may be behind bars, but in many ways he
is more active in Catholic evangelizing than most Catholics living in the outside world.From his
cell in Alabama's Draper Prison, Ford
evangelizes not only with words, but also with wood.Ford
is a much different person today than the one who came to prison 16 years ago."I came to prison a hate-filled and embittered agnostic, living as a practical atheist," said Ford
, who was sentenced to 25 years in 1987.
Ford's agnostic-to-Catholic conversion story is told on the audio-tape No Escape, available through St. Joseph's
As Ford tells it, toward the end of his
first year in prison an older Catholic convict, whom had been inspired by Pope John Paul II to be an evangelist to prisoners, tricked Ford into studying the catechism.After not having much success at first, the older convict appealed to Ford's ego by challenging him to read The Baltimore Catechism #2.He
told him he
doubted that Russ
would be able to answer the questions after reading the book.The tactic worked, sparking an interest in Ford
became convinced by the intellectual realization that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ.After learning of Christ's real presence in the Holy Eucharist, Ford
emotionally embraced the faith.He
was received into the Catholic Church on February 11, 1989 - the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
While on his
own journey of faith, Ford
also became a catechist for others."My chaplain handed me a catechism and urged me to teach other convicts," explained Ford
.Using the Sharing the Faith video series by Father Robert Fox, Ford
continues to teach his fellow inmates about the faith.
now counts 61 godson converts, and has played a direct role in the conversion of nearly 200 other inmates.Perhaps more impressive, the recidivism rate among his
Catholic converts is only 1.6%, compared to a general recidivism rate between 70 and 80 percent for the state.
has written, are drawn by a sense of the sacred.He compares his work as an evangelist to that of being a "tag-team salesman."
"The salesman presents the product with its features and benefits to prospective buyers," said Ford
, "once the presentation has been made, the Holy Spirit comes in for the close."
It is work for which Ford
has paid a price.As a white Catholic evangelist in a predominantly black Evangelical Protestant prison system, Ford
has been beaten by a guard, unjustly locked in solitary confinement, had his
Bible and books confiscated, and has been denied parole five times.His
parole was once denied reportedly because Ford's
priest would not reveal what Ford
had divulged under the seal of the confessional to a female member of the parole board.Ford's
catechetical work has also led him to found an apostolate for prisoners and to engage in apologetics writing.
Reaching Out to those in ChainsFord
apostolate work as a mission of outreach.According to Ford
, there are more than 2 million men and women in the nation's prisons."We are losing the battle for souls in prison by default," said Ford
"The largest mission field in America has almost no Catholic presence in evangelization.The groups competing for convicts' souls are not just Fundamentalists and Islamic sects, but also growing numbers of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Native American spirituality, Wicca, Druidism, and even Satanism," explained Ford
.In response, with the help of his first godson, Phil Hanna, Ford founded First Century Christian Ministries (FCCM) dedicated to evangelizing prisoners in cooperation with prison chaplains.
Another way that Ford
evangelizes is through his
writing.At the urging of Father Killian Mooney, S. T., Ford
began engaging in Catholic writing.
In addition, Ford
is the only Alabama convict to have published a book from prison.His
straightforward and streetwise The Missionary's Catechism (Magnificat Institute Press) poses some 600 questions and answers based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
writing is extraordinary for several reasons.
First, the writing is done amidst the constant noise of the prison, an environment which Ford
admits is anything but conducive to spiritual writing.Second, Ford
has access to neither a computer nor a typewriter.His
articles and books are entirely written by hand.Third, Ford
suffers from arthritis, making writing with a pen difficult."Every word is wrought from pain," said friend and Jewish convert to Catholicism Marty Barrack.
Reaching Out through WoodFord's
words aren't the only thing wrought from pain.Ford
also carries out a woodworking trade from the prison's hobby craft shop.Proceeds from the trade help to fund the work of his
prison apostolate.It's a vocation that Ford
came to by accident.
"I was making rosaries and they were not selling, so I started watching the guys who were doing woodworking," said Ford
, "and I started making things."It is a vocation to which Ford
is able to devote approximately two-and-a-half-hours per day.
Using largely self-taught skills, Ford fashions stunning heirloom gaming tables, ladies jewelry boxes, cigar humidors, rifle racks, quilt racks, and wall and mantle clocks from solid hardwoods, such as cherry, walnut, red oak, maple and mahogany.The one-of-a-kind pieces, such as the rifle cabinet or wall clocks, start at approximately $400-500 and retail for more.
Ford uses hand-rubbed finishes that strongly accent the grains in the wood.Each piece is inconspicuously signed and dated.Delivery typically takes six to eight weeks.
In addition, Ford
also produces a line of decorative Catholic wall carvings.Each carving is meticulously hand-carved by Ford
.The carvings feature one of more than 30 different prayers, such as the Ten Commandments
, Hail Mary, the Prayer of St. Francis and many others.Each plaque is decorated with molded edges and traditional Catholic symbols, such as a Celtic cross, the fleur-de-lis, or a chalice and host.The symbols are accentuated with a partial or complete stone inlay.Ford's
hand-carved wall coverings range in price from $35-50 and retail between $50 and $75.
Last year one customer ordered ten small plaques for her
friends and family as Christmas gifts."I have received many thanks from the recipients," she
said.Federal appellate attorney Fred Isaacs of Lake Oswego, Ore. first learned of Ford through his Catholic writing.
Fred and his wife Nancy, co-direct the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program at their local parish and frequently distribute copies of Ford's
Missionary Catechism to their RCIA students.
Isaacs commissioned Ford
to build a Regulator-style clock.
In addition to individual sales, Ford
also makes his
woodwork available to retail stores.
Marty Barrack has devoted 11 pages to guest apologist Russell Ford
on his own apologetics web site Second Exodus (www.SecondExodus.com).
There, customers can read about Ford
work, see photos of his
woodworking projects, and place orders for his
books and wood products.
does superb work," said Barrack, who owns some of Ford's
woodworking as well.
I know the love for Christ that Russ
pours into every piece, and I know the pain in Russ' arthritic hands that he
offers up to Christ as he