Bob comes from the Far North. At birth his parents gave him to his grandparents. At 13 Bob and his grandparents moved from rural Northland to inner-city Auckland. They might as well have landed on another planet.
Teenage years saw Bob recruited into the King Cobras gang where he rose to become next to the president in seniority and notoriety. Inevitably, crime led to prison eventually resulting in a long sentence in the dreaded D block of Paremoremo.
There Bob was feared and respected universally. Those who dared to mess with Bob soon found out what the fury of a King Cobra meant. Bob eventually scored the ultimate of prison sentences when he was committed to preventative detention. It can’t get worse than that, this side of the gallows. The theory is that PDs are beyond redemption and reformation. So the theory goes!
This might have been essentially the end of Bob’s story, were it not for a remarkable and frankly miraculous sequence of events. The first of these involved a highly perceptive Catholic Sister who, knowing that Bob had no time for the church and wouldn’t darken its doors, offered Bob the prize job of prison chapel cleaner.
Bob took it on, and admits now that he made the job last as long as possible each day.
The second event happened one day when Bob was talking with another prisoner. The conversation turned to other jails, and Linton Prison in particular. The other prisoner mentioned that Linton Prison had a special unit for ‘those who wanted to change their lives’. Something clicked in Bob’s mind.
A third unexpected event occurred one day when an officer came to Bob’s cell and asked him if he would like to go to Linton Prison. Bob could hardly believe his ears. He’d never been asked such a thing in all his prison career.
At Linton, Bob gladly accepted the chaplain’s invitation to attend chapel – the cleaner was now ready for cleaning. He attended and, week by week, the lights came on. Bob was invited to apply for the Alpha Unit but was warned that his offence, his high security rating, his terrible record inside and out, and the long waiting list, might mean he would have to wait several years before a place could be found for him.
Bob didn’t even have time to fill in the application form. There was a knock on his cell door, and he was invited to the Alpha Unit. No one knows how it happened and at one point, soon after, bewildered administrators started asking questions as to how this dangerous prisoner had landed up in the Alpha Unit. It wasn’t a place for his sort! The enquiry came within an ace of having Bob ejected, but another hand was in the equation, and that hand prevailed.
Bob’s a trophy of God’s grace. He’s a humble, desperately sincere disciple of Christ. He glows with an inner light.
Were this story not proved to be true, one could be excused for thinking that an over-active imagination was at work here. Not so, just a sovereignly functioning God who, having identified his man, began to open gates (as in Acts 12) to this other most unlikely of disciples and one of the most authentic.
Chaplains say the Alpha Unit is changing hearts and minds.