OUR FOUNDER, CHUCK COLSON
Charles “Chuck” Colson, President Richard M. Nixon's White House counsel and hatchet man, served time in a federal prison camp for a Watergate-related crime. After his incarceration, Chuck felt led by God to honor a promise he made to remember his fellow prisoners and their families. That promise grew into Prison Fellowship® and the world's largest family of prison ministries.
The Legacy of Chuck Colson
The story of our founder is a testimony to God’s grace and mercy.
As a new Christian, Chuck Colson voluntarily pled guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974 and served seven months in Alabama’s Maxwell Prison for his part in the Watergate scandal.
In his best-selling memoir, Born Again, Chuck wrote, “I found myself increasingly drawn to the idea that God had put me in prison for a purpose and that I should do something for those I had left behind.”
Colson emerged from prison with a new mission: mobilizing the Christian church to minister to prisoners.
He founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which is now the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform. In recognition of his work among prisoners, Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1993.
Chuck Colson passed away April 21, 2012. His legacy continues, however, in the work of Prison Fellowship and in the lives of the many people his ministry has touched.
After a career in hardball politics, Chuck Colson emerged as one of the most influential evangelical leaders of the past half century, devoting his life to ministering to prisoners and sharing the Gospel’s message of love and hope to millions.
"In Matthew 25, Jesus says ‘I was in prison, and you visited me.’ He calls upon His followers to minister to those who are behind bars. In other words, we will be judged in part by the way we treat those who are in prison. The fact that a man has committed a crime, and is paying the price, does not mean that he forfeits his God-given dignity."
—Chuck Colson (Justice Report 1977, ‘High-Voltage Humiliation’)
"For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself … had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I get to heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them. … I counted a privilege to have called him friend."
-The Rev. Billy Graham, Evangelist
"Chuck was truly a brilliant visionary, a man who understood human frailties and wanted to bring Christ’s love and compassion into the lives of the downtrodden. His life exemplified the admonition for all of us contained in Micah 6: 'to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.' "
- Norman A. Carlson, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons (Ret.)
Colson is born in Boston on October 16.
After serving in the Marine Corps, graduating from law school, and embarking on g a career in Republican politics, Colson joins Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.
Colson is appointed special counsel to the newly elected President Nixon.
Colson authors the 1971 memo listing Nixon’s major political opponents, later known as Nixon’s enemies list. A quip that “Colson would walk over his own grandmother if necessary” mutates into claims in news stories that Colson had boasted that he would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon.
Colson resigns from the White House. He becomes an evangelical Christian. The story of his conversion is met with widespread skepticism in the press, but support and encouragement from Christian leaders like Sen. Howard Hughes.
Colson pleads guilty to obstruction of justice in the case of Daniel Ellsberg.
Colson is released from a federal prison camp in Alabama where he served seven months. He promises never to forget the men he will leave behind. Colson begins his first program, which brings a small group of federal prisoners to Washington for a religious retreat under the guidance of Fellowship House.
Colson founds Prison Fellowship, which will grow into the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners and their families. His influential autobiography, Born Again, is published for the first time.
Prison Fellowship begins its first in-prison class at Oxford Penitentiary in Oxford, Wisconsin.
Prison Fellowship International is founded under Colson’s direction, eventually extending to more than 100 countries.
Life Sentence, which details the story of the Prison Fellowship team, is published.
Colson founds Justice Fellowship to call for a more restorative justice system based on biblical principles of restoration, fairness, and redemption. Justice Fellowship, which eventually becomes part of Prison Fellowship, advocates for legislation like the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Colson receives the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He donates the $1 million prize to the work of Prison Fellowship.
President George W. Bush bestows the Presidential Citizens Medal on Colson for “for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals.” It is the second-highest honor a U.S. president can give to a civilian.
Colson is awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President George W. Bush.
At age 80, Chuck Colson passes away on April 21. He is honored at a memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on May 16, attended by national leaders and former prisoners alike.
Congress creates the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections, a bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel charged with examining challenges in the federal corrections system and developing practical, data-driven solutions.
Prison Fellowship creates the Charles Colson Hope Awards to honor men and women who continue Colson’s legacy of bringing hope and restoration to those affected by crime and incarceration.