Sunday, December 27, 2020

Finding Hidden Treasures in My Bible



 I’ve told the story before, how from 1983 — 1987, my family came to Chapel services at Zephyrhills C.I. every Sunday — usually my mother, Lucille Norman, my niece, Tammy Norman, and Aunt Alice Walker, and sometimes my brothers, Dan and Tom, and less often, my father, Eugene, until his passing in 1985. We would almost fill up a pew in the tiny chapel. My family home was 12 miles down Highway 301 in Thonotosassa, so it was a quick trip to visit. There were a few families — regulars — who visited their loved one, sang with the “Howling Dog Choir,” (I called it) and enjoyed special religious services by outside church groups I still recall. Most of the other inmates didn’t get visitors, and my family was a sort of surrogate family for many of the men. My mother, aunt, and niece were always so friendly and gracious to everyone, that the pews in front and behind us were always crowded with men wanting to sit near us. Two of my oldest prison friends, Mike Riding and Jack Murphy, sat on our pew with us.

In September, 1983, after a disappointing Saturday service cancellation, Murf and I brainstormed a new prison religious event, a three-day “Sonshine Adventure,” the Son signifying Jesus Christ, the Shine for His light shining on us all, and the Adventure of walking in the Christian path. Miraculously, our idea was approved and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, of volunteers and churches coming onto the compound for three days and nights, leading to the 1986 “National Prison Invasion,” 20,000 Christian volunteers going into 400 prisons nationwide, thousands of men and women accepting Christ. That’s another story, among many.

Jack Murphy had had his visits suspended for two years for some trouble he got into at Union C.I., and every Sunday he sat with my family, becoming a trusted friend. I’ll never forget my niece, Tammy’s, 12th birthday. We painted a huge banner with “Happy Birthday Tammy,” and took a photo of us holding it up.

At church that Sunday, Jack asked her, “Tammy, you’re so pretty. Are you going to be a model when you grow up?”

“No,” Tammy said, “I’m going to be a lawyer and get Charlie out of prison.”

How can you not love a girl like that? Would that she had become a lawyer and gotten Uncle Charlie out of prison. I needed the help — still do.

November 20, 1984, Murf the Surf got out of prison. It was a big deal that I’ll write more about another time. He spent two years at “The Bridge” in Orlando, then was released on parole. One of the first things he did was what we’d talked about years before, registering “Sonshine Adventure, Inc.,” a non-profit corporation. He gave me his new business card with a photo of him playing the violin, his signature instrument. Whenever he spoke at Assemblies, he would finish with the violin. Charlie Daniels’ “Devil Went Down To Georgia,” a challenging piece, was his finale.

Murf the Surf is dead. September 12, 2020. It was a shock to me. He was a man larger than life, who we thought would live forever. In 1984, in that big prison prayer circle, arms interlinked, with tears in his eyes, with emotion, Jack said, “I’m coming back for you, brother,” before he dressed in his street clothes, went out the gate, and gave his first interview to CBS, NBC, ABC News, helicopter hovering overhead.

That night at 6:30 pm, Dan Rather opened his telecast with, “Today, Jack ‘Murf the Surf’ Murphy was released from prison.” CBS broadcast video of 70 inmates singing “Amazing Grace,” and holding up a banner. That was us at Zephyrhills.

I’ve told the story of how my Aunt Alice bought me a heavy leather-bound large print Bible, so we all could read and follow along with the Bible verses being read during services. That Bible, inscribed with “To my favorite nephew, Love , Alice,” remains a prized possession thirty-four years later.

Over the years my Bible has swelled with keepsakes, church programs, photos, bookmarks. We used to be able to carry our Bibles to visit our families, but no more. They do allow us to have our Bible in lockup, fortunately, and sitting back here in “the box” after being stabbed twice last week, I began to examine all the papers and photos stashed between the pages. I learned a long time ago to always keep a couple of stamps, envelopes and writing paper in my Bible, in case of lockup, to be able to write home. This message is being written on paper that was patiently waiting inside my Bible at least ten years, sent to Libby, then sent to you.

That’s where I found Jack Murphy’s “Sonshine Adventure” business card, sitting between the pages of Isaiah for over thirty years. I’m sending Murf’s card home to Libby, to keep and share. It has quite q history.

I don’t know what will result from this situation. A prison guard paid gang members to injure me to get me out of the dorm she worked in, afraid that I would file a complaint against her, jeopardizing her illegal smuggling operation. She doesn’t realize that evil often comes to light, and once she paid the gang for evil, she will always be in their power.

As for me, I am okay, still writing, still praying, still loved by my wonderful wife. Keep the faith, and keep in touch.

Peace, joy, and love,



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