A death-row prisoner remembers the conversation that changed his life.
Ten years ago today, we said goodbye to a man whose devotion to Christ and incarcerated people inspired what is now the largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners and their families in the nation: Prison Fellowship®. Chuck Colson radically converted to Christianity before serving time for his role in the Watergate scandal. The world remembers him as a tireless advocate, a brilliant writer, and a gifted visionary. But to Mike Johnson (name changed to protect privacy), Chuck was the man who stopped to talk—and whose love changed everything.
EMANATING THE LOVE OF GOD
It was October 1985, and Mike was marking time on death row at San Quentin State Prison. A new believer, Mike felt excited about the personal relationship with Jesus he now enjoyed. Around 9 p.m., Mike was kneeling on the floor of his cell, using his bed as a desk to study the Bible and pray. A few other books were scattered across his bed, including Loving God by Chuck Colson.
Suddenly, Mike sensed he was being watched. He looked up, and there at his cell bars stood Chuck Colson. Mike instantly recognized his face from the book cover.
"To meet Chuck was like meeting Jesus for me," Mike wrote in an account for Prison Fellowship Field Director Bill Maxwell. "The love of God and the peace of Christ were emanating from him every moment."
LOVED AND MISSED LIKE FAMILY
The men spoke for only 15 minutes, but 37 years later, Mike remembers how inspired he was.
That night changed my life for the second time, the first being when I received Christ. Chuck caused me to realize no matter who we are or where we are, true life in Christ is found in being a vessel proclaiming the Good News of Christ. It’s there we glorify God."
Today, Mike is imprisoned at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California. He works at the chapel, helping fellow prisoners who have physical limitations. Bill Maxwell describes Mike as kind and humble—the same characteristics that Mike saw in Chuck all those years ago.
“Chuck’s influence and Christ’s presence in him has led my life in prison to serving God with passion,” Mike wrote. “Since the one and only day I spoke with Mr. Chuck Colson, I have loved him and missed him in the same way I love and miss all my family and loved ones. I remember his witness to me like it was yesterday.”
In many ways, both big and small, Chuck Colson’s witness lives on. We praise God for his life and his legacy.
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