“I’m the most unlikely person to be here,” Mark Early told a group of inmates in the San Quentin Garden Chapel. He was on hand to dedicate new chairs and sound equipment for the chapel.
During almost 10 years in the Virginia Senate, Early presided over building new prisons, increasing prison terms and the removal of the possibility of parole for some inmates. After four years as Virginia attorney general, he ran as a conservative republican for governor, losing to the democratic nominee. He watched approvingly as the United State’s prison population exploded.
His attitude, he explained, was, “The longer they were there (in prison), the better off the rest of us were.”
Shortly after his defeat, Early said Chuck Colson of Nixon/Watergate fame telephoned. Colson asked Early to become president and CEO of Prison Fellow Ministry (PFM), which Colson started after serving seven years in a federal prison.
“I didn’t want to do it;” Early said, bringing laughter from the S.Q. audience. “I didn’t want to give my life to those who couldn’t make an impact for Jesus Christ; to those who no one in society had any respect for.”
He described PFM’s reputation as excellent, operating in 114 countries
“I made the mistake of telling Chuck I’d pray about it.” For the next few months, he said he gave the idea half-hearted reflection until a sudden revelation shook him.
That revelation involved Moses of the Old Testament, and Saul who later became the Apostle Paul of the New Testament. He pointed out that Moses was a murderer and Saul persecuted Christians prior to his transformation into Paul the Apostle.
MESSAGE OF HEALING
Early said he was troubled by God’s choice of Moses to lead the Jewish people,. As for Paul, he asked, “Why pick a man who had hurt people to bring a message of healing?”
His answers came in the form of an epiphany of how each would have their pasts weighing upon them. Moses and Paul would never forget those they hurt, and this would be the forge to make them into humble servants.
“God I’m sorry,” Early said he prayed, reliving the moment, “I repent; I was wrong. It’s just like You (God), to put them back together again and to raise those up to be the noblest and best leaders in your Kingdom.”
Early has led the world’s largest prison ministry seven years. Standing before the S.Q. crowd, which included many men serving Life terms, he shared toward the end, “I’m here because I know that God is raising up a whole new leadership of men behind these prison walls.”
Early received a standing ovation; with many prisoners eager to greet and speak with him afterward.