Read TruthInConviction at

Monday, June 29, 2009


J. Grant Swank, Jr.

He murdered a fellow. Would I visit him in prison?

I lived in Walpole, Massachusetts at the time. So being near the famous Walpole Prison was a given. Being a pastor was also a given. Therefore, the call came for me to make a visit to a man incarcerated for killing another.

Now those living in Walpole eventually got tired of being known as the New England village with the prison. So the name was conveniently changed. It moved from Walpole Prison to Cedar Junction. All in a name change!

That day I was on my way to, not Walpole Prison, but Cedar Junction. Just rolling the two words over my tongue made the drive more pleasant — "Cedar Junction." Sounds inviting, doesn’t it?

I had on a new jacket. At least it was new to me. Our church had a free clothing center. So the night before at prayer meeting, Mary Lou said to me, "Pastor, I was going through the clothing that just came in. There’s a really sharp jacket in there I think would fit you."

Sure enough. I tried it. It fit. And it was no shabby piece of thread. Actually, I pictured some rather well to do fellow casting off his attractive jacket for simply another new buy. I got the good part — his jacket leftover — and a clever fabric at that.

Dressed up in my "new" jacket, and off to Cedar Junction, my morning was falling right in line.

When getting to the prison, I knew the rules, having visited numerous prisoners prior. So I shed my jacket, putting it on a hook in the long hallway. Then, giving up my watch and keys and other basic objects, I walked through the metal detector. Fine.

With that, I joined the rather large crowd that had gathered that day. Lots of visitors. The inmates were no doubt eyeing the visiting room in their heads, wondering if they’d get a caller.

I spent some time with Mike, a new person in my book. Of course, I learned a long time ago not to get into detail as to why an individual is in prison. That’s just not courteous. But I never found it difficult finding a myriad of other subjects. Therefore, the time went by quite interestingly — at least for me. And I believe it was for him as well.

After our time together, I once more walked with the others out into the hallway. Now we were on our way to freedom — home or wherever. Anywhere but inside the prison house. Not a very happy environs. Not, for sure.

I noted the woman guard ushering everyone to the exit door but me. Quickly, as if a master sergeant, she pointed her index finger in my direction. With crisp orders she chirped: "Sit over there."

I did. Believe me, I always did what I was told when walking toward the prison, entering the prison, in the prison, and exiting the prison. Yes, even in the parking lot one walked circumspectly. There were armed guards in towers perched skyhiked. So, a word to the wise. . .

Anyhow, I sat pronto on a little bench in the hallway while the female in uniform left me. She strutted to the other end of the narrow confines and then disappeared.

What were they holding me for? Everyone else had disappeared, like water down the drain.
Just me, the good pastor of Walpole, sat there in solo.

In a few minutes, the henchwoman opened the far end door. She peered at me as if I were a worm near ground cover. "Come here." With that, I rose to my feet, walked toward her uniformed authority, and waited for the crime read.

Yet she did not say a word. Instead, she pointed me to a window with a shade. The shade flew up. Another guard — male — sat on the other side of that pane. He had not a smile upon his countenance. Not a one. He stared at me. He called through the speaker system into that narrow hallway.

"Do you know what we found in your jacket?" he bellowed.


I felt like a naughty urchin at the principal’s office. My knees buckled. My face flushed. My palms turned glassy with sweat. And my heart, young at that time, was leaping out for parking lot freedom.

"Look here." He pointed to a piece of paper on his desk. There in the middle of the paper was a mound of something.

"What’s that?" I asked politely.

"Weed. We found weed in your jacket. You can’t bring weed into a prison. Don’t you know that??"

I could have keeled over and said my final prayers. Weed? The pastor with weed? I figured he didn’t mean dandelions or wild grass.

"I can tell you what happened, sir!"

So with that I proceeded to tell him that I was a pastor at the church in the village, had overseen prayer meeting the night before when Mary Lou told me there was a nice jacket in the free clothing center that she thought would fit me. I tried it on. It fit. I figured that if going to the prison that morning I could try on my new jacket, I’d do just that. And that’s how the jacket came to be on my back, then on the prison hook, and now in his office.

In other words, I had never felt in the jacket pockets. Never. I did not know then there was weed in one of those pockets. Evidently the prior owner was not only some chic chap but also into drugs of a sort or two or whatever. But as for the good pastor, nix.

Would the grouch guard however believe that cock and bull story or what? Yet it was the gospel truth. I knew it. God knew it. But would he buy it? Prayer meeting? Clothing center? Mary Lou? Pastor? New-to-me threads? Nary a pocket felt?

He turned away from me. I stood all alone in the narrow hallway, not even the female guard there to stare me down. He lifted his phone. I could not hear a word. He shut off the system. Who was he calling? He didn’t know my district super. He did not know how to reach my wife. He had no contact related to me in the whole wide world. Who was he talking to?

In what seemed to be an eternity plus some, he put down the phone, opened up a shoot in the wall, shoved my jacket in it, then pushed it through to my sweaty palms.

"I just talked to my superior," he bellowed.

I thought: "And yes, I’ve been talking to my Superior, too."

"He says you can have your jacket and get out of here. If this ever happens again we’re taking you to court." (Several days later I got a letter on prison letterhead from the "superior" stating same. They meant biz).

I grabbed the jacket. Went through several more mechanical doors. And flew for my car. Turned on the ignition and got out of that parking lot as fast as a driver could muster considering armed guards positioned in cages in the sky.

Now there’s an old-time hymn that I’ve sung since a kid. I sang it — car windows wide open — all the way home. It goes like this: "Glorious freedom, wonderful freedom. No more in chains of sin I repine! Jesus, the glorious Emancipator, Now and forever, He shall be mine."

Ask me if I believe in miracles. The answer? I do.

For more: