What Is A Miracle

What Is A Miracle

What is a miracle? A dictionary explanation might be as follows.

  1. An unexpected and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is considered divine.
  2. A highly improbable or extraordinary circumstance, development, or accomplishment.

Take your pick. I read a book by Kathryn Kuhlman entitled I Believe in Miracles. I’m not ready to announce any miracles in my Christian Life. Still, I have an inordinate amount of happenstances that were “highly improbable” and, to my mind, happened due to my belief in the Power of the Holy Spirit and answers to prayer.

At the end of my psychiatric evaluation period in the summer of 1972, I returned to the St. Louis City Jail from the U. S. Medical Center in Springfield, Mo. I would appear again before the court to finalize my sentencing for the crime of bank robbery. At my sentencing, I knew I had to say something to the Judge but was unsure what it would be. There is a point in sentencing defendants where the Judge asks the defendant, “Does the defendant have anything to say before the pronouncement of the sentence. In 99.9% of most criminals’ sentencing, the prisoner has nothing to say. I had gone through the sentencing procedures many times and, like dumb sheep, had said nothing.

The night before sentencing, I was awake and prayed, “God give me the words to say, and may they lift you up in glory.” On the following day, I stood before the Judge and said. “Your Honor, I know it may be difficult to believe, but I accepted Christ as my Savior. I am a new person and not the one who stood before your Honor previously. I would like you to sentence me to a 25-year B Study and return me to Springfield so that I might further the nurturing of my faith.” I went on to tell the Judge about the volunteer program that they had down there and how it had made an enormous difference in my life.

A “25-year B Study” is a particular type of sentence. First, it requires a 90-day observational period; second, the Judge brings you back to court after 90 days and finalizes his ruling based on various aspects of what the institution says about you. The maximum amount of time eligible for the crime of bank robbery is 25 years. A judge can lower a sentence, but he cannot raise it. Had the crime only carried 10 years, it would have been a 10-Year B Study.

The Judge looked at me. “Well, that’s a much better prognosis than the institution or prosecutors have given you.” Well, at least I had said something. “However,” he continued. “I am inclined to go along with you and send you back there. I sentence you to 25 years under the B Study provisions of the court.” Bam went the gavel. My heart was racing as I returned to the jail that night. Did I thank God? I hope so because I was excited even with 25 years over my head. I returned to Springfield and resumed my church activities. I was a sentenced prisoner, so I could hold a job in the kitchen doing pots and pans. I had worked in the kitchen in every prison I had been in. Comfortable surroundings. I was thrilled to see the volunteers again, and yes, even more so, Mary.

During the summer of ’72, I received a letter from Mr. Paul Haglin. Mr. Haglin was a friend of my lawyer, Courtney Shands. Mr. Shands was a probate lawyer. Under provisions of an agreement that lawyers offer their services on a pro bono basis to prisoners, he was appointed to my case. Mr. Shands was also a stated atheist. On my return from Springfield, he saw something in me that prompted him to tell his friend about my change.

But just who was Mr. Haglin? He founded and owned the Spirit of St. Louis Airport to shorten the wheelbase. Mr. Haglin’s letter was particularly encouraging spiritually. Then, he blew me away. Mr. Haglin proposed that they would petition the court to sentence me to work release, and I would stay in the Gumbo County Correctional unit. I would work at his airport. Did he know I was arrested for bank robbery? Did he not know I had an extensive criminal record that returned to 13? Did he not know that the State of Illinois had already tagged me as a “Doubtful improvable offender?” Yes, the proposal was exciting, but not knowing the reality of the situation, this proposal could have been more practical. I didn’t have the heart to write him back and tell him there was no way the Judge would sentence me to work release. There was no way he would send me to a county institution when I was a Federal Prisoner, and even more so, the prosecution would howl to the moon in protest.

I continued my church activities and read as many books as I could get my hands on. Mr. Haglin’s proposal drifted out of mind over the next few months, and then it was over. I was returning back to St. Louis City Jail for final sentencing. The last book I read before leaving was Kathryn Kuhlman’s “I Believe in Miracles.” Was it a coincidence? Or was it a sign? Kathryn Kuhlman was to speak at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, Mo., the night before my sentencing. The crowd would walk right by the St. Louis Jail to the Auditorium. Still, how does one believe in Miracles? It would take for the Judge to sentence me to Mr. Haglin’s proposal. He’s not even going to consider it. Mary said, “We pray for everything.” This was no typing test. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” This was something that I certainly hoped for, and no, you could not see it. That night, I believe in miracles became my mantra as I pleaded to God over everything I knew to believe in something I did not see or imagine. If it was not to be, so be it.

There’s something about the reading of an indictment that is stunning in and of itself. John Thomson vs. the United States of America. Had I taken on the entire country, me against the world? The fat lady was about to sing, concluding my court appearances. As my case was called, I stood before the Judge on barely steady legs. The Judge was going over the formalities of the procedure and may have directed some words toward me, but I was actually too nervous to understand anything. I was along for the ride. Then the Judge said, “I understand that there is a minister in court that would like to speak.” Courtney responded light heartily, “he’d probably like to be a minister, your Honor, but he is a local businessman.” The Judge acknowledged Mr. Haglin and gave him the floor to speak. Mr. Haglin said some introductory remarks and then launched into his proposal. The Judge asked Mr. Haglin a few questions as if he was gathering further information. Silence as the Judge pondered what had to be the most startling proposal he had ever heard sitting on the bench. And then he turned to my lawyer, “Counselor, I want you to write me a memorandum and show me how I can do this.” Oh My! Did I hear what I thought I heard? Wailing and gnashing of teeth arose from the prosecutors as they shouted, “if you can’t sentence him to this, we’ll only have to bring him back, and that’s a burden on the Marshalls,” and on and on until the Judge banged his gavel. The Judge was not happy with them. A date was set for another hearing on the matter, but one thing he did say was that he was going to sentence me to 12 years. That much was guaranteed.

{I had not known then that Mr. Haglin had come to court one day and sat through all of the day’s proceedings just to get a chance to talk to the Judge personally and privately, whereupon he introduced his proposal to the Judge. I don’t know what transpired between them both, but it shows you to what length Mr. Haglin was willing to go to see this through. Years later, after my release, we visited the Haglin’s in Eagles Nest, MO., to thank him for his offer.}

A week passed before I received a copy of the memorandum my lawyer drew up. Up to this point, he hadn’t done anything extraordinary in trying to defend me. He had seemed disinterested and detached. But since his friend had become involved, he had adopted a new demeanor. The memorandum he drew up was developed with quite a bit of research and was lengthy. The bottom line was the Judge “had the power to send him to the moon.”

But the prosecutors had done their work. At the time of my arrest, they had found a bank bag with the name Rhinelander Bank on it. We had yet to rob a bank in Rhinelander. We had run off with the proceeds of a hotel I had been working at. They had the bank bag I used to throw their money in. The prosecutors advised the police in Rhinelander, Wisc. They needed to file charges against me, which they hadn’t at this point, or I would be set free, or virtually so anyway. With a detainer of further charges pending from the state of Wisconsin, they had stymied the Judge and ended the proceedings without fanfare, sentencing me to 12 years in prison. I was disappointed, but not to the point that I lost faith in God’s power and miracles. What I thought was improbable WAS overcome. The Bureau Of Prisons decided to send me to Terre Haute, Indiana.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s