How one of the most dangerous men in Texas’ recent history met Christ
Story first published at Prison Fellowship.
“I was sitting in a strip cell, angry, no clothes … acting crazy, spitting on guards,” says Russ Kloskin, soft-spoken and pensive.
The man‘s articulate, gentle demeanor makes it hard to imagine him as a former leader of one of the most violent organized crime machines in Texas‘ history.
Up until 2000, Russ would have blamed his behavior on his rough lot in life. Growing up in some of the Midwest‘s biggest cities, little Russ would steal clothes off of clotheslines, nab groceries—anything to avoid the next foster care placement or children‘s home, while his teenage mother roamed the streets looking for her next fix.
When he was a preteen, they moved to Houston where the drugs and violence were constant—at home and on the streets. Russ turned to the streets to escape an abusive stepfather and soon joined the ranks of Houston‘s homeless youth. Then it was on to juvenile facilities, reform school, and ultimately on to prison at age 15 for an armed robbery.
A few years into his incarceration, Russ was put into a cell with Joe, a ”big biker guy” who took a liking to him and decided to take the young man under his wing. Turns out Joe was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist group that is responsible for many of the murders in the federal prison system. In the Brotherhood, Russ found everything he thought he always wanted—family, belonging, sense of self-worth.
Over the next several years, Russ moved up the ranks of the gang as he committed acts of violence. In 1996, he and his “brothers” hanged a man in his cell. Russ and his comrades were “deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution” and sent to solitary confinement units in different prisons across the state.
In “the hole,” Russ was so violent that it took a “six-man extraction team” to escort him from his steel box to the shower. After a few months, the other members of the gang were transported back to their original unit, but Russ was still stuck far away from all of his contacts.
“I heard a lieutenant say there was no way he was putting me on a bus because I would kick out all of the windows,” Russ explains. “When I heard that, knowing that I wanted to be back with my brothers again, I started behaving myself, just to get back there.”
In December of that year, a corrections officer—one who had been “cussed at and talked back at” by Russ—noticed the change, and asked him if he wanted something to read.
Assuming she would bring him a newspaper or something similar, he agreed.
“Later that day, I heard my bean chute open up and something clink on the floor. It was a Bible.”
Infuriated, Russ cussed the woman out.
For the next couple of days, Russ just sat in his cell with that Bible. He rolled it into a tube, tied a sock around it, and then lay on his bunk, tossing it up in the air, back and forth, all day long. But, for some reason, he couldn‘t bring himself to throw it out. Eventually, he gave in and began flipping through the book, and ultimately came to the story of the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. He read how the man lived alone in the tombs, cutting himself with sharp stones.
“When I read that, it just messed me up,” Russ admits, flipping over his forearms to reveal a ladder of tiny scars. He returns to a memory from his childhood as he explains: Russ‘ mother would lock him in a coal bin when he was a child, while she roamed the streets.
“When my mother would put me in that coal bin, I would cut myself. And when I read this story …” he chokes up, “Christ healed him. He was sitting and clothed in his right mind.”
He goes on, “I didn‘t knowing nothing about altar calls or special prayers, but I knew for the first time in my life that whatever He had done for that man, I wanted Him to do for me.”
On January 6, 2000, a broken, desperate 32-year-old man cried out to the Redeemer, Lord, I can‘t do this anymore. I can‘t live this way. I need You!
It was instantaneous, Russ explains. All the shackles of hatred, rage, and anger. All the years of stored up loneliness. In a moment, it was gone.
“He healed me that very day.”
Every day, for the next three years, he did exactly the same thing. He would read his Bible. For 16 to 18 hours a day.
“I told the other men in my gang that I was quitting, stepping down [from the Brotherhood]. Some didn‘t believe me.”
Eventually Russ was released back into general population, where for the next 10 years he got involved with Christian community, and earned several degrees in theology. Ultimately, he ended up at the Prison Fellowship® Academy at the Carol Vance Unit where he delved into life skills classes, Bible study, and courses on healing from early wounds. It was 18 months of rich Christian fellowship, and mentoring relationships.
In August of 2013 at age 46, Russ finally walked free, in every sense of the word. Prison Fellowship helped him get back on his feet and navigate roadblocks like obtaining his social security card and driver’s license.
“Without Christ, it would have been game on for me,” he explains. “I would have just gone back to doing what I used to do.”
But, with his Christian brothers at his side, he got involved with church and found a job at a car dealership. He even met the woman he would marry, a God-fearing woman he encountered while doing ministry.
And this past March, he accepted the position of reentry specialist for Prison Fellowship—a job helping other men leaving the Prison Fellowship Academy and reentering society.
When he looks back at his past, he doesn‘t understand it all, but he knows there was a reason: “Everything will be used for the good for those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose. Every day is a growing experience in how to be the man of God I know He‘s calling me to be.”