Monday, July 16, 2012
When I first went to prison
Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, DE, tried a reach out to the community by placing clever little brief gospel presentations in the local newspaper. At the conclusion of each article we offered a simple Bible Correspondence Course. Although we never developed a plethora of contacts by this method, we did manage to get the name of the church out there.
There were some who took the course, and one of them came from a box number in a nearby town. I had no idea he was an inmate in the Delaware State Prison system. As I read over one of the little tests that were at the end of each section of the correspondence course, it was my judgment that Lewis did not really understand the concept of "repentance". I wrote back to him, as diplomatically as I could, that perhaps I could meet him in person some time, and explain what biblical repentance actually was.
The next week I received a phone call from the chaplain of the Delaware prison, seeking to arrange for me to visit the inmate. It was a new experience for me, and I acceded to the request. So here I was scheduled to visit a prisoner to explain that he did not understand what it was to repent.
I wore a suit and sported my most professional deportment as I parked in front of the brick and steel bars of this formidable structure. I presented my identification clearance which had been engineered by the chaplain. The huge iron gate was opened and I stepped into the vestibule, and the heavy door clanged behind me. An ominous mood overcame me at that moment. The clang of that door was like the rap of a gavel for a guilty sentence. I knew better, but the feeling was there anyway. I could hear a devious voice down inside, saying, "You'll never get out of here." Something much worse that this must come over those who know they have lost their freedom.
Lewis turned out to be a pleasant black man who was very glad to meet me. I was more at ease with him than I thought I would be. In time I learned that he had murdered his girl friend in an unspeakably vicious manner. He would rather speak of the event in generalities and in the passive voice, rather than in the first person. To hear him tell it, he just happened to be in the room when it happened. It was his lawyer who later explained the gruesome details of this killing. Now it became a matter of focal point that this contact was created because I had discerned a lack of understanding of the biblical doctrine of repentance.
I visited Lewis several times, but to no fruitful conversion that I could see. Instead I learned that he was using me, because he wanted me to testify at his immanent parole hearing. Moreover I learned that he was practicing "jailhouse religion" for the purpose of getting out of prison. I also learned that he had purchased the title "Rev" by mail order (from another source, of course).
His lawyer arranged for me to testify, which I did reluctantly. I warned him that I would tell the truth. I had to tell the parole board that as a Christian minister it was my opinion that Lewis was a man who was sorry for doing something to put him in prison. I thought he even wanted to be an influence for good among at-risk boys. But it was my considered opinion that Lewis was not born again. I don't know if any members of the parole board believed in being born again, but supposed they were probably acquainted with the term nevertheless. Lewis was denied his parole.
Months later I read an article in the local paper, telling that a volunteer prison worker had been stabbed by an inmate, one Lewis Tucker by name. I did not feel good about the vindication of my opinion, but I didn't lose any sleep over the fact that he was still incarcerated.