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founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries
Charles Wendell Colson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 16, 1931. He attended Browne & Nichols high school in Cambridge, received his Bachelor of Arts from Brown University in 1953, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1955, and graduated with honors with a Justice Degree from George Washington University in 1959.
In between his studies and military career, Colson dabbled in politics. In 1948 he was a volunteer in the re-election campaign of Massachusetts Governor Robert Bradford. From 1955 to 1956 he served as Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He then worked on the U.S. Senate campaign of Leverett Saltonstall, for which he was rewarded with the position of Administrative Assistant from 1956 to 1961. In 1961 he became a partner in the law firm of Gadsby and Hannah, and remained in that position until 1969.
Richard Nixon's "Right-Hand Man"
In 1968, Colson served as counsel to presidential candidate Richard Nixon's Key Issues Committee. Upon Nixon's election, he became Special Counsel to the President. In this position he served as the political communications liaison with special interest groups such as organized labor, veterans, farmers, etc. He was also responsible for drafting legal briefs on particular issues, reviewing presidential appointments, etc. He resigned from the White House in 1973 to return to private law practice, as Senior Partner at the Colson and Shapiro Law Firm.
As Nixon's "right-hand man" in the White House, Colson was an obvious target during the Watergate scandal. He was accused of trying to hire Teamsters "thugs" to beat up anti-war demonstrators, of plotting to raid and/or firebomb the Brookings Institution, and of helping to compile Nixon's infamous "Enemies List."
On March 1, 1974, Colson was indicted for conspiracy to cover up the Watergate burglary. Denying any involvement in the burglary itself, Colson ultimately pled guilty to obstruction of justice -- he admitted to leaking information from Daniel Ellsberg's confidential FBI file to the press in an effort to discredit the man who had made the "Pentagon Papers" public. He was subsequently disbarred, fined $5,000, and sentenced to one to three years in prison. He served seven months in Alabama's Maxwell Prison before being released by the sentencing judge due to serious family problems.
Prison Fellowship Ministries
During the height of the Watergate hearings in 1973, Colson had announced that he had been born again, but few took him seriously. In 1976 he released Born Again, a book in which he documented his conversion to Christianity. The book was made into a film of the same name in 1978.
Colson used the considerable royalties from Born Again to found Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) in 1976. It was (and still is) Colson's belief that reconciliation among offenders, victims, their families, and communities should be a ministry of the Church. Now the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families, PFM operates in a vast majority of American correctional institutions. It publishes the most widely distributed prison newspaper, and PFM pen pals correspond with some 27,000 prisoners. Studies have consistently shown that inmates particpating in PFM activities are 60% less likely to be reincarcerated than non-participating inmates.
Colson's personal experience with prison life, combined with his frequent visits to prisons around the country, gave him reason to be concerned for prison conditions, as well as for the efficacy of the American criminal justice system. He founded Justice Fellowship to answer those concerns in 1983. Believing that non-violent offenders should not be jailed and that drug offenders should be treated rather than incarcerated, Justice Fellowship works to keep those potential inmates in the community in which their crimes were committed so that they can work and support their families and pay restitution to victims. Now the nation's largest faith-based criminal justice reform group, Justice Fellowship-type programs have been successfully implemented in many American communities.
Charles Colson died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 21, 2012.
To help stem the cycle of crime and poverty, PFM introduced Angel Tree, a program that provides Christmas presents to more than 500,000 children of inmates annually on behalf of their incarcerated parents. The program also helps send the children of prisoners to Christian summer camps.
Prison Fellowship International, founded in 1979, now has chapters in 88 countries.
"BreakPoint," a daily radio feature launched in 1991, provides a Christian worldview on everyday issues and conflicts. It is currently aired on over 1,000 stations nationwide.
Born Again (1976)
honorary doctorates from several
colleges and universities
In 2000, Florida Governor Jeb Bush reinstated the rights taken away by his felony conviction, including the right to vote.
Charles Colson married Nancy Billings in 1953. The couple had two sons and one daughter before divorcing in 1964. He married Patricia Ann Hughes on April 4, 1964.
This page was last updated on February 23, 2017.