Our friends at Dispensational Publishing House have recently posted my testimony about why I am a dispensationalist. It’s a short story that follows my journey from church to apostasy to war to prison to conversion to seminary to today. I glossed over some details for the sake of brevity in that article, but today, I am going to zoom in on my prison story a bit.
I was a notorious vegetable smuggler in a Jewish prison gang! In a federal prison, no less. Sounds pretty tough, right? I assure you it is not.
How I fell in with the Jew Crew
I ended up in Forrest City Medium Security Prison back in 2008. Funny thing, they never actually told me why I was there. I’ve got my theories, though. They threw me in a cell with L— from Missouri. L— became a Christian in prison, in part because of a “The Best News You’ll Ever Hear” tract that I shared with him, but that’s a story for another day. He was a pretty tough guy, and I didn’t know this at first, but he was terrified of me. I wish I was better at catching hints that people drop, like when he said, “Celly, you’re scaring me” (“Celly” is what we call our cellmates). I can be a little slow like that, though.
Anyhoo, L— and I had some good times. He would say something like, “Celly, don’t kill me in my sleep tonight,” and I’d say something like, “Oh, come on now, I won’t kill you in your sleep tonight… you’re expecting it.” And he’d be all like, “No, seriously, don’t cut me ever” and I’d be like, “Oh no, I won’t cut you… wait, do you count breaking a pencil off in your neck as cutting?” I thought we were just joking, but apparently, he told the other whites that I was a little off. I was a veteran after all. Oh well. In the end, it’s generally a good thing if people in prison know that you can mess them up.
In prison, race is part of your identity. I arrived with three or four other whites and within a few months, I was the only one of them left – one got forced into solitary after others discovered he was a snitch, one got into a fight with a Mexican gang, one acquired a huge drug and gambling debt and had to go to solitary. I was a Christian who didn’t snitch and stayed away from the vices and the trouble that came with them, so I never really had many problems. I respected others and they respected me, so it was all good in the neighborhood.
I got a job as a GED tutor. I have spoken English since childhood; however, it wasn’t until I started teaching English in prison that I really understood how to use a semicolon. I spent much of my free time in the chapel and even transferred to working in the chapel as soon as an opportunity became available.
There are many religions in prison. I met Jehovah’s Witnesses in there. I had no idea what they believed at first, but they were quick to challenge my belief in the Trinity, which drove me to Scriptures and I came out a much stronger Trinitarian than if they hadn’t challenged me. There were Buddhists… they were kinda weird, I have to admit. There were a lot of Muslims. I was friends with M—, who was a student in Dallas on a student visa from Pakistan. Some cops offered him a pistol and assured him it was legal for him to fire it, so he did and they arrested him for it. He eventually finished his prison sentence and got sent to Pakistan. I hope he’s not a terrorist now. On a positive note, M— was really good at Scrabble.
The Christian services at the chapel were bizarre. There wasn’t much Bible-reading, but a lot of jumping around and shouting. People were looking for an experience in a dark place rather than reading the Word of God, so I didn’t really fit in with the Christians. I still don’t always fit in around Christians, by the way. That’s not to say I didn’t have Christian friends. In fact, one of my closest friends, R—, was a believer in Christ. He passed away recently, but regardless of the circumstances, I am confident that we will see each other again because we have both believed in Christ for eternal life.
Eventually, I fell in with the Jews. There weren’t many Jews in the joint and honestly, they aren’t a very popular crowd in there. Lots of Muslims and Aryans are in prison, both of which are known for their animosity toward Jews. There was this one Aryan bank robber, whom we called B—, that grew a Hitler moustache and got a Hitler haircut and even had a tattoo of himself standing next to Hitler. He painted a picture of Nazis torturing and killing Jews with microwaves and what not and shooting them in the head when they ran out of electricity – he said that the picture meant that even if the power grid shuts down, we should always keep killing Jews, or something like that. Yea, B— was a bit of a wierdo. Lots of weirdos are in prison. He was a pretty nice guy other than all that hateful stuff, though.
Anyhoo, the Jews were more interested in the actual study of the Bible than the Christians were, so that’s whom I hung out with. We were a small bunch. There was a Gypsy named T—, a West Texan roughneck named O—, an Illinoisan named M—, and a Minnesotan named S— who’s serving two life sentences for possessing two kilograms of cocaine… really? Two life sentences for two kilos? Come on, now, we really need to reform our justice system. Well, there was that whole thing about him killing his mother-in-law, but I digress. The others were older than me. I was 24, S— was in his 60s and the others were in their 40s and 50s. I jokingly call us a “prison gang,” but in reality, it was just a bunch of old men reading books and eating vegetables.
Speaking of which, here’s some advice if you’re ever in prison: tell the chaplain that you want to eat kosher food. The average prison meal costs a few cents, but the special kosher meals cost a couple dollars. Plus you’ll get extra vegetables and other goodies that you can smuggle out and trade with other inmates.
So, that’s how I became a vegetable smuggler in a Jewish prison gang.
What I learned
The Hebrew Scriptures clearly point to the Messiah, so for about 2,000 years, non-Messianic Jews have had to jump through hoops to avoid the obvious conclusion that Jesus was this Messiah. They do so by rejecting the plain understanding of Scripture and substituting it with hidden meanings. Instead of God revealing Himself in the Bible, He is hiding Himself within. The Bible is not revelation, but concealment. If we apply this approach to Scripture, or any literature for that matter, we can make it say whatever we want it to say.
Instead of using Scripture to interpret Scripture, they use an Oral Torah, which was written down about 170 years after the Messiah had come. They say it came from Moses and was passed down through the generations orally. But it would take a supernatural act to preserve Oral Torah for 1,600 years, so why would they need to write it down all of the sudden? Also, when Moses wrote the Written Torah, it was complete:
And Moses came and told the people all the words of HaShem, and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said: ‘All the words which the L-rd hath spoken will we do.’ And Moses wrote all the words of HaShem, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the mount, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. (Ex 24:3-4 JPS)
To add anything to Torah is in clear violation of the Torah itself:
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of HaShem your G-d which I command you. (Deut 4:2 JPS)
Of course, there is progressive revelation allowing for new revelation, but the act of reinterpreting former revelation is incredibly problematic. Then, in addition to God hiding meaning in an oral tradition, those who wrote it down added another layer of mystery by encoding the message yet again. A Jewish scholar writes:
The Sages feared that anyone not guided by Fear of Heaven who would study the ethical truths of Torah would distort their meaning […] The Sages nevertheless decided to commit the moral teachings of the Torah to writing – but by means of a secret code. They would then be intelligible only to those who possessed the key to the master code.1
What kind of a righteous god would pull these shenanigans? He gives us a book, but without any indication in the book to do so, he wants us to believe that his book is distorted, such that we must trust men to deliver it in an unintelligible manner, then we must trust other men to crack the code and give us the real meaning?
God’s Word, not man’s, is the authority. If we take God at His Word, then everything falls right into place.
My time in prison was formative to my Christian life. My conversations with Jews in prison often focused on presuppositional questions about the nature of Revelation. My conclusion was the direct opposite of what Judaism teaches – God has revealed information to us in a plain, non-encrypted, fashion. When we simply take God at His word, we become dispensationalists.
On an slightly unrelated note, people sometimes ask how I made it through prison. Everyone does his time differently, but Roger Rabbit has summarized my survival philosophy well: