My sister said she had never seen a place like Douglasville; it seemed to have a church on every corner. She was visiting me at the Douglasville County Jail where I had been kept since being arrested on drug charges. It was February 13 1988 and I could have been arrested in any number of places since going on the lam and jumping bail in Miami, but here I was in this hole in the ground that I had never heard of and the state which I most hated. I had always thought of Georgia as the worst place to live and came here only when needed and went right back to my beloved Florida. So to me this was the worst case scenario. Besides I was looking at life for drug related crimes both here and in Florida.
The morning after my sister's visit I sat in the common area to watch the morning news when the door was opened and two men came in, one of which was in a wheelchair. All the men flocked to him and seemed to know him. I asked the guy next to me who he was and he said that it was Buddy Bell the Chaplin. As I watched the men prayed and sang with the man in the wheel chair, all the time I stood as far as I could from him. I had no time for religion and did not believe in God except as a superstition. He rolled his wheelchair around the room and spoke to the men who had just come in, all except for me; he stayed away from me as if he knew I wanted nothing to do with him.
This went on for weeks, we just stayed far away from each other, but I could see him watching me out of the corner of his eyes till one day I just went up to him and shook his hand and then walked of. He had built a chapel by taking up a collection in town since the county had no money. The story was that the sheriff had said yes because he thought Buddy could not raise the money. But he did raise the money. Two days after putting an ad in the local papers he had collected the twenty thousand dollars needed to build Gods little Chapel as he called it.
But he could do no right in my eyes. If he came late to me he was irresponsible if he came early he was a fanatic, if he smiled he was trying to trick me and if he didn't he really didn't like me anyway he was just a hypocrite. With all the stress of the case and being torn apart from my family I had no one to take it out on but Buddy, so I bad mouth him as much as I could. Some days he was in such bad shape that he came in with a clear plastic tent over his chair with an oxygen bottle strapped to it. Wow, I thought this guy really must like what he is doing to come on days like this.
Three months later I was transferred to another prison to await trial and forgot Buddy all together. But he never forgot me; the minute I came through Douglasville again he was there to greet me. He made such a big deal about me that it embarrassed me. He had me stand and talk about my experiences at Talladega where I was being held. A month later I was again transferred back to Douglasville and Buddy was so happy he stayed with me almost the whole day singing and praying in my cell. When he left he told me to start a bible study in my cell and he would get me all the books and hymnals plus the permission needed.
It was Christmas and my sister had sent me a box full of baked goods and clothing plus some drawing materials. For some reason or other it was delivered to Buddy's house and he bought it to the prison. That day he arrived late in the afternoon and I had just arrived from the court room. It was a very depressing day and it had started to snow about 3 PM making it more depressing. He called out my name and as I walked up to him he had another man give me my box, "This is yours and no one has touched it, it is just as your sister Marge handed it to me. I looked and yes the box was still sealed; I looked into his eyes and saw a joy I had never seen, he was so proud of me and for me. I gave most of the food away and the men enjoyed a very good Christmas thanks to Buddy Bell. I drew a special Christmas card and sent it to his house; at the Christmas service he told the men that he had never received a card as beautiful as mine and that he had pinned it to the door of his house.
Now I had established a church in my cell and we averaged ten to fifteen men a night, some were being saved and some were being healed, all this from a person who did not know the bible and had never read it. My first sermon came from a pamphlet published by Alcoholics Anonymous and their ten point program but no one said anything, they were just grateful to have someone who cared. I still was not saved myself and had never thought of making the Christian confession as they called it; I just did it because it pleased Buddy Bell and the love he had shown me. The only Jesus I knew was the one I saw in Buddy and his love for the hurting. Without this man I would never have picked up a bible, eventually he would lead me to Christ even as I had been leading others to Christ without knowing Christ myself.
I was sentenced to life without parole but Buddy never knew my sentence he never asked and never knew why I was being held anyway, he just smiled and always said that Jesus would take care of it. And really he did the life was reduced to 34 years and the 34 years to 25 of which I would do 21.
The last service with Buddy was held in January of 1989. He had me come up and give a testimony then he had an alter call and many came forward to receive Jesus as Lord. Afterward I remember looking at his feet and thinking I should kiss them. There were over 50 men in the chapel that day, when they saw me kneel down to kiss this man's feet they all came forward as an ocean tide and fell on both Buddy and me. Everyone was weeping and repenting at the same time, the whole church was now at the alter and on top of both Buddy and me. I looked up to see Buddy crying and being suffocated at the same time. One by one they took their sits and the service came back to order, I just stood there and cried for hours both for Buddy and me, I had never cried so long. What was it about this man, what made him do it?
Two years later as I was working in the kitchen at Atlanta Penn. The Chaplin came to tell me that someone had called his office to say that Buddy Bell had died and that I should be notified. He must have been very important to you he said. Yes, he was the finest Christian man I have ever met.
About Author / Additional Info:
God has blessed me to meet some of the finest men on the planet.