Chuck Colson's Journey and Lasting Legacy

Candy Spilman By Candy Spilman, 28th Jun 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Religion

Charles (Chuck) Colson is a name well known to most people who lived during the 1970's. Colson fell from honor to scandal, which landed him in prison. During this process, his life was changed in another way, which would continue to impact many people even after his death.

Colson's Beginnings - Driven to Succeed

Charles “Chuck” Colson wanted to get to the top, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there. The only child of Wendell and Inez Ducrow Colson, he was born in Boston, Massachusetts on Oct 16, 1931. He grew up during the Great Depression, and was greatly affected by seeing neighbors standing in bread lines. He vowed to himself that he would never be caught in that position.

Driven to succeed, Colson attended Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1953. He went on to attend law school at George Washington University, receiving a Juris Doctorate, with honors, in 1959.

He served as a captain in the United States Marine Corps from 1953-1955, and then as Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1955-1956. From there, his career advanced as he became the Administrative Assistant to United States Senator Leverett Saltonstall (R-Mass.). He held this position from 1956 to 1961. In 1961, he became a partner in the Gadsby and Hannah Law Firm, where he remained until he accepted the position that radically changed his life in a way he had not imagined.

Working for Nixon and Watergate

From 1969 to 1973, Colson’s title was Special Counsel to President Richard M. Nixon. He was quoted as having once said that he would walk over his own grandmother to help Richard Nixon, and in 1973, he had the unhappy distinction of being the first of Nixon’s staff to be incarcerated for charges related to Watergate.

Although Colson’s name is linked with the Watergate scandal, he was actually never charged with a crime directly related to the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. His offenses had to do with attempting to discredit a man named Daniel Ellsberg, who had secretly made photocopies of classified documents showing, among other things, that the United States government strongly suspected that the Viet Nam war could not be won. The documents further alleged that facts were covered up and hidden from the American people. Colson, attempting to save face for Nixon, launched a campaign to discredit and slander Ellsberg, and even went so far as to suggest a break-in to steal the material back, and a firebombing of the Brookings Institution. Colson believed that Morton Halperin, who was a fellow at Brookings, held some other classified State Department documents that could be incriminating to Nixon at that location.

Born Again

Colson’s life did a complete turnaround in August of 1973, when he contacted Tom Phillips, who was the president of the Raytheon Company. At that time, Colson was under investigation, and no longer held his position as counsel, or “hatchet man” for President Nixon. In an attempt to stay in the law field, Colson was hoping to get some business offering his services as an attorney to Phillips, who had recently become a born-again Christian at a Billy Graham crusade. During the interview, Phillips felt led to share a passage from C.S. Lewis’ book, MereChristianity, regarding pride. Colson later said that he felt as though Lewis was speaking directly to him in the pages, and when he got in his car to drive away, he broke down sobbing, crying out to God to save him.

Many were skeptical about Colson’s conversion, since it occurred in the middle of his Watergate trial. Some believed that his claims at being a new person were simply a ploy to get out of trouble. Yet, due to his new faith and desire to tell the truth, Colson showed what he was made of when he went against his lawyer’s advice and pled guilty. His attorney had advised that he plead the 5th Amendment, but instead, Colson voluntarily admitted to obstructing justice in the Ellsberg case. He was given a one to three year sentence at the Maxwell federal prison camp, near Montgomery, Alabama, where he served seven months of his sentence.

A New Purpose

In prison, this man who had once been a Presidential advisor, was now on common ground with every other offender. He began to know them and love them for who they were. He realized that the breakdown of moral values was the core of society’s problem, and began to think of what he might be able to do about it.

"I decided if God put me there to live among them for seven months as I did, that I would speak for them when I got out,” Colson said in an interview at a later time. In 1976, Charles Colson became the founder and Chairman of the Board for Prison Fellowship and Prison Fellowship International. The goal of the organization was the redemption, restoration and reconciliation of prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families, and for inmates to become new creations in Christ instead of repeat offenders. Local churches were enlisted, and love and the Gospel message were brought into prisons. This ministry was expanded to include Angel Tree, which was created to help the children of incarcerated men and women during holidays. A parent behind bars cannot be with their children to celebrate, nor can they purchase Christmas gifts, so this volunteer program was designed to step up and do just that.

Lasting Legacy

Chuck Colson faithfully kept his promise to his former cellmates, and also followed the teachings of Christ in Matthew 25:36, when he said, “(I was) Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” for over 35 years.

Colson joined his Lord on April 21, 2012, due to complications from a brain hemorrhage. He was 80 years old. The legacy he left behind is still reaching out to help those behind bars, and to show Jesus’ love.


Angel Tree, Change, Charles Colson, Christianity, Gospel, Jesus Christ, Military, Prison, Prison Fellowship, Richard Nixon, Scandal, Watergate

Meet the author

author avatar Candy Spilman
Former journalist turned freelancer. I'm a mom and grandma and love to write about family or Christian topics.

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author avatar L. R. Laverde-Hansen
28th Jun 2015 (#)

Absolutely sterling profile on the man and activist.

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author avatar Deepizzaguy
28th Jun 2015 (#)

I read in a book called "Power For Living" that Charles did admit reading the Word of God did change him to be a better person since the words of the Bible had the power to change his heart and mind.

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