My Escape to the Truth
When I began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was an escaped convict. I soon faced the challenge of how to stop lying and start telling the truth.
IT WAS November 1974, and I was before the superior court of Pender County, North Carolina, U.S.A. The charges included armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and speeding 90 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone. The following month, when I was only 22, I was convicted of all charges and sentenced to 30 years in the North Carolina Department of Corrections.
I had grown up in Newark, New Jersey. Although my father was a police officer, I was always causing problems for my parents. I spent time in detention homes, youth houses, and once was even locked up in the very precinct where my father worked. I’ll never forget the beating he gave me that night! It was enough to make almost any other teenager change his ways—but not me.
I ran away from home, spending nights with a friend or staying out on the street. Eventually I wound up in jail again. Against my father’s wishes, Mom got me out. My folks, who had five other children, decided that perhaps the military was what I needed.
I enlisted in the army, and the various training programs did make a difference in my behavior for a while. But then I got hooked on drugs, becoming a heroin addict. I was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and it wasn’t long before my buddies and I were going from town to town taking what we needed to support our habits. Stories about our robberies were in the papers and on TV.
Soon the authorities caught up with me, and I was given the 30-year sentence mentioned at the outset. In prison I fought the rules and regulations for years but eventually realized I was only hurting myself. So I tried obeying the rules in hopes of receiving minimum custody and gaining parole.
Following ten years in prison, I received minimum custody, and not long after that, I was placed on the work release program. This meant that I could leave the prison in the morning and return in the evening on my own. One day I failed to return immediately after work, and I was taken off the program. However, I still was permitted to enjoy minimum custody.
After I was in prison almost 11 years, my chances of getting out on parole didn’t look very promising. One hot morning in August 1985, while I was outside prison, an opportunity presented itself to escape—to run away without detection. I made my way to the home of a friend who had spent time with me in prison. After I had a night’s rest and a change of clothes, he drove me to Washington, D.C., a distance of about 250 miles.
I resolved never to go back to prison, which meant that I needed to avoid any further criminal activity. At first I took day-to-day labor, anything I could get. Then I landed a job working for an electric company. In time, I managed to get a birth certificate with a different name—Derek Majette. My name, place of birth, background, family—everything about me was now a lie. I felt I was safe as long as nobody knew. I lived this way for three years in and around Washington, D.C.
Meeting Jehovah’s Witnesses
One evening, two neatly dressed young men came to my apartment. They spoke to me about the Bible, left a book, and promised to return. However, I moved to another apartment and never saw them again. Then, one morning before work, I stopped at a place for coffee and met two women who asked me if I would be interested in the Watchtower magazine. I accepted one, and each morning afterward these women would see me and talk about the Bible.
Although the conversations were always short, my interest in what the women were saying grew to the point that I looked forward each morning to seeing these women, Cynthia and Jeanette. In time I got to know other Witnesses of Jehovah who were preaching early in the morning. They invited me to attend a meeting at the Kingdom Hall. I was apprehensive, but I accepted.
As I sat listening to the talk that afternoon, it was the first time I heard scriptures explained in such an understandable way. I stayed for the Bible study using The Watchtower and discovered that I could participate by answering questions. I made my first comment, and after the meeting I agreed to have a Bible study with one of the congregation elders.
I was soon progressing in knowledge of the Bible. And more important, I was appreciating the truths I was learning. No longer was I comfortable with my life. I began feeling guilty about the lies I told these people who were now my friends. I continued to study, thinking that I could get by as long as no one knew the truth about me. But then my Bible teacher began to talk about sharing in the house-to-house ministry.
About that time something happened that let me know that sharing in the ministry, or in any such activity, would be out of the question unless I did something about my situation. I was putting gas in my car when someone came up behind me and locked my arms behind my back. Fear swept over me! I thought the authorities had finally caught up with me. What a relief when it turned out to be a former prison buddy! Not knowing I had escaped, he kept calling me by my real name and asking all sorts of questions.
I hadn’t been that scared since the day of my escape. But then it hit me. Suppose I was in the house-to-house ministry and someone came to the door who knew my true identity? How could I go out in Jehovah’s service and speak the truth when I was living a lie? What was I to do? Keep studying and living a lie, or stop studying and move? It was so confusing that I had to get away for a while and think.
Making a Decision
I took a trip. The long peaceful drive was just what I needed in order to relax, think, and ask Jehovah to help me decide what to do. It wasn’t until I was on the road back to Washington, D.C., that I made my decision—stop lying and just tell the truth. But it wasn’t that easy to do. Since I had got to know Cynthia quite well, I confided in her. She made it clear that I had to set matters straight before Jehovah. She suggested that I talk to the congregation elders.
I knew she was right, and I agreed. But since I wasn’t sure what I would have to do legally, I called a local lawyer and explained my situation. He advised me to get in touch with a lawyer in North Carolina, since he would know the procedures for that state. So I took a trip south to get information about a lawyer.
When I arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, I drove to the prison, which is located on one of the main streets. I stopped, and just sat and looked at the tall barbed-wire fence, the armed guards in the gun towers, and the prisoners walking around inside the fence. I had been such a prisoner for 11 long years! This wasn’t an easy decision.
