulk would hear a guard asking prisoners if they wanted to attend Bible study.
"I'll go when pigs fly," Haulk would tell himself.
But he was lonely and wanted an excuse to get out of his cell. He decided to attend, even if he had to do it in shackles.
Each week, the elderly preacher who came to minister to the prisoners would ask Haulk if he wanted to ask Jesus into his heart. Week after week, Haulk would belligerently reply, "When pigs fly."
But as the weeks went by, he found himself listening attentively.
One week, the preacher told Haulk he should enjoy that evening's sermon, taken from Mark 5 in the Bible. In the chapter, Jesus heals a man who'd been possessed by many demons. As he listened, Haulk thought of the things in his own life that had possessed him — his lifestyle, greed, vanity and pride. He said he realized he'd become a self-centered, angry man. He wondered, what had happened to the sweet boy he'd once been?
Interrupting his reverie, Haulk heard the preacher tell the prisoners how the demons were sent into a herd of swine that subsequently ran down a steep cliff into the sea.
"Did I just hear him say something about pigs?" Haulk asked himself.
The preacher stopped and asked the men attending the study what the man who'd been possessed was now seeing.
Haulk writes of the scene in his book: "It was at that exact moment that everything became crystal clear to me. I jumped up and hollered at the top of my lungs, 'He saw pigs flying! He …saw … pigs … flying! They went off the steep place and flew into the sea!' "
Haulk said he accepted Jesus Christ and asked him to be the Lord of his life that night. As he continued in Bible study, he began to see changes in his life. He made friends with prisoners and guards and led others to accept Christ, including the warden's son, who subsequently led his father to make the same decision.
Haulk's sentence was cut in half, making him eligible for parole after 10 years.
In 1991, after he served just 3 ½ years, a parole board decided to release Haulk early with consideration of dozens of letters of recommendation from people he had helped, including the warden.
"Only God could do that," Haulk said.
Haulk received a license to preach from Faith Baptist Church in Wesley Chapel and earned a bachelor's of biblical studies from Florida Baptist College in 2009. Today, at age 65, he serves as chaplain in prisons and jails in several counties in Florida, including Hernando and Pasco, as well as in North Carolina and Arkansas.
In 2003, Haulk and his wife, Sheri, founded Mizpah Ministries, now an outreach of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Spring Hill. With the help of about 20 volunteers, they minister to prisoners, correctional officers, law enforcement officers and victims of crime and domestic and child abuse. They also work with eight churches, conducting a program called "Free Indeed," which uses Scripture to help those with drug and alcohol addictions. More than 5,000 people have become Christians through the ministry, Haulk said, which is supported by offerings from churches and individuals.
It's only through God that lives can be completely transformed, Haulk said.
"The Lord saved me from a living hell of addiction and self-destruction," he said. "He came into my life and gloriously saved me and allowed me to see things the way they are. My life today is a result of the forgiveness and grace offered to all through our Lord Jesus Christ."