Prodigal: I am so MAD!
Me: Calm down.
Prodigal: I’m fixin’ to knock you forty miles west of younder.
Me: Maybe I should pray and then remind you of the prison system.
This is from the book Beyound Our Selves by Catherine Marshall
It was the year 1924. In a courtroom in the Midwest, the judge’s voice was grave as he looked down at the prisoner standing before him. “I am about to sentence you to a major prison for the third time. I know you are sick. And I know that more punishment is not the remedy. But your record leaves me powerless.”
And so “hopeless criminal” was society’s judgment of Starr Daily. The verdict seemed justified. At sixteen Starr’s only ambition had been to build a reputation as a dangerous man. He dreamed of the time when the police would refer to him with a shudder.
He achieved his aim by becoming the leader of a gang of safe crackers. There was no safe he could not open, no time lock he could not take apart. But finally liquor make him careless, and he was caught.
There followed fourteen year of penal farms, chain gangs, and two extended penitentiary sentences. Through all that time Starr’s father never lost hope that his son might be redeemed from his life of crime. His best efforts failed. He lived to see his Starr re-enter prison for the third time. Starr never saw his father after that. The broken-hearted man died with a prayer for his son on his lips.
In prison Starr made two futile attempts to escape. Then he evolved a plan to instigate a prison riot. The deputy warden was to be seized and used as a shield and hostage. A stool pigeon betrayed the plan, and Starr was sentenced to the dungeon.
Most strong men could not survive “the hole” for more than fifteen days. American prisons years ago could be grim and brutal places. It was winter, and the walls of the dank cell seeped moisture. At six every morning, the prisoner would be given a piece of bread and a cup of water. Then he would be left hanging in handcuffs for twelve hours. At six in the evening, he would be let down for the night and given another piece of bread and another cup of water.
Starr survived fifteen days of this. By the last day in the cuffs, he could no longer stand on feet black with congealed blood. That morning “the Bull”- the keeper of the hole- had to list the almost un conscious man into the cuffs.
For weeks after that, the prisoner was allowed to lie on the icy stone floor–emaciated, unspeakable filthy, near death. He lost track of time. Mired in the lowest hell imaginable, only hate was keeping him alive- hate for the Bull, hate for the deputy warden who had vowed that he would force Starr to crawl to him like a dog, begging mercy.
Then there came a moment when the man on the floor was too weak to hate. Through that momentary opening crept a strange new thought: All of my life I have been a dynamo of energy. What might have happened if I had used that energy for something good?
Then the thought faded. It’s too late now; I’m dying. There followed a half-walking, half-sleeping state of unconsciousness: moments of delirium, times of awareness.
This was followed by disconnected dreams, like mists floating across the brain. Time was no more. The prisoner was aware no longer of the frozen stone floor, of his filth, or of anyone who came or went.
Finally, the dreams began to take on meaning, to become rational in form and sequence. Suddenly Starr seemed to be in a garden. He knew that he had been in this same garden before–many times in childhood. It was in a shoe-shaped valley surrounded by gentle hills. At one end of the garden a great white-gray jutted out. Then Jesus Christ, the Man whom he had been trying to avoid all his life, was coming toward him. Now He stood face to face with Starr, looking deep into his eyes as if penetrating to the bottom of his soul. Love of a quality that he had never before felt was drawing the hate out of his heart, like extracting poison from an infected wound.
With a strange clarity, one part of Starr’s mind thought I am submerged in Reality, I’ll never be the same again, now through all eternity.
There followed another dream in which all the people Starr had ever injured passed before his eyes. One by one, he poured out his love to them.
Then all who had injured him appeared, and on them too he bestowed the love needed to restore and to heal. The love flowed from beyond him, poured through him in a torrent of caring and ecstatic gratitude.
When the prisoner returned to consciousness, the cell did not look the same. Its grim grayness was gone. For him it was illuminated with a warm light. His feelings too were different. The prison environment no longer had the power to give him pain, only joy.
The next things Starr knew, the door opened and the Bull said in a tone of voice Starr had never before heard him use, “Are you hungry? I could steal a sandwhich from the kitchen and bring it to you.”
The prisoner started in amazement. But he was even more startled at his own reply, “No, don’t do that. Don’t risk your neck by breaking a rule for me.”
It was the Bull’s turn to be astonished. He went off wonderingly, came back with the doctor, and Starr was carried to the prison hospital. Through a swift and surprising series of events, prison doors swung open for Starr Daily in March 1930, five years ahead of time set for his release.
From this man who had only a sixth-grade education have come eight books. He has lectured all over the nation. His knowledge of the criminal mind has contributed to valuable rethinking of prison techniques. He has personally been the Holy Spirit’s vehicle for the reclamation of scores of criminals.
Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.
Jennifer Van Allen