June 24, 2024

For Another’s Crime

This testimony was originally published in The Apostolic Faith in 1913.

I want to praise God for saving me from a suicide’s death. At the age of sixteen I left my home in Providence, Rhode Island, and wandered around the country until 1891, when I landed in the city of Tacoma, Washington. On my first day in that city, I was arrested and placed in the county jail on suspicion for a murder that had been committed there the night before, a crime I knew nothing about. I was tried and sentenced to the Walla Walla penitentiary for twenty-five years of hard labor, and I served twenty-one years there.

During that time, I spent many days in the dungeon, a place of punishment about twenty feet underground. The last time I was locked down in the dungeon was for some infraction of rules like talking in line. My hands were chained up to the bars of the iron door from seven in the morning till five in the afternoon. On the third day, as I was hung up by the wrists, I prayed to God. I had only one friend in the world and that was the warden’s little daughter, Nellie, who was seven years old. I thought a great deal of the child, and she did of me, because I had saved her when she was attacked by a revengeful prisoner. My prayer in the dungeon was, “O God, if You will soften the warden’s heart and let me see the little girl again, I will serve You in any way and read the Bible to the convicts the rest of my life.” At that time I never expected to see the outside of the prison bars, as I had heart trouble.

When the deputy warden came to let me down for the night and give me my allowance of six ounces of bread and a pint of water, there stood the little girl, and she held out her hand and said, “Come out, Forty-Five; I have come for you. My papa says you shall work in the hospital.” I had been kept at washing dishes for eighteen years, but I went to work at the hospital for the rest of my term. There was smallpox and diphtheria in the hospital at times, but I never was sick. I kept my promise of reading the Bible to the prisoners, and would often get up at night and read to those who were dying. Nellie would also come into the hospital and read and pray with the sick and dying. The last years I was there, she changed my whole life in prison, God bless her!

Wandering the streets, I saw a great light

I stayed in the prison for almost twenty-one years and was released nearly wrecked in body and mind. On the morning I was freed, I was given a train ticket to Portland, Oregon, and arrived there that day. I slept underneath the lumber piles and wandered the streets without food. When I asked for work, the question to me was: “Where did you work last?” When I told them I had been in the penitentiary, everybody turned me away.

After four days without anything to eat or a place to sleep, I made up my mind to end it all by throwing myself off the Burnside Bridge. It was Christmas evening. But as I started to throw myself into the river, the bridge-keeper pulled me down from the rail and said, “You cannot do that!” Then I walked up the street to the corner of Front and Burnside, and as I looked up, I saw what looked like a great lighthouse. I followed it till I came to the sign “MISSION,” which was lit up by electric lights. When I got under it, the power of God held me so that I could not move. Something told me to go inside, so I went in and sat down. I knew then that I was among friends, the first friends I had found in twenty-one years. I felt as if I could stay there the rest of my life.

A sister was giving the message and I drank in every word. She was preaching about the Prodigal Son, my favorite chapter, and asked all those who wanted prayer to raise their hands. I raised mine, but I could not stand up for I was nearly starved to death. A brother took me by the arm and led me to the altar. There I prayed, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I asked God to wash my soul in the Blood of Jesus, and I know He washed me as white as snow. As I felt the precious Blood flow over my soul, I fainted from hunger. When I came to, I told them all about what had happened, and they helped me recover my strength.

A few days after that, I was sanctified by a second, definite work of grace. It was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to this ex-convict, and it makes me happy all the time! It was just like a great ball of fire came from Heaven into my soul and took all the old carnal nature out of me. But the most wonderful thing was that a few days afterward, God baptized me with the Holy Ghost and fire, and I spoke in another tongue according to His power.

“He came across the Burnside Bridge with thoughts of suicide, and saw the mission sign. He came up the long stairway, and the ushers pointed for him to take a seat as the service was in progress. After the service he was too weak to walk to the altar, so on his knees, he pushed one of these kitchen chairs up the aisle toward the altar. He’d had nothing to eat for days. He had spent time in prison for a crime which he had known nothing about. He had forgotten his right name, but went by “Number Forty-Five,” which he had in prison all those years.” – Edna Crawford

Power to forgive the unforgivable

One night after that, as I was testifying and telling my story during a church service, a man sat at the back of the hall and tears began to run down his cheeks. Then he got up and ran out. A few days later, I met someone who told me that a man who knew something about my life had gone to San Francisco because he was ill. I thought he might know where my dear old mother was, so I took the next boat to San Francisco. I went from hospital to hospital and found the man at last in the City and County Hospital, dying with tuberculosis. I knew him by the description given me of a scar on his cheek.

I then went and asked the superintendent of the hospital for work. He said, “Where did you work last?” I lifted my heart to God and said, “O God, You have done so much for me; help me out again.” I told him my story and the tears rolled down his face. He shook hands with this old ex-convict and said, “Report for duty tonight at eight o’clock.” God had answered my prayer.

I worked for nearly a month in that hospital before I could have a conversation with this man. He was suffering with what they called tuberculosis of the spinal column. One night, as I was going down the hospital ward with my Bible under my arm, he said, “Will you read to me about the Prodigal Son?” I opened the Book to the fifteenth chapter of Luke and read and explained it the best I could in my simple way. And while I was talking, he put his arms around my neck and said, “Will you forgive me for the wrong I have done you?”

I said, “You never did me any wrong. Do you know where my mother is?”

He said, “No, I know nothing about your people, but I am the man that committed the crime that you were sent to the Walla Walla Penitentiary for.” He confessed that he was the one who had shot the man in Tacoma who was found dead in a boxcar. He said, “I want you to forgive me for the years that you were behind the walls of the old penitentiary.”

My mind went back to the long years I had spent in the prison. I thought of the ball and chain I carried on my leg for two years, the whipping post and the thirty lashes I received on my back, the time I was shot in my leg, and the weeks I had spent in the dungeon. It took more than me to forgive him, though I wanted to do it from the bottom of my heart.

I left him, and God led me to a little room off the hall. I shut the door, locked it, and got down on my knees and prayed for nearly three hours. I forgot hospital patients and everything else, and I talked to God and prayed and wrestled. At last, a sweet peace came over my soul, and it seemed to me that a Voice said, “Forgive him for My sake.”

I went back and took that man in my arms and said, “I forgive you for all the injuries that you have done to me, but you will have to ask God to forgive you, too.” Some say that they could not do that, but if you get sanctified the way that I did, you could do it.

After a short time, he called me over to his bed and asked me the way of salvation. He said he wanted to get it just the way I got it. So I told him, “You will have to ask God to forgive you.” He could not get on his knees, but I heard him say time and time again, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” I saw big tears roll down his cheeks as he was crying to God for mercy, and I know that that man was saved before he died.

He asked me afterwards if I would baptize him. I could not take him out to the river, but God led me to use the bathtub. I filled it clear to the top and then took him in my arms and carried him there (he weighed only ninety-eight pounds). I put him down to the bottom and said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Three days after that, he died in my arms.

When I go to be with Jesus, I shall meet this man. Though his hands were stained with blood, I know I’ll meet him in Heaven. I want to praise God’s holy Name and His precious Blood to the end of my life.

apostolic faith magazine