Charles W. “Chuck” Colson
October 16, 1931 – April 21, 2012
Mr. Chuck Colson inspired me from the moment I first read his book, “Born Again.” I was standing in a Christian bookstore in Buffalo, New York looking for books to explain what had happened to me after becoming a Christian while I awaited a court date for a drug possession charge back in 1980.
I found Colson’s book very fascinating and it also confirmed to me that the same experience that happened to Chuck Colson happened to me. We both were “born again” by having Jesus Christ come into our lives and that is who had changed us.
Prior to becoming a Christian I was a rebellious radical out-of-control substance abuser working in the entertainment business who had a bitter hatred for President Richard M. Nixon and anyone who had anything to do with him. There were not too many people in our “baby boomer” hippy generation who thought very highly of Nixon and his cronies.
Portrait of Charles Colson Pausing at Watergate Hearing – 1974
When Nixon and his staff had the Watergate scandal blow up in their faces I was glad to see it happen. I was glued to my television set to watch the entire congressional hearings and loved it when each member of Nixon’s staff was dragged before the committee to answer for their wrong doings.
Chuck Colson and Marty Angelo – 1974 – from two different worlds
However, little did I know at the time, while I was pointing my finger at these other men’s misgivings (sins) there were three of my fingers pointing right back at me. I found out very suddenly one day that I too was going to be held accountable for my own actions (sins).
I learned first-hand shortly after becoming a Christian exactly what Colson had learned himself and taught out of the Bible that we are ALL sinners and fall short of the glory of God and in need of a savior. Not one person is righteous in God’s eyes… whether it was Richard M. Nixon, Chuck Colson or little ole me.
The Bible says “all are sinners”… and it means every single one of us. And another biblical fact Colson learned and explained so easily is that we all reap what we sow. There are consequences for all of our actions whether we work for presidents or rock ‘n’ roll stars.
Charles W. Colson and President Richard M. Nixon
Chuck Colson was once considered Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and his special legal counsel, so how in the world would someone like me ever get to meet a high-caliber politician like him… yet alone turn out to actually like the guy?
Well, we met because we both got arrested and went to prison. In both of our lives we praised God for allowing that to happen. By experiencing our “prison moments” we came to understand that God had a much different purpose for our lives then we could ever dream possible.
Colson taught me that we both experienced in our own ways the long arm of God. We learned first-hand that prison is what God uses as a common denominator breaking down social and political barriers proving He is God and not us. Chuck also taught me that self-righteousness/pride is what stood in the way of our understanding that Jesus Christ is in control… not us.
Prison has the potential of bringing one to his or her knees crying out to God for help and that happened to both Chuck Colson and myself at just about the same time in history… over 30 years ago.
Marty Angelo – (still in prison at the time) and Charles W. “Chuck” Colson – at a Prison Fellowship Washington DC Discipleship Seminar – 1983
I never thought in a million years I would ever meet someone as important as Chuck Colson. Now I’ve met my fair share of popular celebrities during my 15 years of working in the entertainment business prior to becoming a Christian. However, I never met anyone who had such an important sounding title, ”Special Counsel to the President of the United States.” Nope, prior to becoming Christians we were both on two completely different wave lengths. I am sure there was no way Special Counsel Colson ever wanted to meet Rock Manager Marty Angelo. And guess what? The feeling was mutual.
In fact, one of the rock bands I was managing during Richard Nixon’s presidency wound up on “Nixon’s Enemies List” which I am sure was placed there by Colson (who was in charge of that list) because my band refused to perform at one of Nixon’s daughter’s birthday parties.
After Colson became a Christian and started Prison Fellowship Ministries he made it a point to visit a prison every Easter Sunday. Well, Easter Sunday 1982 was no different. That year the prison Chuck chose to speak in was the one I was serving time in for my drug possession charge. I had read Colson’s book explaining his conversion to Christianity and was curious to hear this man who unashamedly confessed Christ wherever he went.
“Did Jesus Christ really change Colson?” I asked myself. “Is this guy for real?” I had to find out first-hand so I attended the Easter Sunday service where he gave a very compelling sermon on why he thought the Resurrection of Jesus Christ was true.
Jesus Christ really touched my life that day. I will never forget listening to Colson come up with the most profound statement I ever heard regarding Christ’s resurrection. It still rings in my ears today.
President Richard Nixon’s cabinet
You could hear a pin drop as every inmate in the service sat spellbound while Chuck used his own life as an example when he said: ”I know the Resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Everyone was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
As soon as Colson finished his sermon everyone in the place stood up and cheered and many came forward for prayer. I flew up to the podium afterwards to personally meet him. Chuck grasped my hand and looked me right in my eyes and said something to me I will never, ever forget: “Marty, I know God has a very special plan for you.”
