On Higher Ground

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By Bill Horner

The Lord can work on their hearts even in prison


“Mr. Bill! Can you help me?!” cried poor Shannon. We called her “Little Shannon” because of her petite four foot-11 inch frame. Her pale face, accentuated by her short blonde hair, was a look of horror. It seems a spider had crawled up onto the drive-up window, and she was deathly afraid of the ugly arachnids. Before I could even discern her trouble, one of the other girls had dispatched the creature, and life returned to normal.

I was working in a popular fast-food restaurant on my day off two or three times a month. Pastoring a church a few miles away, I maintained my sanity by working this job with young people who didn’t know or care about church budgets, attendance figures, or which side of the auditorium the piano should be on. My son was the general manager; I figured I’d have to be a pretty sorry worker for him to fire me.

Seeing how upset Little Shannon was at the sight of a spider, I was naturally angered when she was robbed at gunpoint the next week while depositing the day’s receipts at the bank. As she exited her car at the night deposit box, a tall man wearing a ski mask jumped out from behind some shrubbery, waved the gun in her face, grabbed the money bag, and ran off, leaving her in a panic.  The incident upset Shannon so badly that she hyperventilated and had to be taken to the hospital for observation.

A few days later a co-worker named Darrel was working the kitchen when the owner asked for his help outside.As they exited the building, two officers promptly slapped the cuffs on Darrel. He confessed to the robbery. He landed in the county workhouse awaiting trial.

Darrel and I had worked the kitchen together on occasion. I did not know him well. We were different in many ways—younger vs. older, black vs. white, uneducated vs. college grad, inner-city vs. suburban—but I was concerned for him. He certainly did not seem like a violent young man.

Exercising my prerogative as a minister, I applied to the prison chaplain for a pass to visit Darrel. Prisons are unpleasant places, by design I’m sure. But at least this was a county prison, not the state institution with its hardened criminals and maximum security. Upon emptying my pockets and passing through the metal detector, I was ushered into a side visiting room. A guard brought Darrel in and chained him by the wrist to the wall.

“Do you remember me, Darrel?” I asked. “Yes sir,” he replied. “I’m here as a pastor and as a friend,” I told him. “You know what you did was wrong, don’t you?” 

He hung his head and admitted it. He had stolen the money to buy clothes and other nice things for his younger siblings. Nevertheless, I told him, the money was not his to take, and it would hurt innocent people, including his fellow workers. Furthermore, I continued, his assault with a deadly weapon had badly frightened Little Shannon and sent her to the hospital. Darrel seemed genuinely remorseful about that.

I visited Darrel a number of times while he awaited judgment. We would pray and talk about the Lord. He did seem repentant and was looking ahead. He was pleading guilty and hoping he’d be sent to a “boot camp” prison for youthful offenders and not receive hard time in the state prison. His girlfriend vowed to wait for him and help him to get a fresh start upon his release. They both wanted the help of the Lord to see them through the ordeal.

“Tell Shannon how sorry I am,” Darrel told me during one visit. I did. She appreciated it.

I lost track of Darrel as they moved him to another location. But I pray the Lord has rescued him from the downward path of life as a hardened criminal.

“I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:35-36).