Former Watergate felon Colson, ministers take Easter message to Pompano inmates

Charles W. Colson

Former Watergate felon Colson, ministers take Easter message to Pompano inmates

By James D. Davis - Sun Sentinel News - Religion Editor - April 9 2007 

FORT LAUDERDALE Chuck Colson went back to prison on Sunday for the 30th Easter since he served time as a Watergate conspirator.

Asked about the irony before his speech at a prison rally, he just smiled.

I wouldn't be anywhere else," the founder of Prison Fellowship said before taking the stage at the Pompano Transitional Center, to keynote an Easter service for inmates and their families. "People in churches don't realize what resurrection is like. People who are stripped of everything else and have no distractions -- those are the ones who understand the Gospel."

Colson was at the forefront of a small army of ministers and volunteers that converged at the minimum-security prison to produce the Easter service for the audience of 511, including 230 inmates. Speaker after speaker at the voluntary service talked of his own personal Easter-like resurrection.

Mark Earley, Colson's successor as Prison Fellowship president, told of his change of heart from a law-and-order hardliner as Virginia attorney general. He softened when he learned how Bible heroes such as Moses and Paul had their own criminal records.

"We're not here on Easter because you need the message more than most," Earley said. "We're here because we're part of a great movement, where God is raising up a generation of leaders from behind prison walls."

Colson, 75, reinforced the Easter theme in a prison venue.

"We're celebrating a man who was a prisoner, who died on a cross, then went into a tomb that could not contain him," he said during his 22-minute speech. "Where better to celebrate than in the tomb of society?

"If Jesus were preaching today, he would be among the poor and outcast in society. And that's the man who transformed our lives. There is nothing you've gone through with the Florida Department of Corrections, or in your life, that Jesus Christ didn't go through."

Thomas Walker, himself an ex-offender from the Pompano center, told of his drug and theft record, and the 15-year sentence that was reduced to two years. He thanked not only God for his turnaround but also the prison ministry of First Baptist Church of Piney Grove.

"I present myself as an example of God's grace and mercy," said Walker, who still visits the center weekly as a mentor to other inmates. "I've come to realize that God is a God of second chances."

The listeners ate it up as eagerly as they ate the chicken, corn on the cob, baked beans and cupcakes during the lunch served afterward by inmates.

"It's encouraging to see people who have done good with themselves," said Virgilio Blasco, serving time for vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated. "They're leading by example."

He turned solemn as he mentioned the woman who died in the crash he caused. "I created a kid with no mother and a husband with no wife. If I become a better man, and encourage kids not to go the way I did, I can save someone else's mother and wife."

Fellow inmate David McCoy, serving a sentence for cocaine possession, blinked back tears as he praised the prison program that allowed the family Easter worship.

"This is my best day since I've been here," McCoy said, sitting with twin sister Deneise, daughter Daeja and niece Treneise. "My family and this program are helping me to be the man God wants me to be.

"I'm telling you from my heart, I want to change my life."

Colson seemed to enjoy being there as much as the crowd did: Long after many big-name speakers would have left, he stayed to chat and shake hands with the inmates and their families.

"I give speeches and write books for a living; this is the fun part," he said. "Christ died for the outcast. It's because of them that we start with the resurrection."