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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How Darryl Went from Prisoner to Director

This story first published at Prison Fellowship

The first day Darryl Brooks entered Prison Fellowship®’s Academy at the Carol Vance Unit in Richmond, Texas, he was wearing the standard DOC-issued white scrubs. Today, when he walks through the doors, he usually wears khakis and a dress shirt. It’s the typical attire for the director of the program.

Small Town Highs

Crosby, Texas (a town of just a few thousand) wasn’t exactly a hotbed of excitement, so Darryl and his buddies learned to create their own. At 10, he started using marijuana, selling it to others by junior high.  Dad wasn’t around,
so Mom worked two jobs to support her 12 children. Darryl was the youngest.

“I was practically raised by my siblings,” he explains.

He graduated from high school in 1987, but with no one to help him plan for his future, it was up to him to create it—or try to destroy it.

Darryl still remembers the first time he tried crack cocaine. He and his best friend were cruising the streets of their tiny town, drinking, and his friend handed him his first smoke.

“Anything that was going to take me up, up there, I was gonna try.”

After that, he descended deeper into the drug scene, and eventually found himself in court.

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A New Name, A New Family

African American father and son text messaging on cell phone.This article was first published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.

We knew his face long before he saw ours.

Three years ago, we saw his picture for the first time. An 18-month-old toddler with no known parents and no known name. From the other side of the world, we gave him a name. We became his parents. He became our son.

And three years later, when he was four-and-a-half, we held him in our arms for the first time. The little boy we had known all along finally started getting to know us—his “Mommy” and “Papa.”

It is a story of adoption. It is a story of the lost being found. It is a story about God.

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Petty Thief Snatched by Grace

Pauline Rogers Pauline RogersThis article was originally published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.

Pauline Rogers’ first experience in a court room was testifying about her father’s murder. Then just 9 years old, Pauline had watched her mother shoot him.

“I helped her put him in the car,” she admits. “He died en route to the hospital.”

The court ruled it a case of self-defense, and Pauline’ mother wasn’t convicted.

After that, “my mother became a workaholic … she was never around,” Pauline explains. And as a young girl growing up on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, Pauline began taking responsibility for her 10 younger siblings.

They were so poor, she explains, that she would look in the newspaper to find out which churches were having funerals. She would dress up her siblings and take them to the church, where they would always find a meal.

It wasn’t long before she began stealing simple things to help provide for her family, like a bag of rice, meat, or hair bands.

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Prisoner’s Son Becomes Youth Leader

Zeeke-3-e1447364758200Originally published on the Prison Fellowship blog.

He remembers it like it was yesterday.

The day Zeeke Griffin’s dad was arrested was the day of 7th-grade basketball try-outs—the day his dad had been planning and preparing him for all year.

“I figured he’d just be home in the afternoon,” Zeeke recalls. “If I make the team, I’ll be able to come home from school and tell him.”

He remembers rushing home to tell his father that he had, in fact, made the team, but Zeeke’s dad wasn’t home that day after school. Or for the next two years.

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