The Power of the Truth to Rehabilitate
“One burglar, released early, committed 500 burglaries in seven months. A rapist, freed four years before his ten-year minimum, sexually assaulted and murdered a woman. A paroled killer broke into two homes and killed three people.”—Reader’s Digest, November 1990.
“Nearly 63 percent of the inmates released from state prisons were arrested for a serious crime within three years, the Justice Department said in a study released today.”—The New York Times, April 3, 1989.
“The ideal of prison as a place criminals can be rehabilitated simply does not hold up. Prisons are combination ‘warehouses’ and ‘schools for crime.’”—Toronto Sunday Star, March 20, 1988.
The warden at Rikers Island, a New York City jail, says: “A kid comes here, nineteen years old, he was the lookout man for a robbery. When he gets out of here, he’s not going to be the lookout man. Next time, he’s going to be the guy who pulls the trigger.”—New York magazine, April 23, 1990.
“Prison gates have become more like revolving doors: nearly two-thirds of all convicts are rearrested within three years of their release.”—Time magazine, May 29, 1989.
NONE of the above is news. It’s an old story: Prisons do not rehabilitate. Truth does. A case in point: Ron Pryor.
Ron starts each day reading a text from the Bible with his family. His marriage is peaceful and loving. The home is orderly and clean. Their two sons were good students—no drugs, no alcohol, no problems. By now they are out on their own and engaged in Christian activities. Ron and his wife, Arlynn, are busy in their community doing volunteer work as Christians. Useful lives serving others.
In 1970, however, Ron Pryor was in jail awaiting trial for murder. He was found guilty, was convicted, and started serving time in a state penitentiary. It was the culmination of a long criminal career that had taken him repeatedly to prison. But let Ron tell his story.
“The first ‘imprisonment’ I remember was a harness connected to a leash on a clothesline. When I was three or four years old, I seemed to have a wanderlust programmed into me. I would wander off, get lost, be picked up by the police and returned home. Finally, my mother told me that if I didn’t stop it, she would call an orphanage and have them come get me and lock me up. I sat in the yard crying, waiting for them to come. They didn’t. Instead, my mother harnessed me to the clothesline.
“As I grew older, I was always getting into trouble, and violence became my answer for every problem. I felt confused, frustrated, rejected. I had no sense of right and wrong. I let my feelings, not a conscience, be my guide. In school I was passed from one grade to the next because the teachers were glad to get rid of me. I dropped out in the seventh grade and ran away from home. I fell in with bad companions, and true to the Scriptural warning, it led me into deeper trouble.—1 Corinthians 15:33.
“Reform schools soon replaced the clothesline harness. They did not reform me. I would run away and get recaptured. Escaping from one school in Virginia, I stole a pickup truck and got arrested. Appearing before a judge named Jenkins on auto-theft charges, I discovered it was Judge Jenkins’ truck that I had stolen! I was only 16, but I was declared incorrigible and tried as an adult. I was put away for two years.
“After I was out of prison and in my 20’s, I got a motorcycle. I was fascinated with the feeling of power it gave me, but that was not enough. I joined the Pagans—a motorcycle gang that was always on the prowl for trouble, always itching to start a brawl. I fitted in perfectly.
“Later, I was a truck driver and hauling produce out of Florida. I was no longer active with the Pagans, but coming through Virginia at this particular time, in 1969, I met some of my old Pagan buddies. We started to party—drinking wine, getting high on drugs. A fuss started, it escalated, and in the ensuing melee fueled by liquor and drugs, I shot and killed a man. More fruitage from bad associations! Later, two detectives questioned me, and I confessed to murder. This was in 1970.
“I was in jail awaiting trial and still a rebellious troublemaker. For example, one morning a trustee came by with the coffee. They usually gave you an extra cup for later. On that particular morning, I stuck my other cup under the pot, but he said, ‘No extras.’ What that meant to me was that he had decided to give it to someone else. So I said, ‘So you’re short on coffee this morning, eh?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well, have mine back.’ I threw it in his face. I wound up in solitary.
“So I’m walking around in circles in that eight- by ten-foot [2.5 by 3 m] hole with no windows. For the first time in my life, I really began to think. Questions came crowding in. ‘Why is my life always in such a mess? Why am I always in and out of jail? Why am I in this hole? Why am I living? Why? Why? Why?’ The whys kept coming but no answers. Then I said to myself: ‘I’m at the end of my rope. There’s no place to go. Unless—unless there’s a God—a God who sees me, knows that I exist, understands me—which I certainly don’t! God, if you exist, if you are aware of me, if there is anything I can do—just tell me something, anything!’
