Alone in a Steel Box, with a Bible

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 mans 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.

Survival

Up until 2000, Russ would have blamed his behavior on his rough lot in life. Growing up in some of the Midwests biggest cities, little Russ  would steal clothes off of clotheslines, nab groceries—anything to avoid the next foster care placement or childrens 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 Houstons 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.

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Answered in Scars

Sometimes it takes going to prison to get closer to the reasons behind life’s biggest “Why?”

I have always asked the “Why,” the one I wish I didn’t care so much about. The one you’re supposed to leave to mystery. The one that will drive you mad if you go at it too long. God, why do You allow—even perhaps ordain—evil things to happen?

I have heard stories of little girls abused at the hands of those who should be their protectors. I have met women who lost their children to the machetes of crazed neighbors. I know children who were chucked to the streets because of a system run by rulers who couldn’t find room for them.

Sometimes the “Why?” takes different forms, but often it comes back to this deeper question: God, are you good, really good?

Mostly He speaks to my soul that I must trust that He is. But sometimes He peels back the curtain and gives a merciful drop of respite in the land of faith. Less in an answer of explanation, but in an answer of His passion—pain and tears and scars.

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For Every Tribe

Photography By Jeremy Kramer

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine.

One of the worst days of Elidamares (“Eli”) de Almeida’s life was the day she had to take her husband to the doctor with her. The 40-something elementary school teacher from Brazil had recently immigrated with her family to the U.S. She knew very little English and was almost completely dependent on others.

In Brazil, she was a capable and independent woman with a bachelor’s degree in education. “I was free to do everything I wanted or to solve any kind of problem.” Not so when she came to America.

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Fashioned for Freedom

What does a 15-year-old girl do when, after being rescued from sex slavery, realizes that her family doesn’t want to take her back?

That question confronted Dawn Manske when she visited a safe house in India for girls who had been trafficked. Manske, had first witnessed the trafficking of children while teaching English in China.

In 2011, although she was already working three jobs, Manske decided to undertake a business venture called Made for Freedom to help provide employment for girls rescued from brothels. Made for Freedom works with New Life Center, a recovery and restoration house that employs victims of sex trafficking in Thailand, to produce unique handmade pants that have a story of their own.

Continue reading at byFaith . . . 

Sewing for Jesus

Kieow couldn’t pass English class.

A political science student in Bangkok, Thailand, Kieow Thongluan needed a passing grade in English to graduate, but she just couldn’t master the class she was taking at Ramkhamhaeng University. Then a friend told her about a class run by MTW missionaries who taught English using the Bible.

“Because of growing up in a Buddhist family, we believed in angels, but we never talked about God,” Thongluan, 36, recalls.

She had learned a little about Jesus in religion classes, but it wasn’t until she started reading the Bible with the MTW missionaries that Thongluan began to realize who He really was.

“Jesus isn’t just the father of a religion; He is God. If He is God, I want to know. That day I went home, I prayed to Jesus that if He was God, I wanted to know Him. That night, I had a dream. Someone was knocking on the door. The person said, ‘I’m standing here and knocking.’ I said, ‘Yes, I want to open the door.’”

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Remember the Prisoner

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Photo taken from ByFaithonline.com

Mr. Casson, I hereby sentence you to life in prison with the possibility of parole. You understand sir, that the key word here is ‘possibility’ and that you may never leave prison; in fact, you may die there. Do you understand the sentence that I’m imposing on you today?”

These were the words that 21-year-old Mark Casson heard in the courtroom on a cold day in March 1989.

“I liked violent things,” Casson admits.

While serving as a linguist with U.S. Army Intelligence, Casson often engaged in underground fighting at a warehouse in San Jose, Calif. Committing murder was just the next step on his violent path.

One day, his best friend told him that his wife had committed adultery and he wanted revenge. Casson agreed to be the hit man.

Continue reading at ByFaithonline.com . . .

Precious in His Sight: San Diego Woman Fights to Set Victims Free

One_on_One_Munsey_407x226Sex trafficking is the fastest-growing business for organized crime, and San Diego is one of its hot spots. In the most recent issue of byFaithI chatted with a woman named Susan Munsey who is providing compassion to victims of this injustice through her organization GenerateHope

Your personal story played a big role in your desire to start an aftercare house for girls who have been trafficked. Can you share a little of your story with us?

When I was 16, my parents divorced. I felt lost and alone. During this time, I ran into a guy who did with me what is very typical for many girls:  He made me believe that he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I went for it, and before I knew it, I was in the street. For me—like for many kids—it was hard to say no, since I thought it meant I would lose love. Not long afterward, I was arrested. That was my saving grace.

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Reclaiming a Pool Hall to Redeem a Neighborhood

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine

In a smoky pool hall in an undisclosed urban ghetto, Tom Cruise, playing a young billiards protégé in director Martin Scorsese’s 1986 film “The Color of Money,” bends over his cue and shoots impeccably, not only winning the admiration of his challengers but provoking their jealousy. Almost 20 years later, a young pastor takes a hammer to the walls of that same pool hall; blood, sweat, and prayers now at work transforming the once notorious pool hall at the corner of 64th and Cottage streets into a common ground — a haven for the downtrodden, the once-forgotten street kid, and the weary intellectual.

Continue reading at byFaith Magazine . . . 

 

Bridge to Bhutan

As they read, Todd Fizer couldn’t help but notice the tears welling up in their eyes. For many, those letters from home were a link to relatives they hadn’t seen in two or three years — a bridge between the displaced Bhutanese living in Nepali refugee camps to a community of old and new family members at New City Fellowship Church (PCA), St. Louis.

According to the U.S. State Department, during the past five years the United States has welcomed almost 324,000 refugees from around the world. More than 51,000 have come from Nepal, originally displaced from Bhutan, a tiny country sandwiched between China and India.

Continue reading article here in byFaith Magazine . . . 

Gumbo Gospel

Photo courtesy of St. Roch Community Church

Barely five years after tasting his first bite of gumbo, 32-year-old J.B. Watkins would be using the dish as a metaphor to describe St. Roch, the section of New Orleans’ 8th Ward where he planted St. Roch Community Church (SRCC).

“It’s a healthy mix of everything,” he explains. “It’s very urban, very artsy. It’s a conglomerate of a lot of different cultures all gathered in one place.”

Historically a German settlement, St. Roch — like most of New Orleans — bursts with the remnants of French influence in its architecture, food, music, and art. The congregation of St. Roch is no less diverse. African Americans. Caucasians. Asians. Visitors from Africa and the Latino community. Professors. Mechanics. Stay-at-home moms.

Pitted against this vibrant culture, uglier things — poverty, crime, and physical devastation — scar the neighborhood. Youth who’d rather sell drugs than go to school. Mothers who lose sons in senseless shootings. Homes destroyed by merciless storms.

Continue reading article in byFaith Magazine . . .