After five exciting days in Chicago area juvenile
prisons, with 7 hours at home, I went directly to Denver to go
into three facilities as part of the Operation Starting Line outreach.
OSL is a collaboration of over 25 ministries working together
to bring the Gospel to prisoners across America. Since 2001, Youth
Direct has been a full collaborator conducting events in 62 juvenile
facilities in 9 states. The ministry was in Colorado in 2005.
Joining me was Brent Fuqua, an international basketball
performer, and John Grubb who performed magic. I did my testimony
using large walls and over 500 rapid slides using a PowerPoint.
The entire population of 145 boys and girls (ages
12-18) entered the gym. The school faculty and the administration
welcomed us warmly. As our program began, one could hear a pin
drop. The youth were attentive and behaved. Once again, about
30 youth had heard a Youth Direct program before, an indication
of youth entering the system repeatedly. As in Chicago, I gave
a strong Gospel conclusion although advised by the principal to
not be "too religious". During the Q & A, you could
hear the youth trying to understand "God's power" from
a human standpoint. Clearly some understood. Above all we planted
Our team stayed for six hours. We went to every dorm talking about
the Gospel in small groups. We were invited to return to the facility.
This is a detention facility in a rough part of
Denver is one hundred years old. The average length of stay is
14 days but some youth are locked for up to a year awaiting trial.
We did two programs reaching all 90 boys and girls (ages 10-17).
The really young children did not seem to belong. Brent's basketball
skills got their attention and got them laughing. John also got
their attention with his magic. Although the superintendent is
a Muslim, he allowed me to present the Gospel. We were in the
facility for five hours and shared with many officers, as well.
As with all three Denver facilities, we had no
checks of our cases or searches. All 110 youth, boys and girls
(age 13-18) filled the gym. We held their attention during the
85 minute program and I concluded with a spiritual Q & A session
that ran for 25 minutes. Before the youth returned to the dorms,
I shared with them in small groups. There was an incident I will
share latter in this report that God used for good.
Since 2005, I believe the youth I encountered
have a harder edge. About 15 - 20 youth at each facility were
wearing leg irons, which I did not see before. Also the ten year
olds were sad to see. One can only imagine their family background.
I learned from the youth that gang influence is
stronger. LA gangs, the Crips and Bloods have infiltrated Denver.
There are Anglo, Hispanic, Black, Mexican Nationals and Asian
gangs. There are suburban gangs such as North Park Hill and youth
affiliated with gangs that "own" one block such as Forest
Street Gang, 51st Street Gang, Hoover Bloods in Aurora, and the
Englewood Family Bloods. One youth told me his younger brother
was a Pewee member at age 10, another brother was a Jrs at age
12 and he was a Homeboy at 14.
It was sad to see youth, so young, affiliated
with hate groups like Neo Nazis (as shooters at Columbine) Aryan
Nation, Skinheads, and the KKK. For them it is excitement but
they don't know the deeper implications of racism and hatred.
One youth told me if somebody gave him "red eye" (meaning
a hard stare) he would use a Tray 8 or Double Deuce. Tray is a
38 revolver and a Deuce is a 22 caliber pistol. Most of the youth
I talked with had no long term goals because they did not expect
to live long. Without Christ, their future is dim.
In one dorm, I encountered a beautiful girl who
was 14, had blond hair and pretty eyes with arms with deep fresh
scars, each over 3 inches long. Both arms had over six of these
long cuts. I asked her "What happened?" She responded,
"I did it. I hate myself!" I told her that God loved
her and cared about her. She listened. I asked her to promise
me "Before you cut yourself again, open your Bible and read:
Isaiah 43: 1,2 "Do not be afraid, because I have reclaimed
you. I have called you by name; you are mine
She wrote it down on a small scrap of paper and
promised, with a broad smile. A female officer touched her shoulder
During my presentation, I showed a traditional,
although masculine, picture of Jesus to illustrate a point. Suddenly
a tall Black youth yelled "Jesus don't look like that!"
I replied, "That's right. This is just a painting. He was
darker in skin tone coming from the Judea / Galilee region, but
we don't really know what he looked like. That is so everyone,
of every race can identify with him." The youth was obviously
sensitive to a "white Jesus" and a "white church".
We talked after the program and he understood my point.
One youth startled me with his gang affiliation.
He said he was "an AK" which stood for "Anybody
Killer". As he explained, "We hate everyone". It
was clear his gang had replaced his lack of family and he needed
a sense of belonging. He was willing to give God a chance but
didn't know how to get out of the gang. I told him "Leave
that to God" and reminded him of the story of my family.
He seemed hopeful.
During John's portion of the program, one gang
member yelled out the name of a gang and just as quickly, another
gang name was yelled out. Within seconds, staff handcuffed both
youth and removed them. Fortunately the staff did not stop the
program. Working with delinquent youth is not easy. They are impulsive
and at times volatile. But they listen to the message even when
they pretend they are not.
During my talk, I discussed seeing prisoners that
are spiritually alive and those spiritually dead in prisons across
America. I said "I can see it in their eyes." After
one program, a young, muscular officer approached me and said
"Look into me eyes, what do you see?" I told him he
looked fine. He told me he was a Christian and wanted to be sure
others could tell. I could tell he was sincere.
After one program, something happened I never
experienced. A tall youth with a defiant look and arms crossed
tightly across his chest said to me "You're a liar! I don't
believe you really changed. You still do crime, 'cause no one
gets out of a gang!"
Before I said anything, his dorm group challenged
him. They told him "That was disrespect." But then came
a wonderful moment.
Several other youth mentioned the names of former
gang members. "Don't you remember Kyle who got out of the
gang last year and still walks with God?" Then another example.
Then a third. They stopped him in his tracks. I didn't say a word
and did not have to defend myself. God used that moment to have
his peers testify to God's power in front of me. While he did
not apologize, he extended his hand and shook mine, which was
good enough for me.
God blessed us by planting seeds in over 300 young
lives. The staff at all three facilities were cooperative and
appreciative. One female staff said to me "Your story is
too religious". I replied "Well, it is my story, so
I need to tell it as it happened. Without God, I would not be
standing here." A different Christian officer approached
me and said "Keep preaching!"
I consider the work of Operation Starting Line very important
in bringing the Gospel to adult prisoners. But I consider it equally
important to reach these youth who according to current statistics
will enter the adult system at a rate of 57%. Next year we plan
to go into six youth facilities in Colorado Springs. We must not
give up on them. We must not ignore them. They are not beyond