“There was a Bible in there with me. I thought, ‘That’s a beginning.’ I started reading. I don’t remember what I read. I just remember reading it, understanding nothing. Within a week I was back in a cellblock. One cell was open, both its beds empty. They put me in, and two days later they put another prisoner in with me. I was reading the Bible at the time, struggling with it. He saw me reading and asked: ‘Would you like to understand the Bible?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘I’ll get you a book that will help you.’ He contacted one of Jehovah’s Witnesses—at one time they had studied with him—and soon gave me a book entitled The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. That was in July 1970.
“I started reading, and I read it from cover to cover. I didn’t understand everything, but it made sense. As Jehovah’s Witnesses came and studied with me, all the questions I was asking in solitary began to get answered. For the first time in my life, I got some insight into what was right and what was wrong. The more I consumed this spiritual food, the closer I came to being like ‘those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.’ (Hebrews 5:14) My conscience was stirring, coming to life!
“This sudden acquisition of Bible truth caused a real upheaval to my state of mind. I had read the book in 24 hours. Overnight I went from one extreme to the other. I was determined to make my prison inmates see the truths that I was learning. I thought everyone would be as excited about it as I was. They weren’t. I had been a problem for the other inmates before; now I was an even greater source of irritation—which nobody thought was possible! But as the Witnesses continued coming to the county jail to study with me, I became more tactful in my preaching.
“I made many changes, and in two months I became a trustee. They even let me go outside, which was unheard of in view of my past record and why I was in there. The principles I was learning from the Bible were having their effect. The waters of truth from God’s Word were doing their cleansing work, as they had in the days of the apostles. Their rehabilitative powers are indicated at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, as follows:
“‘What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.’
“Eventually I came to trial. They gave me 20 years for murder. In 1971, I was sent to a maximum security prison. It was there that my Bible study with the Witnesses resumed. My conduct had changed drastically. Soon in this new prison, they made me a trustee and started giving me furloughs. On one of them, I asked the Witness I was staying with: ‘What prevents me from getting baptized?’ He checked with the local congregation and the answer came back: ‘Nothing.’ In 1973, in the early evening, I was baptized in a cow pond on a nearby farm. I prayed as I entered the water, since that was what Jesus did when he was submerged in the Jordan River by John the Baptizer.
“After that, my spiritual progress was rapid. I joined the Theocratic Ministry School conducted in the local congregation—attending in absentia, of course. I received assignments in the school and put my talks on tape, and they were played to the congregation. The school counselor would send back counsel to help me improve. We had weekly meetings in prison where other inmates were welcome to attend.
“All the while I was adding many scriptures to my knowledge of the Bible. They were like stepping-stones leading me up out of the moral morass in which I had been living for most of my life, until I appreciated the transformation the apostle Paul spoke about at Colossians 3:9, 10: ‘Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.’
“In 1978 a third hearing before the parole board was coming up. Twice I had been turned down because of the serious nature of my crimes. This time the board received some 300 letters from Witnesses and others testifying to the changes I had made.
“With my chances for release looking better, I thought of the possibility of getting married. Arlynn, a widow with two children, was a Witness who had been writing to me while I was in prison. She visited me with her two sons. I fell in love with her and she with me. I was released on February 1, 1978. We were married February 25, 1978. Now, 13 years later, we are still happily married. One of our sons is married and active as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The other son works full-time at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
“My prayers have been answered. I’m thankful for the brothers and the sisters who have been so helpful to me. I owe all my happiness to the happy God, Jehovah.—1 Timothy 1:11.
“I do, however, feel remorse for past sins. I look back with loathing on my former degraded conduct. I have prayed many times for Jehovah to forgive me, and I feel that he has forgiven me. I hope also that people I wronged in the past can find it in their hearts to forgive me. And especially do I hope that Jehovah will bring back to life the man I killed and that he will have the opportunity to live forever in God’s Paradise earth. That would make my joy complete!”
What prison bars and solitary confinement could not do, Bible truth did. It enabled Ron Pryor to strip off an old criminal personality and clothe himself with a new Christian personality. Why? Because “the word of God is alive and exerts power,” including the power to rehabilitate.—Hebrews 4:12.
[Blurb on page 11]
It was Judge Jenkins’ truck that I had stolen!
[Blurb on page 12]
There was a Bible in solitary. I started reading it
[Blurb on page 12]
They gave me 20 years for murder
[Picture on page 13]
Ron Pryor and his wife, Arlynn, today