Some years ago, while conducting a series of meetings in Michigan City, I was asked to preach to the convicts in the state prison. I sat on the platform with the Governor and watched the prisoners march in — 700 men, young and old. They marched in lock-step, every man’s hand on the shoulder of the man before him. At the word of command they sat down. Among that number there were seventy-six “lifers,” men who had been committed to prison for life for the crime of murder.
After the singing I arose to preach, but could hardly speak for weeping. Disregarding all the rules of the prison, in my earnestness to help the poor, fallen men, I left the platform and walked down the aisle among them, taking one and then another by the hand and praying for him. At the end of the row of men who were committed for murder sat a man who more than his fellows seemed marked by sin’s blighting curse. His face was seamed and rigid with scars and marks of vice and sin. He looked as though he might be a devil incarnate if once aroused to anger. I placed my hand upon his shoulder and wept and prayed for and with him. When the service was over, the Governor said to me, “Well, Kain, do you know you have broken the rules of the prison by leaving the platform?” “Yes, Governor, but I never can keep any rule while preaching. And I did want to get up close to the poor, despairing fellows and pray for them and tell them of the love of Jesus the Savior. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. This man (Jesus) receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 15:2; 19:10).
“Do you remember,” said the Governor, “the man at the end of the line in the lifer’s row, whom you prayed with? Would you like to hear his story?” “Yes,” I answered gladly. “Well, here it is in brief: Tom Galson was sent here about eight years ago for the crime of murder. He was, without doubt, one of the most desperate and vicious characters we had ever received, and, as was expected, gave us a great deal of trouble. One Christmas Eve, about six years ago, duty compelled me to spend the night at the prison instead of at home, as I had anticipated. Early in the morning, while it was yet dark, I left the prison for my home, my pockets full of presents for my little girl. It was a bitter cold morning, and I buttoned my overcoat up to protect myself from the lake. As I hurried along, I thought I saw somebody skulking in the shadow of the prison wall. I stopped and looked a little more closely, and then I saw a little girl wretchedly clothed in a thin dress, and her bare feet thrust into a pair of shoes much the worse for wear. In her hand she held, tightly clasped, a small paper parcel. Wondering who she was and why she was out so early in the morning, and yet too weary to be interested, I hurried on. But I soon heard that I was being followed. I stopped and turned around, and there stood before me the same wretched looking girl.”
“What do you want,” I asked sharply. “Are you the Governor of the prison, sir?” “Yes, who are you, and why are you not at home?” “Please, sir, I have no home. Mamma died in the poorhouse two weeks ago, and she told me just before she died that papa (Tom Galson) was in prison; and she thought maybe he would like to see his little girl, now that mamma is dead. Please, can’t you let me see my papa? Today is Christmas and I want to give him a present.”
“No,” I replied gruffly. “You will have to wait until visitor’s day,” and started on. I had not gone many steps when I felt a pull at my coat, and a pleading voice said, “Please, don’t go.” I stopped once more, and looked into the pinched, beseeching face before me. Great tears were in her eyes, while her little chin quivered with emotion. “Mister,” she said, “if your little girl was me, and your little girl’s mamma had died in the poorhouse, and her pa was in prison, and she had no place to go and no one to love her, don’t you think she would like to see her papa? If it was Christmas, and your little girl came to see me, if I was Governor of the prison, and asked me to please let her see her papa to give him a Christmas present, don’t you – don’t you think I would say yes?”
By this time a great lump was in my throat and my eyes were swimming in tears. I answered, “Yes, my little girl, I think you would, and you shall see your papa;” and taking her hand, I hurried back to the prison, thinking of my own fair-haired little girl at home. Arriving in my office, I bade her come near the warm stove while I sent a guard to bring No. 37 from his cell. As soon as he came into the office and saw the little girl his face clouded with an angry frown, and in a gruff, savage tone he snapped out: “Nellie, what are you doing here? What do you want? Go back to your mother.” “Please papa,” sobbed the little girl, “mamma’s dead. She died two weeks ago in the poorhouse, and before she died she told me to take care of little Jimmie because you loved him so; and told me to tell you she loved you too — but papa (her voice broke in sobs and tears), Jimmie died too last week and now I am alone, papa, and today’s Christmas, papa, and I thought maybe as you loved Jimmie, you would like a little Christmas present from him.”
Here she unrolled the little bundle she held in her hand, until she came to a little package of tissue paper, from which she took out a little fair curl, and put it in her father’s hand, saying as she did so, “I cut it from dear little Jimmie’s head just before they buried him.”
By this time No. 37 was sobbing like a child, and so was I. Stooping down, 37 picked up the little girl and pressed her convulsively to his breast, while his great frame shook with suppressed emotion. The scene was too sacred for me to look upon, so I softly opened the door and left them alone. In about an hour I returned. No. 37 sat near the stove with his little daughter on his knee. He looked at me sheepishly for a moment, and then said, “Governor, I haven’t the money.” Then suddenly stripping off his prison jacket, he said, “For God’s sake, don’t let my little girl go out this bitter cold day with that thin dress. Let me give her this coat. I’ll work early and late. I’ll do anything. I’ll be a man. Please, Governor, let me cover her with this coat.” Tears were streaming down the face of the hardened man.
“No Galson,” I said, “keep your coat. Your little girl shall not suffer. I’ll take her to my home and see what my wife can do for her.” “God bless you,” sobbed Galson. I took the girl to my home. She remained with us a number of years and became a true Christian by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (God’s Book, the Holy Bible, shows man’s need and God’s remedy. – Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Jn. 3:1-17)
Tom Galson also became a Christian, and then he gave us no more trouble (2 Cor. 5:17). A year ago, when I visited the prison again, the Governor said to me, “Kain, would you like to see Tom Galson, whose story I told you a few years ago?” “Yes, I would,” I answered. The Governor took me down a quiet street, and stopping at a neat home, knocked on the door. The door was opened by a cheerful young woman, who greeted the Governor with the utmost cordiality.
We went in and the Governor introduced me to Nellie and her father, who, because of his reformation, had received pardon, and was now living an upright Christian life with his daughter, whose little Christmas gift had broken his hard heart. – Slightly revised.
Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (passed from spiritual death to eternal life). – Jn. 5:24
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