Percy Goes to Prison
What? What in the world are you talking about, Dikkon?
Percy in prison? Come on!
Well, just hold onto your hats.
Salesmen almost never leave the office of a potential customer before their
conversation comes to an end, one way or the other. Pastors almost never leave their
pulpits until their sermon comes to an end, one way or the other.
Percy used to know one salesman, as a member of his Maine congregation, and
as a deacon at his church, who did walk out one time without another word to the
potential customer. That man took Percy aside and told his pastor about it during the
The salesman hated what was happening. He couldn’t think of what to do,
except to walk away.
The potential customer was a woman, a solo attorney who did estates.
The salesman loved the Maine coastal town where she worked. Her office view
was a delight. He told Percy that there was an opening line at the beginning of a sales
meeting that he used sometimes, especially when the office was built out over the rocks
above the shore, as was the case at this law firm in Newcastle.
“Half the people in the United States work for fifty weeks to spend one week
during the summer in Maine.” He would grin and look out across the rocks and the
shoreline and the waves rolling in. “And we get to live here. How cool is that?”
It was often a good opener.
+ + +
But on the morning of that sales appointment, the secretary burst in. “Sorry, but
you’d better see this. Some plane banged into one of the twin towers.”
The three of them watched, with shock-pried faces. Eventually, the salesman
said, “I can’t be here now. I need to be with my wife.”
Meredith, the attorney, waved me off. “We’ll talk later.”
He drove to his peninsula out into the sea. There was scarcely any traffic on the
By mid-afternoon, the salesman realized he had no choice but to call the prison.
+ + +
He had an appointment the next day, almost three hours away, at the MAX in
central New Hampshire. Seriously bad guys. Maximum security. Major crimes. Angry
men who knew that their situation was the other guy’s fault, not theirs. They were his
The salesman recited his phone conversation to Percy this way.
His contact Susan answered, dully. “Hi.”
“Are you watching?”
There was a long silence. Then he asked, “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. You?”
“I could come….”
“You want to?”
“You want me to?”
There was another long silence. She said, “I don’t know what to do.”
“Can you still organize it, tomorrow I mean?”
“Course I can.” She laughed hollowly. “This is a prison. Yes, I can organize it.”
“You want to? It’s a long drive.”
“What else can I do? Not a day for cold calling.”
“No.” She sighed. “I think the world’s coming to an end.”
He felt cynical. “Great day for legal research.”
“Ha ha,” said Susan. Not laughing but saying the words out loud – ha ha.
“So, I’ll be there at ten. Anything different about getting in, tomorrow I mean?
Because of today.”
“Really don’t bring a gun. Don’t even leave it in your car.”
+ + +
The salesman liked Susan, the prison librarian at the MAX. They’d worked
together for eighteen months on this sale. Prisons are mandated to provide legal
research capability for inmates. For years, the necessary information – cases, statues,
regulations, citation tracking – had been provided by his company in book form, but,
when he was at the prison training inmates every few months, he had let Susan know
about Internet based research, and he had demonstrated it.
Less costly than books. That was the hook. But the resistance was getting past
layers of anxiety inside the corrections department at the prospect of introducing
Internet capability into the prison library.
Inmates need to do their research. But inmates – especially at the MAX – must
never, ever, ever have any ability to get out into the web. Ever.
The salesman loved his company. He loved his territory – all of Maine and of
New Hampshire, and a lot of northeastern Massachusetts. But particularly he loved his
company’s responsiveness when he presented it with a stubborn technical problem.
It took a while, but his company solved the problem. His company was able to
offer Internet access to inmates for legal research while absolutely blocking inmate
access to the worldwide web.
He closed the sale. Took Susan to lunch.
+ + +
Here’s what he told Percy that next week.
While he drove to New Hampshire on 9-12-2001, he realized something was
different in himself. He told Percy that he had never once been scared inside the MAX
or in any other prison where he spent sales or training time, but that he felt anticipatorily
frightened that morning.
He knew some of the inmates Susan would organize for his training. He knew
just how angry they were at every element of America and her legal system and her
government. After yesterday, he wondered, would they be cheering and high fiving?
He didn’t know how he would cope with their exuberance if they were.
He went through all the clanging of doors and the shouts of the guards, and he
arrive at the library. There they were, the men, glowering. About fifteen of them.
They were not exuberant. They were just as angry as ever before…but at the
+ + +
He told Percy two things about when he called the next time on Meredith. One,
he sold her a set of books about estate work along with software for resource
calculation adding a future timing percentage component to the numbers.
Her office view was just as pretty as it had been before. Some things were not
destroyed on 9-11.
Two, a thing that was not destroyed on 9-12 was his respect for the men in the
+ + +
Which leads directly to something you readers don’t know about Percy because I
haven’t written about it in my novels.
Percy and the salesman spent many hours during their years together in
exuberant conversation in Percy’s pastoral office. One such conversation was after a
representative of Kairos, the prison ministry, came to the church and made an
impressive presentation, not only to the congregation, but also to the director of
missions and then to the administrator. Then the man came back two weeks later on
invitation to address the Board.
The man was trolling for recruits as volunteers to join Kairos for semi-annual
“Walks” in the Maine prisons, as well as for their monthly reunions with inmates who
had participated in the Walks and who were now in prayer-and-share groups among
their brother prisoners whose hearts had been softened, as theirs had been, and were
now tied into the church that had been planted behind the bars.
