For the first time in years, Eddie whispered, “God, please don’t let me die.” Something profound happened. That whisper for intervention moved Eddie from being a hardened crook on one side of the cross to the other side, just as the criminal long ago cried out: “Today, remember me in paradise.”
Perhaps the most forgotten outcast in society is the prisoner. Craig Gross and Jason Harper, authors of Jesus Loves You . . . This I Know, remind readers of the need these outcasts have for the love of Jesus. Harper remembers when he ran into an old friend in church, and later heard his testimony about his incarceration and transformation. Harper likens this prisoner’s experience to that of the “crook” on the cross next to Jesus. The day Eddie cried out to God in prison saying, “God, please don’t let me die,” isn’t very different from the Friday the thief on the cross pleaded, “Jesus, remember me.”
Here is an excerpt from their book:
Jesus Loves the Crook
As he placed his order for his coffee, his natural baritone voice gave him away. I had not seen him in more than twenty years, but I knew that voice anywhere.
It was “Edward.” His friends called him Eddie.
Memories flooded my mind. The last time I saw Eddie was when we were ninth graders, and he had that deep voice even then. I met him through a couple mutual friends, but otherwise we did not have much in common. I had been raised in the suburbs of Sacramento; he lived in the city. Our schools were different. Our clothes were different. Our lives were different.
By the time he was fourteen, Eddie was bitter over his parents’ divorce, which happened when he was only six years old. Wanting acceptance and love, yet not seeing a solid male figure in his life, he lashed out. His anger was rooted in the fact that he had to be his mother’s provider and could not do it. He did not know how.
Quickly, what began as petty crime escalated to full-on burglary. Drugs on the streets were easy to get. He found power in being able to bully. His petty crimes were ex-changed for more sinister plots. Everything, including his drug use, was amplified . . .
Life became a game of survival on the inside [of prison]. He knew the more violence he was willing to volunteer for, the more respect others would give him. He could make a name for himself. The prison guards knew him as a number. The gang knew him as “Short E.”
God knew him as “Son.”
The stories of murder, extortion, rape, drugs, and violence behind the prison walls would exhaust anyone. The praying momma who melted the exterior hardness of Eddie painted a clear picture that Jesus had the ability to take away the pain, the problems, and the pent-up aggression in his angry heart. But as with any gang, especially those thriving behind prison walls, there would be a price to pay for this career criminal.
“Is your name Eddie?” I asked.
Eddie looked at me, still blowing on his coffee to cool it. He tilted his head slightly to look over his eyeglasses and asked, “Do I know you?”
I quickly gave him the rundown of our common friends, our connections, and our crossed paths. Once again the smile that lit up the lobby returned to Eddie’s face. We shared a brief introduction of our wives and shook hands, excited to have been reacquainted. He explained he had been coming to Capital Christian Center for church on Sundays for about a year and had not seen me, or at least had not put the two-decade-old separation puzzle together. As we parted, I asked, “What’s been going on?”
He smiled. “Let’s talk it over at lunch.”
A few weeks later, our families gathered after church and I learned everything. And I mean everything. He told me how, after his eight parole violations, he was sent back to prison. His gang in prison had informed all its members that a riot was going to occur, and participation was not optional. The dilemma he faced was the knowledge that if he got nailed in the riot he could add months, if not years, onto his already painful return. With only a glimmer of knowledge of Jesus but a confidence in the truth of Scripture, he decided to stand in his cell door and pray that he would not be sucked into a death sentence.
The echo of the iron doors opening on his cell block marked the beginning of the violent coup. For the first time in years, he whispered, “God, please don’t let me die.” Something profound happened. That whisper for intervention moved Eddie from being a hardened crook on one side of the cross to the other side, just as the criminal long ago cried out: “Today, remember me in paradise.”
Minutes passed, but it seemed like hours. Eddie crouched, ducked, stood in his cell knowing that his aluminum bunk could not shield him; only God could. Rival gang members walked the cell block tier toward him. They were hunting for the vulnerable and the exposed. They wanted an easy kill. As they ran toward him, he stood, his fear mounting like he had never felt before. Thoughts of his praying mom, his stupid decisions that led him to this point, his wife, his kids, his home, and even thoughts of his childhood flooded his mind in an instant.
With a silent prayer that God would redirect his rivals, he choked out, “Don’t kill me. Let it go. I am done.”
With those words, “Short E” was silenced, and Edward looked at the men with a new vision of humanity. Corrupt as they were, these were two more crooks for whom Jesus died.
“I was shocked. They looked at me and turned the other way,” Edward confessed. “I don’t expect those who have not been in that predicament to fully understand the depth of that miracle. God saved me in that cell.”
Within months, Edward paroled for the last time was finally free.
Years removed, we sat with our families and ate lunch. I was puzzled and perplexed at the transformation that had occurred in his life. As we finished, Eddie answered the question that I had asked nearly two hours earlier when we first sat down, “What has God called you to do?”
“I want to be a pastor. I want to study the Scriptures. I want to give my loyalty and allegiance to God with the same passion I did that gang.” He was convinced.
Less than a week later, he enrolled in Bible college courses through Global University. As he’s taken his perfectionist nature to the academic world, Eddie now frequently calls me to ask for clarity on Scripture. Each day he is reminded of the love Jesus has for him.
He understands that Jesus loves crooks.