Dead Man Walking, Praising Jesus
My name is Wayne Raney and I have spent the last 29 years of my life behind prison walls. I began my sentence in Jan. 1971. On January 13th, 1972, I was sitting in a cell on Death Row at Ohio Penitentiary awaiting my execution. I was to die that day but what the state of Ohio failed to realize was that I was already dead.
Physically I was alive – but inside I was dead. I was filled with bitterness, with despair. As I sat in my cell awaiting death. I pondered my fate. And I saw my pending execution as being more merciful than having to spend the rest of my life in prison. I had no fear of death. I saw it as my escape. I was guilty of murder and I accepted the state’s cry (an eye for an eye.) So be it!
That was the attitude that I had while I was on death row, as I awaited my execution.
The way I saw it, I was already dead anyway. And the guards never let you forget what awaited you. Every time you were taken out of your cell, you’d be under a guard escort and they would holler, “Dead man walking” and ALL movement would come to a halt.
My life had come to a halt! When I first entered Ohio Penitentiary, as I was escorted through its gate. I saw engraved within stone above the gate, “All Who Enter Here Leave All Hope Behind.”
That’s what I did! Prison does that to you. It robs you of hope, of life, of your very soul. It is Satan’s house. And he rules here. And there was a time when he ruled over me.
For many years hatred and bitterness were my only companions and I embraced them as you would a friend, for that is where I drew my strength. I used it as a source of food – it nourished me, it drove me, it gave me the strength, the determination to live, to go on day after day, month after month, year after year while in prison.
As the years passed, that hatred grew, flourished inside prison walls and within me. Prison breeds hatred and despair and everyone who’s lived behind prison walls any length of time, falls victim to it in one form or another.
When you are exposed to the violence, the brutality, the cruelties, the degradation of prison life year after year, it leaves you hard and calloused. It conditions you to be that way. You have to be that way sometimes to survive.
When I first entered Ohio’s Penitentiary guys were being brutalized by guards on a daily basis. In those days guards would seldom write you up for breaking the rules. Instead they’d just bust you upside your head and throw you in the hole.
In those days everyone carried shanks (homemade knives). And they were quick to use them. Over the years, I have seen or known of 30 – 40 men who were stabbed & killed inside the penitentiary. And I’ve seen them die in every way imaginable – some from stab wounds, other beaten to death with iron pipes, burnt up with gasoline bombs thrown into their cells. (One year they had over 200 stabbings inside the prison.) Others died by strangulation, some were shot to death by guards, others beaten to death.
I spent 6 1/2 years in solitary confinement without ever seeing the sky, or feeling the warmth of the sun upon my face. They let me out of my cell twice a week to shower and shave. I exercised in leg irons and handcuffs in an area inside the cell block 4 feet wide, 20 feet long for 2 hours each week. We had no TV.
In those days when you went to the hole or isolation you couldn’t have nothing. A lot of men who were kept in isolation for long periods of time (under those type of conditions) did take their own lives. But their treatment towards me had just the opposite effect upon my life. It made me angrier, more bitter and it just nourished the hatred that I already had inside of me. And that hatred grew as the years passed. It consumed me. It was the only thing that kept me alive all those years I spent in solitary.
It tempered my mind, my will like steel. I was determined not to submit to them. I saw them (guards) as my enemy. I had killed one of them during an escape attempt. I’d had a gun smuggled into the prison and took hostages (5 guards). I let one guard go for I had only 4 bullets. And I intended to kill them all. That’s how deep the hatred ran inside of me. I knew I’d be killed in the process, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was killing as many of my enemies that I could before they killed me. Nothing else mattered.
I was driven by hatred, by revenge – Satan was taking me to my own destruction and I didn’t even care. Not about dying, not about taking another human being’s life, not about anything!
At that point I was surrounded by guards and snipers. They had me cornered in a cell block. I felt trapped. I knew there was no way out and all I thought about in those moments was killing as many guards as I could before they killed me. The way I saw it, they were killing me a little bit every day anyway – just slowly squeezing the life out of me. At least this way I’d be going out fighting.
I lived off hatred for years. I lived in a world of violence and death – a world of despair. I lived in a world where men would kill you over a pack of cigarettes or for talking too loud – for disrespecting their space. I lived in a world of hatred, of hopelessness where the strong ruled and the weak perished. It was Satan’s house, and he ruled in our lives!
I never trusted no one. I never let people get close to me for it’s those who are close to you who are in a position to hurt you the most – who will kill you. I’ve seen it happen many times over the years. So I kept everyone at a distance – I let no one get too familiar with me.
I did my time alone. I dealt drugs (heroin) and for 25 years I was an addict – it was one of my demons. I had some brothers who were connected to the Colombian cartel (drug lords) so I had access to all the drugs I wanted. They were just a phone call away. Whatever I wanted in the way of drugs or money I got. If you could get it in the prison, I had it.
In prison I was known as a guy who could make things happen. I was also known as someone who could hurt and kill you if you crossed me.