Nevertheless, I picked up a phone book and chose a lawyer. I called and gave him the same information I had given the first lawyer I talked to. He didn’t ask a lot of questions. He just told me what his fee was and that when I was ready that I should call and he would set up an appointment. When I returned to Washington, D.C., I went straight to my Bible teacher.
He, his wife, and their daughter were like family to me. So the night I went to their house, it took a while before I could get the words out. But when I did, I felt relieved. They, to say the least, were astounded. Yet, when they recovered from the shock, they were very sympathetic and supportive.
The next thing I needed to do was to get money for the lawyer’s fee and decide when to turn myself in. I settled on March 1, 1989, which was only a few weeks away. I wanted to quit work and enjoy my last days of freedom, but I couldn’t because I needed money to pay the lawyer.
It struck me as ironic that I had escaped from prison and now I was saving money to go back. At times the thought came to mind of just forgetting about it all and leaving. But all too soon, March 1 came. My teacher and another one of his Bible students accompanied me to Raleigh. We went to the lawyer’s office and discussed the charges that I had been sent to prison for, the length of my sentence, and why I was willing to turn myself in. The lawyer then called the magistrate’s office for information on where I was to go. He learned that the magistrate could take me back to prison immediately.
I had not planned on going back so soon. I had thought we were just going to talk with the lawyer and that I would turn myself in the next day. But now, with the decision made, the four of us drove quietly to the prison. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this really happening?’ The next thing I knew, we were at the front gates and listening to the lawyer explain to the guard who I was.
Back in Prison
When the gates opened, I knew it was time to say good-bye. My lawyer and I shook hands. Then my teacher, my fellow student, and I embraced. As soon as I was on the other side of the gate, I was handcuffed and escorted to a place where my personal clothes were taken in exchange for a prison uniform. I received the prison number 21052-OS, the same one I had before.
The prison was a minimum-security unit, so within the hour I was taken to maximum security. I was only allowed to keep my Bible and the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. I was placed among a prison population where I recognized men I had known throughout the years. They assumed I had got caught, but when I explained that I had come back on my own because I wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they all said it was the dumbest thing they had ever heard.
One of the last things my teacher had said to me was: “Never stop studying.” So, much of my time was spent reading the Bible, my Live Forever book, and writing letters to friends back home who knew what had happened to me. Among the Witnesses that I wrote to were Jerome and his wife, Arlene. My letter was brief, just some words of thanks and expressions of how I felt about the time I spent while in the company of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I soon heard from Jerome who asked permission to use my letter in a talk that he was going to give at a circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I agreed but had no idea of the consequences. Only a few Witnesses knew about my background. So, what a surprise for many when, after Jerome read my letter and announced my real name, Brian E. Garner, he said, “Alias Derek Majette!” Then it was my turn to be surprised. Letters of encouragement began pouring in from brothers and sisters—not only from those in the Petworth Congregation where I had attended meetings but from persons in other congregations as well.
I was soon transferred from Central Prison to a medium-custody unit in Lillington, North Carolina. As soon as I got settled, I inquired about religious services. To my delight I learned meetings were being conducted by Jehovah’s Witnesses every Wednesday evening in the prison schoolrooms. I will never forget the love shown, the support given, and the efforts made to help not only me but anyone who wanted to learn Bible truths in that prison. After learning that I had studied before, one of the elders who conducted meetings at the prison immediately picked up studying with me where I had left off.
Consideration for Parole
Several months passed, and then came word that I was to meet with the parole board. Although I had escaped and had just recently returned, the law required that I be brought before the parole board for review or at least receive word that they had considered my case. I let my friends know that I would be coming up for parole. Again letters began pouring in, not to me, but to the parole board.
In October 1989, I received word from the parole board that my case was to be reviewed. I was excited. But on the day the board members were to come, no one showed up. Nor was there word as to when they would be coming. I was very disappointed, but I didn’t let up in my prayers to Jehovah. A few weeks later, on November 8, two other men and I were informed that the members of the parole board were at the prison and that I would be called on first.
As I entered the office, I noticed two folders filled with papers. One was my file dating back to 1974. I wasn’t sure what the other contained. After discussing with me some of the things concerning my case, a member of the parole board opened the other folder. In it were dozens of letters written in my behalf. The committee wanted to know how I had got to know so many people after I had escaped from prison. So I briefly related my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then I was asked to step outside.
Freedom and a New Life
When I was called back, I was informed the board had voted in favor of “Immediate Conditional Release.” I was beside myself with joy. After just nine months in prison, I was to be freed! It took a while for the paperwork to be processed, so on November 22, 1989, I walked—I didn’t have to run this time—out of prison.
On October 27, 1990, less than a year after my release, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. I am now happily serving Jehovah in Washington, D.C., as a ministerial servant. On June 27, 1992, Cynthia Adams and I were united in marriage.
I thank Jehovah, my wife and her family, and all the brothers and sisters who helped me to be a part of such a loving worldwide organization.—As told by Brian E. Garner.
[Picture on page 13]
The prison where I spent 11 long years
[Picture on page 15]
With my wife, Cynthia