I was so thankful that day that Colson didn’t just walk out of the prison he served his time in and go back to his old life. He could have very easily done that and I don’t think anyone would have blamed him. However, Jesus Christ had changed him so much through his prison experience that he felt compelled to start Prison Fellowship Ministries which turned out to be not only the biggest prison ministry in the world but one of the best overall ministries ever.
Who knows what God is going to do with us once He comes into our lives? One thing I know for sure is that I am grateful that Colson didn’t turn his back on prisoners, ex-prisoners or their families. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for Chuck’s commitment and drive to spread the message that Christ has a better way.
Only Jesus Christ could have changed Chuck Colson’s heart as He did my own. We were both considered brothers and it took Jesus to miraculously make that happen.
Chuck Colson never hid for one minute the Christ that lived in him. He became one of my first Christian role models from the moment I met him.
Colson became known in our nation’s prisons… in prisoner lingo, as “the real deal.” He never forgot where he came from. It wasn’t the White House that changed Charles W. Colson… it was facing the Big House… pouring out his heart to Jesus Christ while sitting in his car in a driveway facing an unknown future in prison.
Chuck Colson, Marty Angelo and Gov. Al Quie – receiving an “Outstanding Service Award” at a Prison Fellowship staff conference in Sandy Cove, Maryland in 1989
Colson’s message and “realness” burned a deep desire in my heart to become a prison minister. It was only a few short years later that I would get the chance to actually work with him at Prison Fellowship Ministries. I felt so honored and privileged to have had the chance to not only meet Chuck Colson but actually minister together with him and his nationwide staff.
Chuck’s inspiration in my life went much further than our first meeting in prison back in 1982. Colson inspired me so much that I went on to graduate from five of Prison Fellowship’s in-prison seminars, attended a Prison Fellowship Washington DC two-week seminar, led the Prison Fellowship inmate prayer and Bible study group in my prison, graduated from four Bible colleges while in prison, went into full time ministry after my release from prison (working for Prison Fellowship from 1986-1990), wrote two books and stayed in the ministry for over 30 years. I attribute this all to how Jesus Christ touched me through Chuck’s example.
Chuck Colson had a tendency to rub off on those around him. And I found out the real blessing is it wasn’t really Colson who was doing all the inspiring. It was Jesus Christ living within Chuck who did it.
Old Colson couldn’t change himself yet alone change anyone else. However, once Jesus Christ got a hold of Chuck he was never the same. He once said: “I realized that when God got His hand on my life there was no turning back. I would not turn back for anything in the world.” Amen, brother…. amen.
Rest in peace Chuck. I hope you are enjoying the crown God has placed upon your head when you arrived in heaven while saying to you: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Thank you so much brother for being such a giver. Jesus Christ touched millions of lives through you and I pray He will continue to do so through your amazing legacy.
Special added note for Christian ex-cons
I posted a similar version of this comment on Prison Fellowship Alumni’s Facebook page and thought some of my friends here would also like to read it.
Chuck Colson was constantly raising the bar for us Christian ex-cons… which was always a real challenge… but one we truly needed.
Colson never took his eye off the ball and that spoke volumes to me even in the years after I left Prison Fellowship. It was great knowing Chuck was out there raising the bar up just a little bit more telling all of us; “Hey look it, brothers and sisters… if I can do it… so can you.”
He wrote books, appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, constantly being interviewed in the magazines and newspaper, spoke in prisons, churches and conferences all over the world. Each time Colson accomplished a new goal… up went the bar.
He set the perfect example to his fellow Christian ex-cons. His message was always: “Be about our Father’s business. Don’t look back. Keep moving forward using the talents God has blessed you with.”
Colson opened the door for all of us to catch our own vision on how to help others through our woundedness.
People loved to put Chuck Colson up on a pedestal. However, he would always bring it right back around to when he cried out to Jesus in his car sitting in a friend’s driveway facing an unknown future in prison.
Colson always taught, “It was not who he was … but who Christ was in him.” He kept his message real simple… and clear. It was so easy to understand that even this old prisoner got it the first time Chuck opened his mouth to speak when I was doing time. “That’s it!” I said to myself… “I found my purpose in life.”
Chuck must be having a ball up in heaven right now… looking down on us.. smiling knowing that he raised the bar one last time before he left us by “dying with his boots on” at 80 years old.
Hello!! “Thanks Chuck … I don’t know many of us who are willing to go all that way… leaving a part of your legacy while giving a speech?” Now that, my friends… is a class act.
There is no reason to even think about retiring now. When I do .. I will always remember Chuck Colson’s swan song… boots on and all… telling people about Jesus and the better way He has for all who put their faith and trust in Him. How can any of us top that???