Every morning, DeShon Lawrence stands with roughly 400 of his fellow inmates to recite the Brother’s Creed. “I pledge to think my best, to speak my best, to act my best …” It’s a unifying promise, to respect each other and the program at Georgia’s Walker State Prison. And they believe in it, too. Each of them petitioned the state for inclusion in this unique two-year character-based rehabilitation.
Most will fulfill their prison term with the completion of the program. Then there are lifers like Lawrence, ineligible for parole until they’ve served 30 years. Incarcerated for 26 years, Lawrence is now in his sixth year at Walker, where he mentors other men. “We change the minds,” he says. “And if you change the mind, you can change the heart.”
Many years ago Lawrence had a heart change of his own, coming to faith in Christ because of the words of a fellow inmate. “You have to be broken … When I stopped sowing those seeds that I didn’t like, the light came on. I woke up.” But the general prison system wasn’t conducive to developing his faith, so in 2011 he applied for the new program at Walker. “I knew it was what I needed.”
His days begin at 4 a.m., when he listens to the Bible on his Messenger. “My grandmother used to say, ‘God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you can listen more and talk less.’ With the Messenger, I just need to be listening, paying attention, adhering to the Word.” Lawrence also uses Dr. Stanley’s Life Principles to sharpen his perspective. His favorite—“God blesses us so that we might bless others”—reminds him to serve.
He leads by being active among the men, challenging them to be better brothers, husbands, and sons. He wants them prepared for life after prison. “The key is staying out,” he says. It’s why he also teaches a GED prep course and facilitates a typing class.
But Lawrence’s influence extends beyond these walls: Determined to impact his 27-year-old son in a positive way, he writes to him constantly. And not only has his son steered clear of trouble; he’s also the program coordinator for a national foundation. “I never imagined he’d be the guy he is,” Lawrence says.
Despite his longing to be liberated from prison, Lawrence recognizes there’s a season for that. For now, he is grateful: “Without coming to prison, I would be dead.”
Photograph by Ben Rollins