Thursday, January 22, 2009


Dateline: January 16, 2009


Since the Florida Gators football team and quarterback, Tim Tebow, won the BCS national championship, the media has focused attention on Tebow’s faith and open sharing of his Christianity. In this age of wacko and loony scammers (televangelists) living the jet set high life off donations from the gullible, it can only be expected that doubters would question Tebow’s sincerity, and try to figure out what his angle is.

After being in the front row to witness an incredible parade of nutcases, religious zealots, and con men intermingles with an occasional sincere “man of God” coming in to address us state prisoners for over thirty years, I’ve developed a fairly well-tuned sense of discernment when it comes to who is true or false. I’ve been watching this incredible young man, Tebow, for three years, and I can tell you right now that he is “the real deal.” You will hear a lot more from him in the coming years, and I don’t mean just on the football field.

You might not think that there is much humor in prison, but when it comes to God and man, you’d be amazed at how crazy and wild it gets sometimes, so weird that you couldn’t make this stuff up.

For several years in the 1980’s, I wrote a column titled, “Christ Is Alive and Well in Prison,” more of a serious recounting of prisoners whose lives changed through accepting Christ.

Prison is an evil place and many scoff at the “chain gang conversions” some prisoners profess. The ones who “fall back” and renounce their faith, or get out and screw up again make it hard on those who’ve had true life-changing experiences. But it is in society’s best interest, I believe, to encourage spiritual programs in prison, despite the phonies and poseurs. Who would you prefer to be walking the streets—an ex-con who’d forsaken his evil ways, found God, and led a law-abiding life, going to church every Sunday, or a heathen who worshipped Satan (we have plenty of those, too), who hated society, who lived to wreak havoc, sell drugs, burgle, rob, rape, murder, until he got caught? That’s a no-brainer, as they say.

There are many well-meaning religious zealots in prison, prisoners and guards, who, though sincere, are sometimes misguided. I want to tell you about two I knew at Raiford.

Tom looked like Clark Kent in a prison blue uniform, tall, handsome, clean-cut. Put him in a suit on the street, and you’d never guess he was a convicted felon. He took his religious conversion seriously, and like a chain gang John the Baptist, he spent his days trying to save as many lost souls as possible.

Raiford had a large school and vocational building. Ty Jordan, the education chief, had a fish pond built outside next to the school, perhaps three feet deep, and brought in a couple buckets of tropical fish to populate it. The fish reproduced so well that prisoners would scoop up guppies and swordtails to populate their own little aquariums spread throughout the prison.

Tom would go around every day preaching to anyone who’d listen. One day he pegged a guard who professed his desire to accept Christ. Tom told him he needed to be baptized. Fine. Where? The prison chaplain wouldn’t let them use the chapel baptismal font. Hey! How about that fish pond by the school? Perfect!

The water was kind of green and full of little fish, so Tom got a gallon jug of Clorox bleach to sanitize it. Worked fine—all the fish went belly-up in seconds.

A crowd gathered round as Tom and the guard climbed into Ty Jordan’s fish pond. Tom believed in full immersion baptism, just like John and the River Jordan. He said the words, dunked the guard, and everyone applauded.

It didn’t take more than a minute or so for someone to snitch them out. Ty Jordan was mightily offended that two nuts were wading in his fish pond, and all his fish had been killed. The “goon squad” appeared, handcuffed Tom and locked him up for “destruction of state property.” The newly-baptized guard, still soaking, was escorted out, chewed out by the colonel, then fired. I can’t imagine what the grounds were. Tom did no more baptisms in the fish pond. “C’est la vie.”

“Trooper” was the nickname of a wild-eyed guard who looked like a cross between Woody Allen and Charles Manson. When he was loose on the compound, he would approach prisoners and guards singly and in groups, pull out a handful of tracts, little religious booklets, and ask them questions.

“Are you a Christian? Have you been saved? Have you been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Where are you going to spend eternity? Heaven or Hell?”

These are important questions, but Trooper’s wide-open zealotry was a little too heavy for some people, and he scared many of them off. They’d see Trooper coming from one direction, and they’d head the opposite way. He was the butt of a lot of ribbing, too. He took it all good-naturedly.

One day Trooper was addressing a group of prisoners standing by the weight pile sharing his faith, when a prisoner asked him a question.

“Trooper, how can you call yourself a Christian when you’re up in that gun tower with a shotgun? I thought God said, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ True or false? Are you a hypocrite?”

Trooper thought for a moment and said, “I’ve told the colonel the very same thing. Why do you keep putting me in that gun tower? Thou shalt not kill. I wouldn’t shoot anyone.”

Hmmm… A couple of prisoners took him at his word. The next time Trooper was in the gun tower, they hit the fence. Raiford had three twelve-foot fences encircling the prison. They got over the first fence, were climbing the second fence, almost to the top, when there was a “BOOM, BOOM!” double shotgun blasts. They fell to the ground, wounded, but luckily not dead.

A month later, Trooper was back on the compound. Some prisoners approached him, and one asked, “Trooper, I thought you said God forbid you from shooting people?”

Trooper had a pained expression on his face, and answered, “You know, God doesn’t want me to lose my job!”

End of story. It takes all kinds. God bless ‘em.

1 comment:

Vox Populi said...

interesting. when i saw that photo of tebow with 3:16 under his eyes i was so appalled.
the worst people I know have that on their cars, homes, shirt pockets.

there's a lot of very crazy stuff going on out here right now.