Chester has lived inside San Quentin for close to 20 years, incarcerated for 50-years-to-life because of three robberies. The combined total amount that he stole is less than $500. Once convicted, his wife divorced him and denied him access to their baby daughter, now a young adult. Undaunted, he wrote his daughter weekly love letters, filling volumes that are now, miraculously, in her possession. (Read my blog about this here: http://tarynhutchison.com/chesters-story/)
He wrote us last Christmas, despairing of life. After being raped in prison, he contemplated taking his life. He had no hope of ever getting out. No hope of anything changing for the better.
The last year has left me severely depressed – a couple of times on suicide watch. I have reached my end! At one time, I was certain of God’s presence in and throughout my life. Now, after being raped, I do not know. I sure do miss that childlike faith I once had. Nearly all the “lifers” you knew have been released. Since my coming to San Quentin, I have walked at least 20 of the “lifer-brothers” down to the release gate. Every single one of them are now home, every single one also had a murder charge. If I had a murder charge and not Three Strikes, I would be up for parole by now. Crazy, huh? Steve, I used to believe God to be just. What am I to think now?
We heard his cry and we prayed. We joined our hearts with our church back in California. A church of the most unlikely people to minister inside prisons; people who have come to love the inmates who come to chapel.
And then last week, a new letter from Chester arrived, bringing joy and hope.
What changed? Chester became the face of the Three Strikes Reform in California, which overwhelmingly passed, now mandating that the third strike, which carries the life sentence, must be for a serious or violent crime. Usually voters stand on the side of retribution, not mercy. But California’s original law, passed 18 years ago, has been the strictest in the country, with many petty criminals locked up for life. As a result, prisons like San Quentin have expanded from housing their capacity of 3,000 prisoners to well over 5,000. Taxpayers have spent millions each year to feed, clothe, and guard these Three Strikers.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:2.
Read Chester’s own words:
I sure have had some rough days. Yesterday, [the volunteers and I] enjoyed a good laugh with God – how he is using me. All the way up and through the Nov. 6th vote on the Three Strikes Reform, God had me out front speaking with voters. While emotionally draining, this work richly paid off with 69% for reform. Already, we are seeing Three Strikers released. Here at San Quentin, courts are writing inmates informing them of their departure. Truly a happy time. Steve, I am so proud that for the most part, God had someone like me to be the face for Three Strikes Reform.
I’ve heard it said “hindsight is 20/20.” Yes, now I see. God spoke to me, “Yes, Chester, I am letting you out of prison, but I needed you to help reform this law because many of my kids are in prison.” For God SO loved the world! Brother Steve, I was moved to repent because of my narrow, narrow vision. Thinking it’s all about me. The fight was so worth it. You should see the faces of the guys (believers and un-believers alike). Many for the first time in years have Hope and Joy! My heart is so full! God is good!
Amen! May you also experience hope and joy.