By Frank Zeidler, Jr, Executive Director of the Saints Prison Ministry
David Berkowitz hasn’t been the Son of Sam for many, many years… unfortunately, that is a link to his past that he’ll never be able to shake. However, he is now more accurately called a Child of the King; redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and living a new life in Jesus Christ! Our teams in the NE have met him, spoken with him, and seen him on the yard on multiple occasions in NY state prisons.
Recently, with the help of Keith Rovere, a Saints supporter that has developed a pen-pal relationship with David, I was able to “interview” him about his interaction with the Saints Prison Ministry. Since our teams have used David’s evangelistic tract for years, and many people know the story of his past and his conversion, I tried to submit questions that were not addressed in other places.
Q: David, how long did it take for your conversion to be accepted as more than just another man using “jailhouse religion”?
A: It has taken time. I have been a Christian now for more than 30 years. As time went by, I stayed faithful to Jesus and on course, and eventually many were able to accept the fact that I was serious about my faith. Nevertheless, the world still has its naysayers and that will always be the case. Even our Lord, despite all the miracles He did, was still labeled as a lunatic and a deceiver.
Q: When you moved from Sullivan CF to Shawangunk CF, did you have to re-establish yourself as a man of faith, or had your reputation preceded you?
A: After being at Sullivan for so long, and being a Christian for most of that time, I had established a formidable reputation as a disciple of Jesus. I also met a number of men who I had known at Sullivan. So, I was accepted without difficulty when moving here.
Q: How does the prison population view volunteer groups, in general?
A: As a rule, prisoners like, appreciate, and respect the volunteers. We recognize these people come in to encourage us, for no financial gain to themselves. I have seen how even unsaved men will talk freely with the volunteers. Prisoners are very intuitive and perceptive – they can spot sincerity and genuineness and will react to it.
Concerning the Saints Prison Ministry, my observation after years of interacting with them at Sullivan is that the inmates enjoyed your visits. The Saints were always friendly, kind, encouraging and open as they shared their own personal testimonies, and I am certain this meant a lot to the inmates – I know it did for me.
The Saints Prison Ministry teams and guys have a good reputation with the prisoners. Again, this is because they interact with the men on a personal level and are friendly and accepting. I also believe it is the Holy Spirit working to soften the hearts of the prisoners, so the members of SPM find receptive open hearts when they arrive.
Q: Do you have any specific memories of the Saints Prison Ministry?
A: While the names and faces of individual members of the teams have faded, I specifically remember their welcoming kindness. I interacted with them often and it was always pleasant because, even more than just seeing people from the outside, I clearly knew I was communicating with fellow believers.
Q: Given the opportunity, what suggestions would you make to a volunteer that was interested in doing prison ministry for the first time?
A: Pray and Go! The Lord is with you and there is nothing to fear! Ask the Lord for wisdom when interacting with the men. You should be “wise as serpents but harmless as doves” – meaning, be careful not to be taken advantage of, but show love, respect, and kindness at all times.
Q: In your experience, what aspect of ministry has the greatest impact in reaching people for Jesus Christ?
A: Testimony seems to have the biggest influence. It is probably the best way to open the door for communication. When an inmate hears a volunteer getting personal and sees the sincerity behind it, the volunteer can then discern when to open the Scripture and lay out the plan of salvation. But one cannot do that without open lines of communication. Strike a human bond first and talk with the man, not at him.
There it is – the insight into inmates’ experiences with volunteers – and SPM in particular – from a man that God reached in a very dark place. What a blessing to know that NO ONE is out of reach of the grace and mercy of the Lord!