New Life on Death Row

BY BENNETT ROLAN, DIGITAL EDITOR

Mark’s voice echoed off the stark concrete walls as he repeated the simple confession of faith. Kneeling between two rows of locked cells, Mark surrendered his life to Christ. Witnessed by guards and fellow inmates, Mark was baptized in the hallway of Polunsky Prison’s death row unit in Livingston, Texas. Though physically bound by chains, Mark found freedom in the forgiveness of His Savior. 

In the eyes of the world, Mark is felon, sentenced to spend years in solitary confinement. As a maximum-security location, Polunsky Prison inmates location, carry sentences of 20 years or greater. The facility also serves as the state’s only men’s death-row location, holding hundreds of men who may ultimately face the death penalty.

Mark lives in complete isolation, cut off from the rest of the prison population. But the magnitude of his criminal conviction is not beyond the redemption of Christ’s work on the Cross.

Through a BSF satellite group, men in solitary confinement are able to study God’s Word independently in their remote prison cells. Personal contact is restricted, but the men do get to correspond with local BSF leaders who deliver their lessons each week. Through written comments on the lesson material, BSF leaders provide encouragement and accountability to the men on death row who aren’t allowed to attend discussion groups. They also have access to their weekly BSF lecture through the prison’s radio station. 

When asked in Lesson 8, “How might your current situation be an opportunity to positively influence how those around you view God?” one man in isolation answered: “By showing them that all the things may seem tuff, you can use this in a positive manner and learn about God and grow within.”  

To the Lesson 9 question, “Whom can you thank for offering God’s grace and blessing to you? How will you thank God for them?” another man on death row responded:

The magnitude of his criminal conviction is not beyond the redemption of Christ’s work on the cross.

“This BSF program and the ESV Bible. Servitude.”  

For these men, BSF offers a lifeline to a community with believers and a reminder that they are not alone. In the general prison population, three BSF Discussion Groups meet weekly, led by local BSF leaders.

“The men at Polunsky are worthy of our time,” Group Leader Purvis Harper  said. “These men are at rock bottom. They’ve had all their chances in society and burned them all. When they have no other place to turn and are craving answers, the answer is Christ. The Lord is playing such a vital role.  Many either find Christ or re-ignite their faith from past exposure, knowing they either find peace where God has put them, or live in agony, fear and frustration during their long and sometimes lifetime sentences. 

Freedom in Prison

For Purvis, a retired pediatrician and long-time BSF leader, prison ministry was an unexpected, yet undeniable, call from the Lord.  

“When I retired, the Lord put it into my heart to build on a previous experience with prison ministry,” he shared. “I have seen how vital this ministry is, how the men’s lives can change when they are introduced to God’s Word.  

The entire atmosphere of 3,000 men has changed through the different Christian programs that go through. The men who are called to BSF are serious students of Christ. Their answers are so profound, so genuine and so open. 

“Through their faith, they know they are paying their debt back to society and are able to say, ‘Wherever I am, I’m going to serve the Lord.’ That’s a huge step in the prison population. Through the years, Christ has transformed Polunsky from its former nickname, ‘Terrible Terrell,’ to what is now known as ‘The God Unit.’ A true miracle to the power and persistence of Christ.”  

BSF Leader Purvis Harper

For one BSFer named James, God’s Word offers more than comfort. Through BSF and other Christian programs, James has discovered a purpose. In a recent conversation with Purvis, James shared that he grew up in a Christian home. Familiar with the gospel, James rejected its truth.  

“He said, ‘I had the head knowledge of Christ but didn’t have the heart knowledge of Christ,’ ” Purvis shared. 

In college, James rebelled against his family’s faith, seeking financial fortune above all else. When he was implicated in an illegal scheme, James was ultimately sentenced to 35 years at Polunsky. Though he continues to appeal his case and seek parole, James has discovered a sense of peace.

“When he was taken from the courtroom to the county jail, he came very close to committing suicide. He broke down and gave his life to Christ,” Purvis said. 

“Now, 14 years later, James is a well-respected inmate. Nobody messes with James because he’s so genuine and does so much good for the men. He’s truly to the state where Paul was when he said, ‘Whether I live or die, I’m going to be with Christ.’ He lives that out and loves the in-depth nature of BSF. He just loves studying the Bible and actively discussing it with other men in Discussion Group. 

In prison, James uses his influence and education to minister to other inmates.

“He says, ‘God, you’ve put me here for a reason, and I am going to be faithful,’” Purvis shared.  

Within His Reach

For men like Mark and James, freedom from prison is a faraway dream. As their hope of release dims with each parole board denial, God’s Word confirms that no man is beyond His reach. 

One BSFer on death row wrote this about God’s promises: “John 10:29, no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Yes, I am a child of God.”

Like the men of Polunskyour sin separates us from God. But through the eternal reach of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are never beyond God’s grasp.

