Sexual sin is a pervasive issue among the two and a half million convicts in the U.S. prison system. That puts the American inmate population at the very center of the “target market” that God has called Pure Life Ministries to reach. And although I have spoken in many penitentiaries around the country over the years, nowhere have the doors opened to me more readily than in the Lone Star State.
Texas Prison Tour 2016
Early in 2015, the chaplain of a Texas prison contacted us about the possibility of having me speak there sometime. I felt the Lord was in this, so I asked our prison ministry coordinator to contact other chaplains in the area about a possible tour of facilities in February 2016. There are over 100 state prisons in Texas, so we focused our attention on a concentrated cluster of facilities just northeast of Houston. With rental car, flights, hotels and food costs, we calculated the trip to cost Pure Life Ministries about $3000.
In one of our appeal letters we asked people to give to “Pastor Steve’s Prison Tour,” but by November we had only received $500 toward this need. It looked as though we would have to cancel the trip. I began praying about it. Within a week, we received a call from a church in Nacogdoches — smack dab in the middle of all those prisons — inviting us to conduct a Call to Purity weekend. This meant that the host church would cover the cost of my airfare and even give an honorarium to Pure Life Ministries. And the only available space on their calendar to schedule the event was in the first two weeks of February — the very time we had already scheduled the prison trip!
This was all the assurance I needed of God’s involvement, so on January 29th I boarded a plane for Houston. But no sooner had I arrived than I received this disappointing message: the first two facilities where I was slated to speak — both maximum-security penitentiaries — were on “lock down,” and my visits were cancelled.
The Huntsville Walls Unit
Meanwhile, even as we were receiving this discouraging news, God was doing something totally unexpected. The chaplain of the Huntsville “Walls Unit” — the flagship prison of the Texas system—had called Pure Life and asked if there was any chance of getting Steve Gallagher to speak there sometime. He was told, “Well, as a matter of fact, he is in Texas right now speaking in prisons, and it just so happens he will be in Huntsville speaking at another facility next week!” Arrangements were quickly made for me to speak there as well that week.
During my time in Texas we were able to conduct the Call to Purity event at the church in Nacogdoches, as well as speaking in three maximum-security penitentiaries, a geriatric facility housing mostly “lifers,” and a transfer unit. Hundreds of men — many of them sex offenders — were called to repentance and given a clear-cut path to freedom from the bondage to sin during these services.
And, as is always the case when I speak in prisons, a number of men came up to me to express their gratitude for what At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry has meant to them. We have sent thousands of complimentary copies into the U.S. prison system over the years. One man showed me the tattered copy that he has clung to through innumerable transfers during his years of incarceration, exclaiming, “this book changed my life!”
The most exciting part of the trip, however, was my unexpected visit to the “Walls Unit” in Huntsville. The chaplain told me that he is starting a program called “Men of Purity,” which will take his inmates through At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry over the course of 12 weeks. He is confident that because this class is being conducted at the principal penitentiary in Texas it will soon be offered in all 109 Texas prisons!
The Texas Death House
During my time at the “Walls Unit” I was given a personal tour of the facility by the assistant warden. We first visited the now decrepit and unused East Wing, constructed in 1865, which served as the backdrop to such movies as the Clint Eastwood thriller, “A Perfect World.”
But the majority of my time with the warden was spent in America’s most active death chamber—the scene of over 500 executions since 1982. The warden took me step-by-step through the process of what a condemned man experiences during his final hours on earth. After his last meal, he is escorted by a special team of officers into the 9 by 12 foot room, where he is quickly strapped down to the gurney stationed in the center of the room. The medical team inserts an IV needle into each arm and then moves into an adjoining room. Now only the warden and the chaplain remain with the condemned. Once the warden gives the signal, a lethal dose of phenobarbital is released, and the man simply falls asleep and within minutes expires.
On the morning of February 16th—the day after I returned to Kentucky—our staff lifted up their voices in prayer for double-murderer Gustavo Garcia, who would be executed in that chamber later in the day. His final words (“God bless you. Stay strong. I’m done.”) revealed the gravity of his situation, and perhaps that he had gotten his life right with God at some point.
The reason I was sent to prisons by the Lord was for men like him — men who need the eternal hope that only comes from the Word of the Cross. No matter how heinous their crimes, God is still extending the call to repent and to come into His kingdom with a clean slate. What a joy to play a part in that transition!
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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