Prison Chaplain Born to Save Lives 6/8/18 06/08/18 1:11:12 PM
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Chaplain Morris Jackson, speaking here at the Omaha Bar Association’s Law Day luncheon, has been serving inmates for 26 years.
Prison Chaplain Born to Save Lives
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
He walks the halls with a freedom most of those he serves have lost and may never regain. There is the added perk of an office, something he uses in his service.
He delivered the invocation and the benediction at this year’s Law Day luncheon. There probably wasn’t a better choice to be made in the city for these duties.
Chaplain Morris Jackson is a Man of God who knows the inside of a church, a boxing ring and a jail. His calling is to change the lives of those who have, in most cases, much less freedom at the Douglas County Jail while performing good deeds for the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry.
These days Chaplin Jackson is a born-again Christian and International Assemblies of God minister, but it has been a journey. An extremely long journey that started in Greenville, Texas, where he was born. A journey filled with twists and turns and emotional turbulence.
It didn’t take long for the first twist to happen.
“I was two weeks old when my father was killed,” Jackson recalled. That happened in Arizona. “I never saw my real dad.
Less than a year passed before his mother remarried and they moved to Dallas.
“I didn’t know my stepfather wasn’t my real father until I went to visit my grandmother,” he recalled. Jackson remembers bragging about his (step)dad’s good deeds, when his grandmother told him the facts.
His parents had just been waiting for the right time, if there is such a thing, to tell him about his birth father. It wasn’t much later that his mother divorced his stepdad over a religious dispute that basically came down to whether she would serve him or God.
She remarried when Jackson was 16 and they moved to Amarillo, Texas.
“Again, the marriage went south,” Jackson remembers, so she moved with him to Omaha where she had family. Having lettered in football and basketball during his Texas high school years, the young Jackson found a new sport in Omaha – boxing. That may have been his first calling.
“I started out in Golden Gloves,” Jackson recalled “I was a two-time Midwest champion,” at heavyweight in 1968 and 1970.
He trained in downtown Omaha gyms, first at the old Swedish Auditorium, which no longer exists, then moved to The Foxhole on Leavenworth.
“It was underneath a bar,” he remembered. “The same place Ron Stander worked out, too.”
Stander, also known as the “Bluffs Butcher,” is a local legend who faced off against Joe Frazier at the old Omaha Civic Auditorium in a world championship fight on May 25, 1972. Jackson and Stander had four fights – with a win, a draw and two losses the final score in Stander’s favor.
“He’s got one up on me … I thought the draw should have been mine,” he allowed.
Jackson’s professional boxing career showed promise and in addition to the Stander fights he sparred with Ron Lyle, Ernie Shavers and Larry Holmes. His career highlight came in England.
“I fought the British Empire heavyweight champion,” Jackson proudly stated, and knocked him out in the third round. The win over Danny McAlinden made headlines in Europe but it did little to raise his profile at home.
Outside the ring, things weren’t always so good. Jackson went to prison for an armed robbery in 1975. He did 22 months in the men’s reformatory during 1976-to-1978.
The incarceration was not totally wasted time. Jackson was able to take some classes at Southeast Community College while incarcerated and earned a scholarship to UNO before he was paroled. Those weren’t the only lessons he learned.
“You hang out with the wrong crowed … you do things you naturally regret,” he offered of the lessons learned. “Thank God I had a mother who was a prayer warrior … [she] never gave up on me.”
Jackson allowed how he had been “raised up in church believing, as a believer. Kind of walked away from it.” He credits that praying mother who reminded him of his faith in Jesus Christ with turning around his life.
A free man, Jackson became involved with Glad Tidings Church, now Good News Church, and has been a member since 1983. He became part of the deacon board and has taught evangelism classes. It was there where one of the associated pastors got him involved in doing prison ministries, at first as a volunteer.
Jackson at first wondered why he said yes. Still, he kept his word and soon realized that God was at work.
“I could give hope to those who’ve lost all hope,” he realized.
In 1992, he was invited to the Douglas County Jail for a speaking engagement. When he finished speaking, 44 of the 66 men who came to the service made a commitment to Jesus Christ.
“That was the moment I said, ‘This is so neat I could do this all the time,’” Jackson recalled. The jail at that time had only two chaplains and both where white. Jackson was asked about being “a chaplain of color.”
He applied for the job and Joe Vitek, who then was the jailer, said he didn’t want “an ex-con” in his jail. After thinking it over, “Joe the Jailer,” as he was known, had second thoughts.
“He said ‘okay’ and I became a chaplain,” Jackson offered. “A year later he called me in his office and gave me a chaplain’s badge.”
In April of 1992 Jackson became a full-time chaplain after training at the Good News Jail & Prison Ministry’s headquarters in Virginia.
More good news came only a few years later.
“I got a full pardon from the State of Nebraska. Gov. Ben Nelson was governor at the time,” Jackson said. That came in 1996 and the chaplain still isn’t sure why.
“By the grace of God. I don’t know. I was a chaplain at the time. Maybe because I was doing something positive, beneficial to the community.”
He sees his role in the justice system simply as being one of those people who wants to have a better community – a safer community.
He wants to give back. “If I can change a young man’s mind, a young man’s heart … give him an assurance there is hope. … If I can take what is meant for evil and use it for His glory and your good, which He did in my life,” that is his goal.
Jackson testified that he has seen men leave jail and become better sons, better fathers and better citizens.
“It’s worth it if a life is saved and changed. … it’s worth it.”
There are two days, the chaplain who once was an inmate said, that are the most important in a person’s life. “The day that you are born, and the day you discover why.”
Morris Jackson is a man who knows why he was born.
“Absolutely ... I’m living in my purpose. This is what I was created to do.”
Note: The Good News Jail & Prison Ministry, which operates in 25 countries, is a faith-mission ministry that takes no county dollars. They are there by invitation of the county, which provides office space and support materials like a phone and computer. For more information please go to www.goodnewsjail.org.