One of my heroes died last week at age 80. Compassionate, smart, dedicated Christian, visionary, prison reformer, writer, courageous, tough, ex-Marine, hatchet man, yeah—and convicted felon. Chuck Colson.
A tough guy in the Nixon Administration who accepted Christ as Savior before he went to prison, he proved his conversion was real by founding and devoting the rest of his life to Prison Fellowship. PF recruits volunteers to visit those in prison in response to the command of Jesus, conduct Bible studies behind prison walls, and help ex-cons find jobs after their release so they won’t return to crime and jail.
Recidivism of ex-cons without PF is around 65%. Colson worked aggressively to change that and was largely successful.
Unfortunately, upon his death, the media devoted most of their coverage to Colson’s BC (before Christ) days instead of the last 37 years of his life. He was determined to help inmates get a new start once they served their time. Without question, Jesus got hold of Chuck Colson, the White House special counsel under Nixon. Colson showed he was transformed by a higher power and not by his own efforts. First, though, he had to descend to the depths. Convicted of obstruction of justice, he served seven months in the federal prison which was a former Army post. I remember it as Fort Holabird, Army Intelligence School, but this is about Chuck Colson, not me.
In 1983, Colson established Justice Fellowship, a Christian-based criminal justice reform group. Through Justice Fellowship, Colson became a leading prison reformer, taking positions one doesn’t usually associate with Republicans. He criticized the death penalty, mostly for being unequally applied (though he believed in it for rare cases). He opposed the incarceration of nonviolent, non-dangerous offenders, believing restitution was a more redemptive approach for both perpetrator and victim.
He also founded Angel Tree, which collects gifts for inmates’ kids at Christmas. You can imagine how those kids feel around Christmastime. Our church has participated in that worthy effort for several years.
All of Chuck Colson’s speaking fees and book royalties went to Prison Fellowship Ministries. He warned against attaching a heavenly kingdom to political agendas. Pretty sound advice. He also urged Christians to think and act more like Jesus. Which is what we should be doing, anyway.
I urge you to go to Prison Fellowship’s website. You’ll be impressed; might even shed a tear. Colson finished strong. Would that we all could say that.