(Editor's Note: The following is a biography of Charles W. Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries
From political "dirty tricks" to a genuine conversion to Christianity)
Almost 25 years ago, Charles W. Colson was not thinking about reaching out to prison inmates or reforming the U.S. penal system.
In fact, this aide to president Richard Nixon was "incapable of humanitarian thought," according to the media of the mid-1970s.
Colson was known as the White House "hatchet man," a man feared by even the most powerful politicos during his four years of service to President Nixon.
When news of Colson's conversion to Christianity leaked to the press in 1973, the Boston Globe reported, "If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody."
Colson would agree. He admits he was guilty of political "dirty tricks" and willing to do almost anything for the cause of his president and his party.
In 1974, Colson entered a plea of guilty to Watergate-related charges; although not implicated in the Watergate burglary, he voluntarily pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the Daniel Ellsberg Case.
He entered Alabama's Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian and as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. He served seven months of a one-to-three year sentence.
In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families. Colson has spent the last 25 years as head of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Colson saw early on that reconciliation among offenders, victims, their families, and communities should be a ministry of the Church. He set Prison Fellowship in place to exhort, equip, and assist the church in this ministry. That decision marshaled the involvement of the Church in prison outreach.
Colson has visited prisons throughout the U.S. and the world and has built a movement of more than 50,000 prison ministry volunteers, with ministries in 88 countries. In the course of touring prisons worldwide, he became deeply concerned with prison conditions and the need for better access to religious programs.
Colson's personal prison experience and his frequent visits to prisons also prompted new concerns about the efficacy of the American criminal justice system and made him one of the nation's influential voices for criminal justice reform. Colson's recommendations have brought together legislators from both political parties and divergent philosophical viewpoints. In 1983, Colson established Justice Fellowship, now the nation's largest faith-based criminal justice reform group.
To help stem the cycle of crime and poverty, Prison Fellowship, under Colson's leadership, introduced Angel Tree, a program that provides Christmas presents to more than 500,000 children of inmates annually on behalf of their incarcerated parents. These simple acts of kindness have revitalized hope and reconciliation among millions of children and their families, many of whom subsist below the poverty level. Angel Tree has also launched a summer camping program, partnering with churches in eight selected areas around the country to send the children of prisoners to a Christian summer camp.
Because Colson understood that the work of changing prisoners' lives should be a global endeavor, Prison Fellowship International was formed in 1979 under his direction. It has since expanded to include national chapters in 88 countries.
Increasingly, Colson sensed God's calling to comment on the culture through the written and spoken word. He has written 20 books, which have collectively sold more than five million copies. His autobiographical book Born Again was one of the nation's best-selling books of all genres in 1976 and was made into a feature-length film.
In 1991 Colson launched a daily radio feature called "BreakPoint," a unique and well-received attempt to provide a distinct Christian worldview on everyday issues and conflicts. The program is aired daily on over 1,000 radio outlets nationwide.
Colson's commitment to the unity of the Church led to his co-authorship of a cutting-edge document "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" that significantly helped to build an important bridge between Protestants and Catholics.
His 1987 book Kingdoms in Conflict was a best-selling directive to the Christian community on the proper relationships of church and state, and it positioned Colson as a centrist evangelical voice for balanced Christian political activism.
In recognition of his work, Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1993, donating the $1 million prize to Prison Fellowship. Colson's other awards have included the Humanitarian Award, Dominos Pizza Corporation (1991); The Others Award, The Salvation Army (1990); several honorary doctorates from various colleges and universities (1982-2000); and the Outstanding Young Man of Boston, Chamber of Commerce (1960).
Colson's most recent book, How Now Shall We Live? is a challenge to all Christians to understand biblical faith as an entire worldview, a perspective on all of life. In his book, Colson argues that the great battle of the twenty-first century is a struggle between the spiritual and the secular worldviews.
While Colson is one of the Christian community's most sought-after speakers, he has resolutely refused to establish a speaking fee. Perhaps anticipating criticism of any appearance of self-enrichment by a former Watergate figure, Colson donates all speaking honoraria and book royalties to Prison Fellowship, and accepts the salary of a mid-range ministry executive.
