According to a report from the Christian Post, Chuck Colson, once a symbol of Nixon Administration corruption, then a life-long champion of prison-reform has died of an intracerebral hemorrhage after surgery to remove a brain clot from his brain. He was 80 years old. Colson was one of the few men to go to prison for the Watergate Scandal which engulfed the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. He was one of the “Watergate seven” and described by journalist David Plotz as the “evil genius” in the Nixon administration. Colson plead guilty to obstruction of justice for defaming Daniel Ellsberg.
Even this was a controversial moment in Colson’s life. He was on trial for conspiracy to cover up the Watergate break-in- and the judge was reported to be likely to dismiss the charge entirely, but Colson, who had converted to Christianity in the time between his misdeed and the trial, decided it was better to plea for the crime he did commit.
Colson’s time in prison and his recently adopted evangelical Christian faith transformed his life. He developed an enormous prison ministry (perhaps the least glamorous type in American Christianity), Prison Fellowship, and devoted much of his life to reform of the prison system. The Prison Fellowship website prominently describes its founder as the “Watergate crook.”
Here is a section of David Plotz’s Slate article that describes the work of Prison Fellowship and its ideals:
Prison Fellowship thrived, and Colson has become the nation’s greatest prison reformer. Its 50,000 volunteers are active in the vast majority of American correctional institutions. Its pen pals correspond with 27,000 prisoners. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year. Prison Fellowship publishes the most widely distributed prison newspaper, provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-cons, and supplies Christmas gifts to hundreds of thousands of kids with a locked-up parent. Studies suggest that Prison Fellowship lowers recidivism.
Colson may be the inspiration of the joke, “A liberal is a conservative who’s been to prison.” On prison issues, he is a darling of the left. He insists that nonviolent criminals should not be jailed, that more convicts should be paroled, and that drug offenders should be treated rather than incarcerated.
Colson had not gone entirely liberal. He opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, post-modern philosophy and culture. He supported Proposition 8 in California, and held to orthodox Christian doctrine on the sinfulness of man and the physical Resurrection of Christ.
Though his prison reform efforts have borne little fruit in changed policy, scores of thousands of prisoners were touched by his work preaching the Gospel to them. And millions of Christians were also affected by his speeches and regular radio appearances.
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