A Prison Pastor’s Advice for Parents

A white supremacist, a Native American gangster, and a black drug dealer.

Three prison inmates whose life stories differ in the details but unite around the same temptations.

The White Supremacist

I had the privilege of visiting Wyatt, an inmate up for death row, every week for almost three years. I was making my weekly rounds in the special housing unit—also known as “solitary confinement”—when I passed by his cell door. His face was already looking out the small window as if waiting on me.

“Chaplain Wright, how ya doin’?” he shouted, smiling.

“I’m doing well,” I replied. “Reading anything good these days?”

He smirked as he said, “Harry Potter. My lawyer gave it to me because she said it was the first book she read when she got out of law school. But I’m almost done, so if you have anything in the chapel you’d recommend, feel free to bring it by.”

“Sure,” I answered. “Let me see what we have available, and I’ll try to bring you something next week.”

I had given him three books the following week, and the next time I saw him he called me over to his cell, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Where has this book been my whole life!” The book he was waving back and forth was The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren.

“I’m only about 50 pages into it, but I’ve never thought about any of this stuff this way before. Even the gang stuff I was involved in has a whole new meaning.”

“Really, what do you mean?” I asked.

“What you don’t get in the home, they give you!”

The Native American Gangster

I was supervising White Bear, a Native American inmate who was the official pipe carrier for the Native community. He was dividing up the yearly herbs for their weekly sweat lodge ceremonies when I asked him, “When do you think you started veering off course?”

“When I was a teenager,” he said without hesitation.

“I saw my cousins come back from the city with girls and money. I wanted that! So I started drinking and doing some drugs with them in order to fit in. I remember quickly noticing that it was messing with my mind, so I planned on getting out and not really associating with them anymore. But after getting beaten up on three separate occasions when attempting to withdraw, I realized it was too late: I’m in.”

“Was it a gang, a tribe, or just extended family?” I inquired.

“I guess it had elements of all three, but none of that stuff was on my mind back then,” he reflected. “They just brought me in and treated me as family. They introduced me to girls, bought me things I never had, invited me to parties and clubs. I felt I belonged with them.”

“Where are they now?” I questioned. “Did they also get locked up?”

“I don’t know. Once I got arrested, I never heard from them again.”

The Black Drug Dealer

While everyone else headed to chow, Jamal ventured over to the chapel to pray and prepare for the afternoon Bible study I had scheduled. After a few pleasantries, I asked him, “How can someone like myself, or a volunteer, or a church on the outside help you the most when you get out?”

After thinking for a few minutes, he shared this: “I can think of two things. When I walk out these doors I’m going to once again see what dealing drugs can get me: the money, the car, the status, and the women. But what I’m not going to see is a guy walking down the street holding his son’s hand, paying his bills on time, and making an honest living. I need someone to show me some positive, real-life examples. Because I’m going to see all the other stuff everywhere.”

“The other thing is this,” he continued. “No matter what anyone tells you in here, we were all invited to and discipled in the game, whatever that game happened to be. For me, someone took me aside and said, ‘Here’s how you grow it. You cut it up like this. You take it to these places. You sell it for this price. Then you will get the car, the money, and the girls. Oh, and keep me posted on how it’s going.’ There was a process, a goal, and someone to disciple and keep you accountable. So what I need is for someone to disciple me. Yet not in the game, but in Christ. Show me how to do this. Walk alongside me. Keep me accountable.”

Quest for Identity

The men behind these stories have different ethnicities, ages, and religions. One is on death row, while another is getting out soon. And the list could go on. Yet there is at least one common denominator that unites them: their quest for a sense of identity.

Early in life, conflicting worldviews made their appeal. In hindsight, the stakes were higher than any of these men initially thought. The excitement, easy money, and camaraderie all added to the invitation’s persuasive influence.

This is why in Scripture wisdom is personified and shown as active—in home and on the streets—not sitting around quietly in a church. In order to reach the uncommitted, unaware, uninterested masses with her teachings, Lady Wisdom cries out! In order to be heard above the hustle and bustle of daily life, she screams, shouts, begs, cautions, rebukes, reasons, threatens, and warns. All quite unladylike and unfashionable. But she cries out so that we won’t waste our life. Acceptance of wisdom is often equated with acceptance of God. As parents, we need to remember wisdom still calls and help our kids hear her voice. “My child, if fools try to influence you, don’t associate with them!” (Prov. 1:10).

How Can We Help Them Hear?

Start at home. Show your children when and how you hear Lady Wisdom throughout your day—and tell them about the times you failed to hear her. Be the example of wisdom in their life. As Christ said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Parents exemplify hearing and applying biblical wisdom in their lives so their kids can see a visual testimony of God’s teaching.

Other opportunities abound outside the home. Try picking one proverb and playing a game: “Who can be the first one to find an example of this proverb today?” Teach them to look at nature, in school, at the store, in their own lives. This method allows children to experience Scripture. And as you discuss the observations together, show them when and how biblical characters did the same thing. Peter hears Proverbs 26:11 (2 Pet. 2:22). Paul hears Proverbs 3:7 (2 Cor. 8:12). James hears Proverbs 3:34 (James 4:5).

By faith, we pray they will accept these values as given by God, making them absolute values, not merely parental advice. We must do what we can now, before it’s too late. For if our children do not hear the voice of Lady Wisdom in the home, they may never hear her call.