I’d been shot, cut or stabbed on 6-7 different occasions over the years. On two of them I almost died. On one of them I was pronounced dead in the street – no pulse, no heartbeat, nothing. I’d survived death row, shootings, stabbings, 6 1/2 years in solitary, and every form of physical and mental abuse brutality imaginable. I even had a demon appear to me one time. But even that didn’t move me to change me life. And it was the most frightening thing that I’d ever experienced.
At that time I was just starting to read the Bible. And over the years I had a number of people try to talk to me about JESUS, but I didn’t want to hear it. I ran my sister out of the visitation room one time when I was on death row because she was trying to talk to me about JESUS. I didn’t care about JESUS, or myself, or no one else. I saw Christians as being weak and there was no place for anything weak in my life. I was so filled with hatred that I didn’t want JESUS or no one getting close to me – not my family, not my friends, not anyone. I kept everyone at a distance.
My lawyer who was a Christian sent me a Bible when I was on death row but I never read it. It set on my shelf for 26 years.
Then one day I received a letter from a girl named Carol Joy from my hometown. She’d known me since she was 10 years old but I didn’t know her. She had gotten my address from one of my sisters the year previously. She was a Christian and when she wrote she told me that the HOLY SPIRIT had spoken to her heart and told her to write to me. She was reluctant to do so for she had heard so many bad things about me (all of them true). But finally after a year she wrote. When I became aware of the fact that she was a Christian I didn’t want to write to her. I wasn’t looking for GOD. I didn’t want GOD or no one in my life.
But I started to read the Bible just so I could discuss things in the Bible with her. Then one day I was reading the story in the Bible in which JESUS was talking to the religious leaders. And he was calling them hypocrites and vipers, children of Satan. That got my attention.
For the people HE was talking to had all the power (or so I thought) and they had the power to put him in prison or execute HIM. For HIM to stand up to them in the way that HE did was something to be admired and respected. I saw HIM as a warrior – I saw HIS strength, and courage and I admired and respected those qualities in HIM. That drew me to HIM. As I began to read the Bible more I began to see JESUS differently than I had before.
I could relate to HIS execution for I had been on death row myself. I could relate to HIM being spit upon and mocked. I could relate to HIM being beaten for I had been beaten by guards many times. I could relate to HIM being stabbed in the side, for I’ve been stabbed.
It was then that I started seeing JESUS through different eyes. I cried when I read the story about HIS crucifixion and how they had beat, spit upon and mocked him. I still weep when I read those stories in the Bible. I wanted to know more about this man JESUS. So I started reading my Bible every day and GOD was opening / softening my heart to the scriptures – to his son JESUS.
Then Carol came to visit me and when I saw her she had a glow on her face – she shined and she looked like an angel. I knew it was JESUS that made her shine and that made me want to know JESUS even more. I wanted to know her better also – six months later we were married. I’ve been a Christian now for 3 years and GOD has blessed me in many ways – too many for me to go into at this time. He delivered me from death’s door countless number of times. He delivered me from drugs (heroin) for I’d been an addict most of my life (25 years).
I was told by doctors 4 years ago that I had arthritis and bone spurs in my neck and back – that it was crippling me. Doctors were giving me nerve blocks – medication – but nothing would help. The pain was unbearable. I prayed about it. I asked GOD to heal me and HE did. I’ve not had any pain in over two years now. But the greatest healing that I experienced was the healing of my mind, my heart. I thank GOD every day from freeing me from my prison of hatred and despair, for reaching into my heart and removing the chains that had kept me in bondage for so many years.
There are just some things that you cannot place chains upon – that you cannot confine to a prison cell. God’s Spirit. His love for you is one of them. I am still bound in physical chains – I am still in prison. But there are many kinds of prisons and we were all once prisoner to sin but through our LORD JESUS we have been set free.
For the first time in my life I feel free. I feel peace – a peace that can only come with the knowledge of knowing that you are saved, that there is hope even for those living in the darkest of dungeons and that hope lies of course in our LORD JESUS. If HIS light, HIS love can reach into the darkness of my world, my life and free me from my prison, my chains of hatred and despair then there is hope for you. If GOD can touch my heart and change my life then there is hope for everyone.
One of my biggest struggles since becoming a Christian has been forgiveness. Forgiving myself for all the pain, the hurt that I have caused others has been my greatest struggle. As a Christian I still struggle with it at times. But I know that GOD has forgiven me. And the Bible tells us that HE will remember our sins no more – that they are as far as from HIM as the East is from the West.
When I was reading those scriptures I could feel the Spirit speaking to my heart and telling me to forgive myself – that GOD loved me, that CHRIST died for me, for my sins – to let my past go. I have!
Only by GOD’s grace am I alive today. And I thank HIM every day for giving me the opportunity to serve HIM today. I will never get out of prison (unless of course GOD wants me out) but I can serve HIM even while in chains. I am free!
GOD bless you.
Wayne Raney #47142
AZ State Prison