Despite his work critiquing the culture, Colson's heart is ever with the prisoner. He has clearly never forgotten the promise he made to his fellow inmates during his brief stay in prison: that he would "never forget those behind bars."
Chuck Colson's Biography
Author of 20 books
Radio Commentator, "BreakPoint," nationally syndicated daily broadcast
Boston, Mass.-October 1931
B.A., Brown University-1953
J.D. with honors, George Washington University-1959
Captain, U.S. Marine Corps-1953-55
Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy-1955-56
Admin. Asst. to U.S. Sen. Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.)-1956-61
Partner, Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm-1961-69
Special Counsel to President Richard M. Nixon-1969-73
Partner, Colson and Shapiro Law Firm-1973-74
Founder & Chairman of the Board, Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International-1976-Present
Served seven months of a one- to three-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to a Watergate-related charge in 1974.
Conversion to Christianity in August 1973, documented in the book Born Again and film (produced by Avco Embassy) of the same name.
Colson used the royalties from the book to begin Prison Fellowship, an outreach organization assisting prisoners, ex-prisoners, victims, and affected families.
$1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion-1993 (prize money donated to Prison Fellowship)
Humanitarian Award, Dominoes Pizza Corporation-1991
The Others Award, Salvation Army-1990
Honorary doctorates, various colleges and universities-1982-95
Outstanding Young Man of Boston, Chamber of Commerce-1960
Over the last 20 years, nearly 5 million copies of Chuck Colson's 20 books have been sold in the U.S. Colson donates the royalties from these books to Prison Fellowship.
Charles W. Colson-20 years in prison
Twenty-five years ago, Charles W. Colson was not thinking about reaching out to prison inmates or reforming the U.S. penal system. In fact, this aide to Richard Nixon was "incapable of humanitarian thoughts," according to the media of the mid-seventies. Colson was known as the White House "hatchet man," a man feared by even the most powerful politicos during his four years of service to President Nixon. When news of Colson's conversion to Christianity leaked to the press in 1973, the Boston Globe reported, "If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody." Colson would agree. He admits he was guilty of political "dirty tricks" and willing to do almost anything for the cause of his president and his party.
In 1974 Colson entered a plea of guilty on Watergate-related charges; although not implicated in the Watergate burglary, he voluntarily pleaded obstruction of justice, a felony, based on his general participation in White House "dirty tricks." He entered Alabama's Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian and as the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges. He served seven months of a one- to three-year sentence. Soon after his release in 1975, Colson and three friends launched Prison Fellowship in a small, rented Washington, D.C., office. Today, Colson serves as chairman of the Board of Prison Fellowship, one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world.
In the last 25 years, Colson has visited more than 600 prisons in 40 countries and, with the help of nearly 50,000 volunteers, has built Prison Fellowship into the world's largest prison outreach, serving the spiritual and practical needs of prisoners in 88 countries including the U.S. In 1983 Colson's vision grew to include reforming the criminal justice system as well as those incarcerated within it. He founded Justice Fellowship, an organization dedicated to working with legislators and policy makers to enact restorative justice principles. Justice Fellowship studies the causes of and proposes specific solutions for prison overcrowding, recidivism, and neglected crime victims. In 1989, Colson again expanded Prison Fellowship by adding Neighbors Who Care, a community-based support system for victims of crime.
In recognition of his work, Colson received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (in 1993). The $1 million prize, which Colson accepted on behalf of Prison Fellowship, was added to Prison Fellowship's Endowment Fund.
Chuck Colson is considered one of America's leading authorities on the causes of and responses to crime. He has addressed nearly half the state legislatures in America and has met with a majority of governors. He is a syndicated columnist and has contributed articles to magazines and newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune. Colson provides a daily radio commentary to a weekly listening audience of three million people and is a sought-after speaker. Born Again, Colson's first book, was published in 1976 and became an international bestseller. Since then, he has written 19 other books, whose royalties he donates to Prison Fellowship. Chuck's latest book, "How Now Shall We Live?" released in summer 1999, equips Christians to articulate the truth of the gospel, live it accordingly, and give a defense of the truth to unbelievers.