Chuck Colson

Chuck CarlsonAs a youth I had seen the charitable works of my parents. My mother cooked meals for the hungry during the Depression and my father donated his legal services to the United Prison Association of New England. No one in my family ever read the Bible.

During World War II, I organized fund-raising campaigns in my school for the war effort that raised enough money to buy a Jeep for the army. In 1948, I volunteered in the campaign to re-elect then-Governor of Massachusetts, Robert Bradford.

After attending Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge in 1949, I earned his AB, with honors, in history from Brown University in 1953, and my J.D., with honors, from George Washington University Law School in 1959. At Brown, I was a member of Beta Theta Pi.

I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1953 to 1955, reaching the rank of Captain. From 1955 to 1956, I was Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Material). I worked on the successful 1960 campaign of Leverett Saltonstall (US Republican Party for the U.S. Senate), and was his Administrative Assistant from 1956 to 1961. In 1961, I founded the law firm of Colson & Morin, which swiftly grew to a Boston and Washington, D.C. presence with the addition of former Securities Exchange Commission chairman Edward Gadsby and former Raytheon Company general counsel Paul Hannah. Colson and Morin shortened the name to Gadsby & Hannah in late 1967. I left the firm to join the Richard Nixon administration in January 1969.

In 1968, I served as counsel to Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon's Key Issues Committee.

On November 6, 1969, I was appointed as Special Counsel to President Nixon.

I was responsible for inviting influential private special interest groups into the White House policy-making process and winning their support on specific issues. My office served as the President's political communications liaison with organized labor, veterans, farmers, conservationists, industrial organizations, citizen groups, and almost any organized lobbying group whose objectives were compatible with the administration's. My staff broadened the White House lines of communication with organized constituencies by arranging presidential meetings and sending White House news releases of interest to the groups.

In addition to my liaison and political duties, my responsibilities included: performing special assignments for the president, such as drafting legal briefs on particular issues, reviewing presidential appointments, and suggesting names for White House guest lists. My work also included major lobbying efforts on such issues as construction of an Antiballistic missile system, the president's Vietnamization program, and the administration's revenue-sharing proposal.

Slate magazine writer David Plotz described me as "Richard Nixon's hard man, the 'evil genius' of an evil administration." I was "valuable to the President ... because I was willing ... to be ruthless in getting things done." Richard Nixon's White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman described me as the president's "hit man."

I authored the 1971 memo listing Nixon's major political opponents, later known as Nixon's Enemies List. A quip that "I would walk over my own grandmother if necessary" mutated into claims in news stories that I had boasted that I would run over his own grandmother to re-elect Nixon. In a February 13, 1973, conversation, I told Nixon that he had always had "a little prejudice."

Our mission was "intelligence gathering" on the Democratic Party [citation needed]. John Ehrlichman and I had recruited E. Howard Hunt as a $100-a-day White House consultant, though Hunt never worked directly for me, he did several odd jobs for my office prior to working for Egil "Bud" Krogh, head of the White House Special Operations Unit (the so-called "Plumbers"), which had been organized to stop leaks in the Nixon administration. Hunt teamed with G. Gordon Liddy, and the two headed the Plumbers' attempted burglary of Pentagon Papers-leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles in September 1971. The Pentagon Papers were a group of military documents comprising an exhaustive study of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. Their publication helped increase opposition to the war. I had hoped that revelations about Ellsberg could be used to discredit the anti-Vietnam War cause. I admitted to leaking information from Ellsberg's confidential FBI file to the press, but denied organizing Hunt's burglary of Ellsberg's office. In my 2005 book, The Good Life, I expressed regret for attempting to cover up this incident.

On March 1, 1974, I was indicted for conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglaries.

Introduced to Christianity

As I was facing arrest, my close friend, Raytheon Company chairman of the board Thomas L. Phillips, told me of his wonderful experience of meeting Jesus Christ while I was in the White House. He witnessed to me from the Bible and from Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. I wanted to think about what Thomas said. The anointing of his message was so powerful that I broke down while sitting in my car in Thomas’s driveway and invited Jesus Christ into my life as my Lord and Savior. I then joined a prayer group led by Douglas Coe and including Democratic Senator Harold Hughes, Republican congressman Al Quie and Democratic congressman Graham B. Purcell, Jr. When news of the conversion emerged much later, several U.S. newspapers, as well as Newsweek, The Village Voice, and Time, ridiculed the conversion, claiming that it was a ploy to reduce my sentence. In my 1975, memoir Born Again I noted that a few writers published sympathetic stories, as in the case of a widely reprinted UPI article, "From Watergate to Inner Peace."