It turned out that two things that recruitment man said especially struck Percy,
and he told his salesman congregant about them. Percy had asked the Kairos man
about Charles Colson’s prison ministry group – Prison Fellowship – as an alternative
service in prisons, and he had asked which of the ministries was the best.
The man reported that whenever Colson himself was asked that question, his
answer was this.
“We’re the send best.”
“Why the second best?”
“Because Kairos goes back. We don’t.”
Percy had taken the man aside and had asked him to call back the next day.
The man had smiled and had said, “I’m glad of your interest, Pastor. But I gotta add
something else to what I said to your board members.”
“A lot of pastors who are part of our volunteer teams have told me that Kairos is
their single most personally valuable professional membership.”
“We can’t take our cell phones into the prisons.”
“So, if they join, these pastors, they can tell their Boards that there are eight pre-
determined days each year when they simply cannot be reached by phone!”
Percy told his deacon friend that both men laughed. Percy especially appreciated
that particular nuance.
Percy joined Kairos.
+ + +
Percy’s decision was rewarded by a miracle. Remember that Percy was a
painter, had always been one, as well as a pastor.
During Percy’s first Walk, the miracle occurred in the final hour on “moving day.”
Moving Day is the Saturday of a Kairos walk, that is, its Day Three. During that day’s
final hour, at this prison the sun had sunk low into the western sky. The sun shone
directly through the slit windows into the prison’s gym, which was where the Walk took
place, and it bathed the volunteers and the thirty-four men – prisoners all – with a gold,
The volunteers’ two guitarists quietly strummed their tight strings of patience and
waiting. Another twiddled quietly with an electric keyboard. Everyone stood in two long
lines, lined which blocked Percy’s view of the sides f the gym. Everyone was perfectly
quiet and still. They waited, one behind the other, for their time before either of the
volunteers’ ordained men, who were pastors on the outside of the razor wire. Though
he was a pastor, Percy was not yet experienced enough to have the role of pastor
during this hour with the long lines. Percy was watching carefully because he had been
told that he would be one of those pastors during the next Walk, on the next Moving
As a volunteer team of salvation and forgiveness men, the Kairos volunteers and
the Holy Spirit had moved the inmate attendees during three straight days toward this
very moment. These pilgrims had been moved step-by-step closer to Christ – and the
Kairos team had assisted by listening and listening, and by loving and loving.
By these pilgrims’ openness to the Kairos volunteers’ attentiveness, they might
either have found the Son of God, or that they might have shied away from Him, while
merely saving their final uniting step toward Him for a later time of opportunity.
+ + +
Percy stood as the hand-washing back-up man to the pastor before him, who sat
on a chair before which the prisoners, one-by-one, would sit, too, the two of them facing
one another. Between them was a well of water.
As each prisoner sat, the pastor murmured, “Drop your paper in.” The pilgrim
The paper was a small slip of rice paper on which, all day, each pilgrim had been
encouraged to write the name of someone – or more than a single someone – whom he
had been moved to forgive.
“Tell me,” the pastor murmured.
“My father.” “My wife.” “My son. “The judge.” “My lawyer.” “My ex.” “The CO who hurts me.” “My coach who abused me.” “My celly.” And so on.
Taking the prisoner’s hands, the pastor began to pray.
Then, when he was done praying, he said, “Look down.”
The paper, formerly floating on the surface of the well, had vanished.
+ + +
The pilgrim stood, sometimes shakily, and moved past the pastor and stood
before Percy. He extended his hands. Percy poured water over his hands, said his
name, and said “God bless you.” Percy gave him a paper to dry his hands. Sometimes
they hugged – and the hug from this pilgrim whom Percy had known for seventy-two
hours was a stronger affirmation of their brotherhood than would have been any other
Three days before, that pilgrim might have known of himself as being among “the
least of these.”
Now, on Moving Day, he had progressed to being among the most.
+ + +
That’s when Percy looked up.
His heart stopped.
His lungs emptied of wind.
His mouth fell open.
Looking forward, he was stunned.
Percy was staring along the length of the gym. He saw that all that long way
away, between the forgiveness well and the gym’s other end, where the sun blazed
through the slit windows, there existed a vision.
In front of the distant windows where the sun blazed, there was a long table
placed horizontally and draped in white cloths. Prisoners who were helpers during this
Kairos walk and who were privileged to be helpers because they were in training as
elders and as suffering servants at the church planted inside – Grace Inside – those
men were seated behind that table.
The configuration of the seated men behind the table was this.
On each side of the middle of the table three seated men were there, speaking
softly to one another, three on each side, leaning their heads together.
Percy’s heart leapt.
There before him was Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper!
Right there in the gym of the prison, way up on a mountainside in Maine, right
there, right there where the sun blazed in through the glass was the precise depiction of
DaVinci’s 1495 masterpiece.
Yet there was no man in the middle. The middle spot was empty.
Where was Christ?
Percy knew where Christ was.
Christ had been so fully present during the last three days that all of the
volunteers knew precisely where Christ was.
He – that is Christ, and God’s own Holy Spirit – they had been manifest among
all of them during three whole days!
Percy loves Kairos, and he loves being in prison.