In Genesis 37 and 39, we read about Joseph, who was abandoned in a cistern and sold into slavery. In his darkest moments, Scripture repeats a simple phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph. 

In Joseph’s suffering, God had a plan and a purpose for Joseph that stretched beyond his circumstances. Through his family’s deceit and his unjust imprisonment, God was preparing Joseph to save an entire nation. But as he sat in a prison cell, unjustly accused, Joseph wasn’t consumed by the future. His focus was on the present.

For these men, BSF offers a lifeline to community with believers and a reminder that they are not alone.

Genesis 39:2022 tells us, “… But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. … So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.” 

Fixing his eyes on eternity, Joseph faithfully followed the Lord in his suffering. Like Joseph, we are called to seek God today, without worrying about tomorrow. So where might God be calling you to serve? Maybe it’s inviting a friend to BSF or sharing the gospel with a family member. Wherever we are, God has a plan and purpose for His people.  

For the men of Polunsky, prison is a constant reminder of criminal convictions and bleak futures. But God’s Word offers hope in the darkest corner of the loneliest cell. For these believers, each day is new opportunity to share God’s grace with those who seem beyond forgiveness. 

Interested in starting a BSF group in your local prison? Contact your Teaching Leader for more information. 

155 Comments

  1. GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!
    ALL THE TIME GOD IS GOOD!

  2. Wow what a beautiful story of God’s grace and love. A big thanks to Purvis for hearing God’s call.

  3. Thank you. Great

  4. Please pray for Pervis Payne, a black man with an intellectual disability who was convicted of murders he has consistently denied having committed. He has been on death row for 33 years and may face execution April 9, 2021.

    • “Focusing on living only today’s life”.
      Thank you for sharing such a powerful message.

    • Dear Jesus,
      Please be with this man who has been on death row for a long time. Give him your peace, strength and encouragement while he sits in jail. Help him to continue to seek your will.
      Amen

    • May God have mercy on his soul.

  5. Joseph …..His focus was on the present. What a powerful thought, not past mistakes, or fears of the future! But living each day to it’s fullest! Good word for today!!

  6. We serve a mighty Good God…

  7. God bless you and strengthen you, Purvis Harper. I will pray for your ministry and victory in Christ for these inmates.
    BSF is the rock of my life also. To God be the glory.

    • Thank you, Norma. And Yes, To God Be the Glory!

  8. What a witness to the truth that with God nothing is impossible! To God be the Glory

  9. Dear Purvis Harper God bless your life and this call , I feel the same call for the lost people ,and even if yet I can’t do so much , will be praying and hopefully in the right time will be able to help and support this amazing ministry . God knows everything and is amazing His way / count on my prayers , I love BSF for this ,teach us the word in a so amazing way and also to equip and help us to follow and live what we believe and what is in Gods Word.

  10. I am at Colorado state penitentiary. How does your program work?

  11. If God can save me – through the tool of BSF He can save and change anybody!!!! So excited for these guys!

    • Mmmmm I’m challenged by the word being studied in prison and prisoners receiving Jesus Christ as their saviour and receiving salvation
      God help to be able to share the word in prisons and not to judge
      We are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s grace

      • No person is beyond the reach of our God Almighty! I have come to believe this without a doubt!

  12. BSF is by far and away the most inspirational bible study I have ever done. I have done 7 years in prison ministry for both men and women. How I wish I had had the opportunity to share BSF with them at the time. I was so moved and again inspired by this beautiful sharing of what BSF has done for these men in prison. God has a wonderful opportunity to speak to the hearts of these men and women while incarcerated. They are broken and lonely and a perfect chance to receive hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Blessings to this team for their wonderful gift of God’s calling and for sharing their faithfulness to sharing his word.

  13. What good news to hear of this arm of BSF. It describes the prison ministry to which the Lord led me in mentor ing prisoners through writing letters and responding to the Bible Lessons they have completed. For me, I have had my eyes open and heart to understand more clearly, Christ’s Words “I was in prison and you visited Me.” I have been blessed to see the Works of our Faithful God. “I thank God for placing me in prison in order to get my attention” is a confession from many. With God, there are no barriers!

    • Mary Lou , you are so right ! Some of us are in prison cells physically , but others like myself are there mentally. Years of shame and regret for disastrous choices made and the ramifications of . Jesus blood poured out covers all … washed as white as snow … Praise God , the Great I Am , for eternal life and tens of thousands of yrs in His presence beyond this temporary suffering now ! 2 Cor 4:18

  14. What beautiful testimony to the power of God and that as He can reach into the depths of our hearts and transform us so can he reach into the depths of this prison and grip hearts and transform them for his glory. ❤️??

  15. how wonerfulto see people who were once tied to the evils of this world now have their souls anchored to Christ Jesus our lord & Saviour

    • Amen!

