I kept my hand held high and even waved a little when they asked for volunteers to go to death row. We were in Parchman, Mississippi on a Bill Glass prison weekend. Back then we spent three days in the same prison. This meant all day Friday, all day Saturday, and a half day Sunday. This picture is me nearly thirty years ago on that death row.
There were forty-three men on Mississippi’s death row at the time, and I would have the opportunity to talk to every single one of them. With the exception, of course, of those who didn’t want to talk. I probably visited with thirty men that weekend. One in particular stood out in my mind. I have used his story as an example for many years since.
I stopped in front of one particular cell and quietly asked, “Do you mind if I watch?”
He shook his head and continued doing his martial arts exercises. I’d never watched someone do martial arts in person, only on television. I didn’t know what style it was until he told me later.
After a few minutes, he stopped and bowed to me.
“Is that Karate,” I asked.
“No, it’s Kung Fu,” he said. Most of the inmates on this death row had deep southern accents. He had a strong accent that wasn’t from the South.
“Where’re you from?”
“Brooklyn, New York.”
“Well, I knew you weren’t from these parts, so what in the world are you doing in Mississippi?”
He turned away from me as though he was ashamed and said, “That’s a long story.”
“I got three days. You wanna tell me?”
He told me he had done a few years in Florida prisons—caught a case there buying drugs to take to New York. He did time with a guy who knew of an easy score on some diamonds in Florida. The guy even had a connection in California to sell them to. When they both got out, they hooked up and stole the diamonds, and began their long, cross-country drive to California.
When they reached Mississippi, temperatures had reached about ninety degrees. They were extremely thirsty, so they stopped at a little beer joint and ordered a couple of draws. One beer led to another, until they’d had quite a few.
Just before they were about to leave, some redneck started trouble with him, so he went to the car, got his pistol, and shot the guy and one of his friends. The story seemed fresh
as he told it to me, so I assumed it had happened within the last year.
“How long ago was that?” I asked.
“Over ten years ago.”
“So, you’ve been living in this seven-by-nine-foot cell for ten years?”
“Yes, I have.”
“I bet you wish you’d drunk Coke that day, huh?”
He was already a Christian and had stopped appealing his case after his conversion. I did my best to encourage him and then I prayed for him. We talked about choices, and how one wrong choice can change the rest of our life.
Are you making good choices? Just because in April of 1983 I made the choice to follow Christ, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t have to think about the choices I make. I encourage you to ask God to help you make good ones.
In HIS grip,
II Corinthians 5:17
Photo by Ron Kuntz