Plead guilty, imprisoned

After taking the Fifth Amendment on the advice of my lawyers during early testimony, I found myself torn between my desire to be truthful and my desire to avoid conviction on charges of which I believed myself innocent. Following prayer and consultation with my fellowship group, I approached my lawyers and suggested a plea of guilty to a different criminal charge of which I did consider myself to be culpable.

After days of negotiation with Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski and Watergate Trial Judge Gerhard Gesell, I pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice on the basis of having attempted to defame Ellsberg's character in the build-up to the trial in order to influence the jury against him. Journalist Carl Rowan commented in a column of June 10, 1974 that the guilty plea came "at a time when the judge was making noises about dismissing the charges against me," and speculated that I was preparing to reveal highly damaging information against Nixon, an expectation shared by columnist Clark Mollenhoff; Mollenhoff even went so far as to suggest that I not to become a "devastating witness." This would cast doubt on the sincerity of my conversion. On June 21, 1974, I was given a one-to- three-year sentence and fined $5,000. I was subsequently disbarred in the District of Columbia, with the expectation of me also being prohibited from using my licenses from Virginia and Massachusetts.

I served seven months in Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama,—with brief stints at a facility on the Fort Holabird grounds when needed as a trial witness. I entered prison on July 9, 1974, and was released early, on January 31, 1975, by the sentencing judge because of family problems. At the time that Gesell ordered my release, I was one of the last of the Watergate defendants still in jail: only Gordon Liddy was still incarcerated. Egil Krogh had served his sentence and been released before I entered jail, while John Dean, Jeb Magruder, and Herb Kalmbach had been released earlier in January 1975 by Judge John Sirica. (Although Gesell declined to name the "family problems" prompting the release, I wrote in my 1976 memoir that my son Chris, angry over his father's imprisonment and looking to replace his broken car, had bought $150 worth of marijuana in hopes of selling it at a profit, and had been arrested in South Carolina, where he was in college. The state later dropped the charges.

During my time in prison, I had become increasingly aware of what I saw as injustices done to prisoners and incarcerates and shortcomings in their rehabilitation; I also had the opportunity, during a three-day furlough to attend his father's funeral, to pore over my father's papers and discover we shared an interest in prison reform. I became convinced that I was being called by God to develop a ministry to prisoners with an emphasis in promoting changes in the justice system.

Career after prison

After my release from prison, I founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, which today is "the nation's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families." I worked to promote prisoner rehabilitation and reform of the prison system in the United States, citing my disdain for what I called the "lock 'em and leave 'em" warehousing approach to criminal justice. I helped to create prisons whose populations come from inmates who choose to participate in faith-based programs.

In 1979, I founded Prison Fellowship International to extend his prison outreach outside the United States. Now in 120 countries, Prison Fellowship International is the largest, most extensive association of national Christian ministries working within the criminal justice field, working to proclaim the Gospel worldwide and alleviate the suffering of prisoners and their families. In 1983, Prison Fellowship International received special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. During this time, I also founded Justice Fellowship, using his influence in conservative political circles to push for bipartisan, legislative reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Christian advocacy

I maintained a variety of media channels which discuss contemporary issues from an evangelical Christian worldview. In my Christianity Today columns, for example, I opposed same-sex marriage, and argued that Darwinism is used to attack Christianity. I also argued against Darwinism and in favor of intelligent design, saying Darwinism helped cause forced sterilizations by eugenicists.

I was an outspoken critic of postmodernism, believing that as a cultural worldview, it is incompatible with the Christian tradition. I debated prominent post-evangelicals, such as Brian McLaren, on the best response for the evangelical church in dealing with the postmodern cultural shift. I, however, came alongside the creation care movement when endorsing Christian environmentalist author Nancy Sleeth’s Go Green, Save Green: A Simple Guide to Saving Time, Money, and God's Green Earth. In the early 1980s, I was invited to New York by David Frost's variety program on NBC for an open debate with Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the atheist who in 1963, brought the court case (Murray v. Curlett) that eliminated official public school prayers.

I was a member of the Family (also known as the Fellowship), described by prominent evangelical Christians as one of the most politically well-connected fundamentalist organizations in the US. On April 4, 1991, I was invited to deliver a speech as part of the Distinguished Lecturer series at Harvard Business School. The speech was titled "The Problem of Ethics," where I argued that a society without a foundation of moral absolutes cannot long survive.

Chuck Colson Hearing His Voice Testimony