Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Prison Warden Who Trusted the Prisoner

The Prison Warden
Who Trusted The Prisoner
I used this story to illustrate the confidence we can have in taking God at his word.  It was used to illustrate a Sunday School lesson. I hope you are inspired by it.

Faith can be like the story of a man who in the 1930s was arrested for murder. It was kind of an accident. This man, I think, his name was Earl James, was robbing a grocery store. But he was not taking money- he was taking bread. His mother, younger brother, and sister were starving; it was the depression and a lot of people were out of work and hungry. He was so desperate he was trying to steal food to give to them. It was at night and the owner of the store came in and caught him. The owner of the store grabbed a pipe or wrench and attacked Earl. Now Earl was used to hard farm work and he was a big man and strong, so he had no trouble defending himself. But he lost his temper in the fight and went too far in defending himself and took the wrench or pipe and struck the store owner in the head and the man died. Earl full of remorse turned himself in. He couldn’t afford a lawyer and the state-appointed the cheapest lawyer to defend him. Earl had not finished the 3rd grade so the jury saw him as an ignorant, stupid, hillbilly; and figured the world was better off without him and found guilty of murder. In those days there were not the same laws as today- today he would have been charged with accidental homicide and the fact that it was not premeditated would have been taken into account and he would have been given a few years in prison. But in those days, there was just murder so he was given life in prison and this was considered very compassionate and progressive since the only other choice was hanging.

            Earl was put in a maximum security prison, it was a place for murders, gangsters, and hardened criminals.  Earl was not as stupid as everyone thought and finished learning to read with the few books that were passed among the prisoners. He got an idea to ask churches and community clubs to send books to the prison and help set up a library for the prisoners to use. He wrote letters to churches in the cities around the prison. The warden read all the letters he sent out and had Earl in his office to explain his ideas. They worked together and after two years had a little library in the prison.  Later Earl got an idea to have arts and crafts brought into the prison so the men can make things to better themselves and sell through a little gift shop where people visiting the prison could buy things. Again the warden read the letters and worked with Earl and it came about that a craft shop was set up and men learned to make pottery and paint and sketch. This improved morale in the prison. Earl had another idea and began to write letters to churches and clubs to ask if they would volunteer to run a class in the prison to teach prisoners to read and get a high school diploma. The warden continued to work with Earl and help his ideas come about. And a little class was started to help the prisoners get a basic education. There were other things that Earl accomplished but these were the most notable. He also studied the rats and mice in the prison and made some scientific discoveries that were groundbreaking about diseases in small mammals.

            Around 1962, there was a riot in the prison. Two of the guards were killed and their guns were taken. The men tried to escape the building but they were trapped inside. Other guards disappeared and it was thought they were hostages or killed too. The warden and some of the guards escaped the prison and surrounded it like a city under siege. The riot went on for days. The people in the city across the river could hear the sirens and gunshots inside. The governor called the National Guard to come and put down the riot. There were about 2,000 men inside the prison. The National Guard surrounded the prison with tanks and about 5000 soldiers. The orders the commanding general had was to use the tanks and blow a hole in the wall of the prison and force every prisoner into their cells- his orders said he could use whatever means and to kill any prisoners who resisted.  The general gave an ultimatum saying to surrender the weapons and return to the cells within one hour or else he would attack.

            Earl came to a window a half hour later, yelling for the warden. He told the warden that the riot was over the men were in their cells and that the men who started the riot got in a fight amongst themselves and they shot themselves.

            The warden said for Earl to throw out all the guns through the window.

            The window had broken glass so Earl tossed out one rifle and one pistol through the bars.

            The warden started to walk up to the prison and his guards follow behind them. The general started to shout for them to stop. 

           “You are crazy. That can’t be all the guns!  You still have missing guards inside who had guns. And there was an armory with guns and thousands of bullets if you go in you will be mown down.”

            The warden kept walking toward the prison across an open lot where there was no place to hide if there were shots. The General runs up to him and grabs him and shouts, "I’m ordering you to go back. If you go in there you will be killed then my men will assault this prison and this could be the biggest battle on US soil since the civil war."

            The warden stops and looks at him and says quietly. “That man is Earl James I have known him for 20 years and he has never lied to me. If he says those are all the guns then I believe him.” The warden walked across the lot in full view of hundreds of windows that could have had hundreds of guns pointing at him for all anybody knew, but he knew something they didn’t know he knew Earl.

            When the warden entered the prison it was as Earl had said. The prisoners had all returned to their cells. Those missing guards had managed to lock themselves in a deep part of the prison and had hidden the keys to the armory and no other guns were in the hands of the prisoners. No one else died that day.

            The warden knew Earl and knowing him he knew to trust him. Like the warden, we can walk across deadly thresholds and we have one we can trust to never lie to us- our Lord God.

(C)Adron Dozat

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