• 0

God’s work in the life of a bank robber

Charles Wagner, founder of Gramazin, and his 24-year-old son Chad, co-founder, visited a convicted “bank robber” at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania on March 21, 2015.

Read the first article in this two-part series.

“Peter” greeted us with a bright smile and a strong handshake.  His nicely groomed appearance was that of a professional and he had a countenance of confidence.

After he embraced his father, who had just made his 153rd trip across Pennsylvania to visit his son, Peter led us to a table in the large room where the number of prisoners being visited by friends and family may have been outnumbered by the number of cameras.  Chad and I proceeded to ask Peter questions about his troubled youth, his adult crimes, his arrest, and life in person.  His answers reflected a man who is transparent and candid, unafraid of speaking the truth about the mistakes he has made in life.

This was a man, dressed in the dark maroon jumpsuit worn by every inmate, who was remorseful and repentant.  He has committed his life to restitution, for the damage he caused his own family as well as the damage he caused total strangers.  He stated that he understands he deserves to be where he is.

During his first few years in prison, Peter built respect with the gangs in the prison by his status as a violent offender, his continued deviant behavior, which led to solitary confinement,  and as a man quite capable of defending his honor.  However, God was at work in his life.  A compassionate guard enabled Peter to find a job in the prison and it was at that job that Peter became friends with a “lifer”, a strong man of faith who challenged Peter to turn his life around.

Over the past few years, Peter has dedicated himself to attending worship services, successfully earning an associates degree from a university in Ohio, and leading a group of prisoners who direct their energies to living a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.  God has demonstrated in his life that He is a god of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Peter has dedicated his story, which includes drugs and alcohol, numerous minor arrests, drag racing, and his survival of a half-dozen serious car accidents, to making a difference in the lives of young people.  It is his heart’s desire to help prevent at least one young person from making the same mistakes he made.  Students at a Bucks County high school have already reached out to Gramazin after hearing Peter’s testimony.  God is a god of hope, turning a life of total disaster into a ministry that can save lives and souls.

Are you kidding?  There is no correction going on here! ” Peter exclaims with passion.  “Prisoner’s lives aren’t being turned around by the institution!  It’s the people on the outside who make the difference!  It’s the people who come in and visit us and write to us, and let us know they are praying for us and that they care!  There are so many prisoners in here who have no one!  No one!  No one cares about them!”

We said our goodbyes after our four hour conversation.  As Chad and I walked out of the prison, going through various checkpoints, we never felt in danger, even as we were in a room with 20 inmates, any of whom could have been a convicted murderer.  Peter had made it very clear – there was a code in the prison that everyone of the 2,200 inmates understood – the place where families and friends are permitted to meet with prisoners was off limits to any violence.  It had to be a safe place or no prisoner would be able to enjoy the compassion of outsiders they so desperately need.

Will you have compassion on prisoners?  Will you make a difference in the life of just one prisoner?  What prison ministry can you join?  Can you give up one morning, afternoon, or evening to let a prisoner know they can have hope, that their life can be changed by the God who loves them?  Commit your heart to Matthew 25:36 today!  No more excuses!

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

  • 0

Christians, 5 reasons you shouldn’t visit bank robbers!

Charles Wagner, founder of Gramazin, and his 24-year-old son Chad, co-founder, visited a convicted “bank robber” at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania on March 21, 2015.

Read the second article in this two-part series.

A young man, who we will call “Peter”, owes his drug dealer $ 8,000. A gun is put to his head – “Give me my money or you are dead!” In fear for his life, desperate for money and the drugs he is addicted to, Peter robs four banks and a drug store in Bucks County Pennsylvania. One morning a few weeks later, the FBI and the local police arrest him at the home of his girlfriend’s parents. He is sentenced to a minimum of 5 years at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, your pastor is delivering a sermon series on Matthew 25. In verse 36, he shares how Jesus has instructed His followers in this passage to visit prisoners while they are in prison. However, this is one of those moments when the pew-sitter knows more than Jesus and their pastor.

They say to themselves: “I can think of at least five reasons that I, even as a Christian, should never visit a prisoner in jail!”

