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Nixon Felon and Evangelical
Icon Charles Colson Dies
BY DAVID MARK and ADELLE M. BANKS ©2012 Religion News Service
harles W. Colson, the Watergate felon who became an evangelical icon and born-again advocate for prisoners, died April 21 after a brief illness. He was 80.
Despite an early reputation as a cutthroat "hatchet man" for President Richard M. Nixon, Colson later built a legacy of repentance, based on his work with Prison Fellowship, a ministry he designed to bring Bible study and a Christian message to prison inmates and their families.
Colson founded the group in 1976 upon release from federal prison on Watergate-related charges. Prison reform and advocating for inmates became his life's work, and his lasting legacy.
Colson had undergone surgery on March 31 to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain. On April 18, Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske told staff and supporters that Colson's health had taken a "decided turn" and he would soon be "home with the Lord."
Due to his illness, for the first time in 34 years, he did not spend Easter Sunday preaching to prisoners, his ministry said.
''For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ," said evangelist Billy Graham in a statement. "When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them.
He will be greatly missed by many, including me. I count it a privilege to have called him friend."
In many ways, Colson's life personified the evangelical ethos of a sinner in search of redemption after a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus. He also embodied the evangelical movement's embrace of conservative social issues, although often as a happy warrior.
Today, Prison Fellowship has more than 14,000 volunteers working in more than 1,300 prisons across the country. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year.
The organization founded by Colson also provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-convicts, and supplies Christmas gifts to more than 300,000 kids with a locked-up parent through its Angel Tree program.
Colson also founded Justice Fellowship, to develop what he called Bible-based criminal justice, and advocate for prison reform. In 1993, Colson won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated the money to his ministry.
In addition to his work with Prison Fellowship, Colson authored more than 30 books that sold more than 5 million copies, including his seminal 1976 autobiography, Born Again
Colson became an evangelist for better prison conditions and championed what he called "restorative justice," in which nonviolent criminals should stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim.