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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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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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 . . .

Transformation by the Numbers

Seven. The number of times Sheaveal Beasley turned in her street clothes for a prison uniform. It wasn’t the path she would have chosen. But when she looks back now, she knows that her life’s journey has only just begun.

Thirteen. Sheaveal’s age when she began taking responsibility for her five younger siblings. Growing up in Punta Gorda, Florida, “we cherished each other because we didn’t have much,” she says. Her parents worked hard when Sheaveal was younger, but they eventually started doing marijuana and the family was largely left in Sheaveal’s hands. Resourceful and hopeful, Sheaveal remained in school, graduating with a softball scholarship to attend Miami Dade College.

Three. The number of months Sheaveal completed at college before dropping out. It all happened because of a guy… a guy who did drugs. “I wanted to fit in,” Sheaveal admits. “I fell in love with him.” She began smoking marijuana and doing cocaine. Then she lost her scholarship and had to quit school.

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Finding His Footing

(Photo from Prison Fellowship)

(First published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Out magazine)

One Sunday morning in November 2008, Edwin Wolff penned in his journal: “One year from now, I want to have a stable job, a vehicle, and be published on some national level.”

Two months earlier—on September 12—Edwin walked out of the Huntsville Unit prison in Huntsville, Texas. His sister, brother-in-law, and Hurricane Ike were waiting for him. Despite the impending storm, Edwin couldn’t help but savor the freshness of his freedom. “It was the first time in 20 years I had seen the outside without razor wires and gun towers,” he said.

(Read full story here at PrisonFellowship.org)

Thirty Minutes with Tony Dungy

With Tony after the Catalyst Conference in October

A smile that spreads across his freckled face at the mention of his kids speaks more of Tony Dungy’s greatness than the trophy he gripped in his hand after becoming the first African American coach to lead a team to Super Bowl victory.

The quiet football giant slides into the back of the pickup, his lanky frame filling up the backseat where clothes and sports paraphernalia are strewn. “This reminds me of my truck,” he comments sonorously, fastening his seatbelt for the 25-minute drive to the Atlanta airport.

(Read full story here at Inside Out)

Grace Under Pressure

Jason Kent (courtesy of Carol Kent)

(Courtesy of Carol Kent)

At 12:35 a.m. on October 24, 1999, the phone rang.

That phone call thrust Carol Kent into a waking nightmare. Her son, 25-year-old Jason, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a strong Christian, had been charged with the murder of his wife’s ex-husband.

But even as Carol and her husband, Gene, reeled with the devastating news, a story of hope and redemption began emerging alongside the despair.

(Read full story here)

Serenading the Beast

Photo by Lizzie Coombes, courtesy of Music in Prisons

Photo by Lizzie Coombes, courtesy of Music in Prisons

Since the 1920s, when wardens whipped out band tunes to quell skirmishes in chow halls, music has played its way through barbed wire fences and into many a lonely prison cell. It found its way to the fingers of Jewish women in an orchestra at Auschwitz who were forced to serenade Nazi commandants, as well as other prisoners in work gangs. It crooned its way to Folsom State Prison through Johnny Cash’s gravelly blues. And today classical strains waft across jail yards in India, while Venezuelan convicts learn how to play Beethoven, and Maine prisoners pick away at guitars to Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

(Read full story here at Prison Fellowship)