  1. Peter doesn’t deserve mercy. He’s a bank robber! Who does that? I wouldn’t do that! None of my friends would do that! His actions that led him to prison are so alien to me that it dehumanizes him. He seems more like an animal. I cannot possibly minister to an animal. He earned this and now he must live with it. I judge him!
  2. There is no hope for Peter. Alright, so he isn’t an animal. However, there is no hope for him. Once a bank robber, always a bank robber. There is nothing that can be done to prevent him from once more donning a ski mask and walking into a bank after his release from prison. It is inevitable he will do it again. He is lost to a destructive life that he will never escape. I feel sorry for him.
  3. Peter is being rehabilitated by the state. The prison is another shining example of the effectiveness of government. There is hope because our tax dollars are at work. I’m sure Peter is receiving outstanding rehabilitation in the prison. There are probably all kinds of wonderful secular programs to help Peter rebuild his life and the authorities have a game plan to turn him into an ideal citizen.  I’m sure his fellow prisoners are encouraging him to better himself, helping him grow and heal.
  4. Other Christians are visiting Peter.  I’m sure some other Christian is visiting him. A friend or family member. There must be someone. Aren’t there prison ministries? I’m sure such ministries are fully staffed with committed volunteers who faithfully visit prisoners like Peter on a regular basis and skillfully make a difference in their lives. That’s a relief to my conscience – I’m too busy! I’ve got too many things going on in my life to visit any prisoner in jail.
  5. I’ll be killed or pick up some horrific disease. I’m not going anywhere near Peter’s prison! I will probably be attacked in some manner. I might pick up a disease of some kind. Maybe there will be a prison riot while I’m there. Maybe I’ll be mistaken as a prisoner and I’ll never get out again. No, I’ll just say a prayer for Peter and hope Jesus ministers to him behind that frightening barbed wire.

Yup. We know more than Jesus on this issue. Visiting prisoners in 2015 AD is so much different than it was in 30 AD. If Jesus were here now, He wouldn’t tell us to visit prisoners. He wouldn’t tell us that Peter deserves mercy. He understands we are better than Peter. He too would say there is no hope for Peter. Jesus would tell us that state programs and not His love will change Peter’s life. He would understand we are too busy to visit prisoners. He would tell us to be so afraid of prisons that we should stay far away from them.

“Hey, pastor. It’s about time to rethink Matthew 25:36! You shouldn’t be asking me to visit prisoners. Quaint but no longer applicable anymore!”

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Read the second article in this two-part series.

  • 1

Reflections After Working on a Farm for Chester County Foodbank

Tags : 

photo 1It’s been nearly 24 hours and my fingers, despite many hand washings, still smell like onions.

Chad and I spent three hours removing the stalks from thousands of onions at Pete’s Produce Farm in West Chester, PA, volunteering our time for the Chester County Food Bank. The thousands of onions we processed yesterday will tweak the taste buds of hungry families throughout the county. It was a pleasure serving alongside six other adults and two elementary age twin boys.

The scent of onions on my fingers is a metaphor of how volunteering is supposed to be. We shouldn’t forget the experience the day after. We need to avoid the “I did that, I can cross it off my bucket list or put it on my resume” kind of thinking that can so easily satisfy the thoughts of volunteers. People in need wake up day after day longing for relief from their despair. It’s somehow fitting if the scent of their struggle continues to emanate from the fingers of volunteers long after the experience.

Helping people in need is messy. Dirty. Sometimes outright repulsive with stench. Literally and metaphorically. Their lives can be a big mess. There are odors associated with caring for people who can’t take care of themselves physically. The incarcerated and the poor don’t live in houses whose scent can be labeled as Ocean Breeze or Apple Meadow. In some cultures, the people who need our help have open sewers right outside their front door. The smell of onions on my fingers one revolution of the earth later is a bargain!

The Chester County Food Bank does a wonderful job scheduling hundreds of volunteers to serve at the many farms they partner with across the county. Volunteers plant, weed, and harvest throughout the various seasons of the year. Individuals, nonprofits, and businesses, as well as those ordered by the court, all donate their time to help their neighbors who cannot afford to eat. A walk through their state-of the-art and amazingly clean facility in Exton, PA leaves you with the impression of an organization that knows exactly how to provide nutritious and safe meals for thousands of families – day after day.

With the money they have invested in their efficient systems, the charity could have bought thousands of processed and ready to eat meals for families from Oxford to Pottstown. However, once those meals are consumed, the food storehouses would be empty and the families will be hungry once more. Instead, they invested the funds into farming –planting seeds, cultivating the plants, and then harvesting corn, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, onions, and more vitamin and nutrient rich vegetables in order to feed thousands on a long-term basis.

Volunteers will get dirty. They will get pricked and scratched by thorny weeds. But that is fine – that is what volunteering is really about – getting dirty and exhausted day after day so that others can recover from adversity in life. May the onion smell on your fingers remind you for days after you volunteer that it will be a joy to do it again because the need never goes away.

Onions before we removed the stalks, along with 8 other volunteers.

Onions before we removed the stalks, along with 8 other volunteers.

Onions after we removed the stalk at Pete's Produce Farm, volunteering on behalf of Chester County Food Bank.

Onions after we removed the stalk at Pete’s Produce Farm, volunteering on behalf of Chester County Food Bank.

Archived Website

This is an archived website. Visit www.gramazin.com for our newest website. We maintain this older website because we believe content on here is still relevant to people in crisis.