Freedom Behind Bars: Ex-convict hopes his dramatic conversion can help others

Tom Naemi, a popular speaker, evangelist and healing minister at the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center in Bloomfield Hills, holds a copy of his new book, "Freedom Behind Bars: Keys to Unlock What's Holding You Back." In the book, Naemi details his conversion story, which includes a dramatic encounter with Jesus while serving a 16-year prison sentence after a life of anger and violence. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Well-known speaker, evangelist Tom Naemi details his journey from anger and revenge to finding true joy in Christ in new book

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Tom Naemi wants people to know that God hasn’t forgotten about them.

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, and raised in a Catholic household, the 68-year-old didn’t come to know the love of Jesus until he served time in prison.

Naemi spent nearly 16 years in jail after attempting to blow up a grocery store, but 10 years into his prison sentence, he encountered Christ for the first time, with the help of prison ministry volunteers. He used the rest of his sentence to read Scripture fervently and to pray with prison officers and other inmates so that they, too, could know about God’s deep love for them.

Listen to Tom Naemi's story on Detroit Stories Episode 5: Reformed Gangster

Today, Naemi is a well-known Catholic lay evangelist, healing minister, speaker and — as of recently — published author.

Naemi shares his experience in his book, "Freedom Behind Bars: Keys to Unlock What’s Holding You Back" (2022). The book is co-authored by Vanessa Denha Garmo, communications strategist and host of the “Epiphany” program on Ave Maria Radio (AM-990).

In the book, Naemi explains how he wound up in prison — a dispute with a rival grocer that turned violent — and how he continued to struggle with sin for years even after being incarcerated. Chapter by chapter, he invites readers to let go of their own “prisons” in life — those of fear, anger and revenge. While the inmates were captives of their own vices, the principles in "Freedom Behind Bars" apply to everyone.

“This book is about helping others to become aware that in their despair, they are not alone,” Naemi told Detroit Catholic. “Through the Scripture, everybody can be set free with God. You can’t do it on your own.”

During a Bible study in the prison in 1999, Naemi saw Jesus in a vision that changed him forever. Seeing Jesus clearly as the king of glory, he felt instant peace. After that day, both in prison and in his work since his release in 2005, Naemi has been laser-focused on one simple mission: that everyone comes to know Jesus.

“I didn’t need anyone to tell me who Jesus was after I that because I knew,” he said. “Once I had that encounter with Jesus, I knew I had to help Him save souls.”

In his book, Naemi tells his own story of healing and forgiveness, and encourages readers to let go of their own "prisons" in life, those of fear, anger, revenge and sin.
In his book, Naemi tells his own story of healing and forgiveness, and encourages readers to let go of their own "prisons" in life, those of fear, anger, revenge and sin.

Naemi entered prison bitter and vengeful. But when he started reading his Bible and learning more about Jesus, God’s word gave him a newfound spirit of joy and hope that became contagious to those around him. He recalls a time when another inmate asked him how he could be so happy while in prison. He told the man it was because he had Jesus in his life, then invited him to a Catholic Communion service.

“The book is about joy. The book is about peace. The book is about loving yourself and loving others. And the book is about freedom,” Naemi said. “In John 8:36, Jesus says that the son will set you free, and from 2 Corinthians 3:17, we know that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

Naemi hopes the book will inspire readers to tackle their own struggles with confidence that God will help them overcome their troubles, big or small, and to see God as their partner and friend.

“Until you learn what it means to really be Catholic — to love, to give, to share — then you aren’t a true Catholic,” Naemi said. “The greatest thing in life is to have a relationship with Jesus. What a friend I have in Jesus!”

Today, Naemi is a frequent speaker at the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center in Bloomfield Hills, and he leads a monthly healing service with Chaldean Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat, who wrote the forward to Naemi's book.

Denha Garmo believes the book will be a valuable tool to evangelize those in prison, particularly young people in juvenile facilities. She is the co-founder of The Chaldean News, in which Naemi was featured in a cover story in 2012.

In addition to working in prison ministry, Naemi is the founder of Jesus Light of Life Ministry, a healing ministry that has heard countless testimonies of physical and emotional healing and peace. His 26-episode podcast series, “Freedom Behind Bars,” was recorded for the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center several years ago. And now the book, which was released in December, serves as another vehicle to deliver his message of love and mercy.

“I just wanted to give my testimony of what God did in my life. There are a lot of people out there that are locked up in their own prisons,” Naemi said. “I want people to have hope, to believe that our God is a God of miracles. Because we’re always going to have problems, but God’s peace overcomes every obstacle in life.”

Get the book

"Freedom Behind Bars: Keys to Unlock What’s Holding You Back" is available from Amazon. To learn about Naemi’s healing ministry, visit


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