  16. Thank you for sharing this beautiful & empowering story. Truly, no one is beyond the reach of the gospel.
    Thank you for your commitment & obeying God’s call in serving the least of these.

  17. What a beautiful and powerful reminder that our God is unstoppable – His plans will not be thwarted. The Holy Spirit goes through bolted doors and barred windows. God is mightily using BSF in these once broken and now healed lives! Thank You, Jesus?

  18. The impact of the Gospel in prisons is inspiring. By BSF making a pdf of all the lessons and notes available to all has been a huge blessing.

  19. “The dying thief rejoiced to see
    The fountain in that day”
    The Word of God is unstoppable … praising God for the mighty work and effort of Bsf to reach out to the ends of the world.

  20. Thank you for sharing your story. It is so amazing to see how God works in the lives of those that are in prison. Thanks be to God for BSF! It is interesting to hear how the Lord changes lives. To God be the glory.

  21. A shout out to God and thanksgiving for His grace and mercy that led Purvis to be able to serve. What a substantial blessing!

  22. Such an inspiration of the power of God’s word! Makes me more thankful and proud to be a part of BSF!! Nothing is impossible with our God!

  23. I loved this testimony of God’s changing grace!
    My favorite part was:
    “Through the years, Christ has transformed Polunsky from its former nickname, ‘Terrible Terrell,’ to what is now known as ‘The God Unit.’ A true miracle to the power and persistence of Christ.” “
    All praise to our Great God!

  24. This is such a great proof of the Omnipotent-Omnipresent-Omniscient GOD who can reach anyone and desires all to know Him! Praise to EL Shaddai and his gracious servants! Such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing! Praying for these men!

  25. Praise God! What encouraging stories, and a real challenge to go and share the gospel!

  26. There will never be a barrier too thick, nor too high that the LORD cannot enter. And no matter how hardened the heart, nor the head the Holy Spirit is capable of softening that carapace which surrounds the one’s that seem to have forgotten we are all God’s children. We were all first touched by this incredible, supernatural Savior, as He breathed His Life and Love into each man, woman and child. Praise God, that He is inescapable and He will NEVER give up on us.

  27. Thank you for this true story and our magnificent God work among prisoners. Vivian Even

  28. What a beautiful testimony of men moving from desperation to hope in the work Our Precious Savior has done on our behalf. What an awesome God we serve. And what an inspiration for all BSF members to reach out to the unreachables.

  29. Praise God for this awesome and much needed prison ministry that is providing light in the midst of darkness and giving hope and encouragement to those who are hurting and in despair. What an awesome GOD we serve and to Him be all the glory.

  30. This is amazing. Praise God and blessings on the prison ministry workers.

  31. I have been so moved by the true testimony of Purvis Harper. He was called by God through BSF to reach souls for Christ. What an amazing God we Serve especially prisoners chained to sin behind the prison walls Thanks for sharing. I have had an opportunity to visit women in prison. My friend from BSF invited me to go. She had a bible study ready, and I sat listening to women’s stories of struggles with addictions. I will never forget that experience Jesus came to set the captives free. Nothing can snatch us or separate us from the Love of God.

  32. Glory to God. Shinning for Christ in whatever circumstances or situations we find ourselves in., and knowing that there is a reason for every season.

    • Our God is AMAZING!!! To Him be the glory!!

  33. In northwest Louisiana Kairos Prison Ministry has been active in David Wade Correctional Center, near Homer, La., for many years. Several Kairos brothers who are also active in Bible Study Fellowship have recently brought BSF inside the prison walls (Genesis would have been our third session). This year was interrupted by the pandemic, but we see a glimmer of light at the end of this dark road of separation. Security limitations prevent the use of Internet lectures via MyBSF.org, but our men’s lecture is now uploaded for other satellite groups and recorded to DVD for use by the prison groups. The entire Genesis class has been recorded in hope of being able to return soon.

    • This is very encouraging. We find some prisons in exactly the same shape. Our second satellite group to the Walls Unit in Huntsville are getting to go in for the first time for a year this week. They will start with the Joseph ministudy to kick off Genesis. It has been a long drought year for them. Our chaplain has allowed CVCA’s in for almost the whole year so our Satellite group in Polunsky has continued through out the pandemic with some lockdown intrusions. May the Lord bless your efforts and allow you in soon! Thank you for bringing BSF to your prison. I too was introduced to prison ministry through Kairos and God called me from that experience into Prison BSF. Praise God.

  34. Praise to the Lord. Thanks so much for your service to our great God.

  35. This is amazing !!! God’s mercy and grace is available to any and everyone. This is a truly blessed ministry. Miss Johnson had no idea the magnitude of what God would bring about by her first study with just a few women. Bible Study Fellowship has been and continues to be a vital part of my spiritual growth . Thanks for sharing this blessed news.❤️??

    • AMEN!!!

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