Starr Daily is one of my spiritual friends, even though I have never met him. I became acquainted with him first by reading about him in books by Glenn Clark. I discovered that Daily wrote several books, himself. Stephanie Wiggins has written a good compilation of Daily’s life in her book, “Rebirth and Resurrection.” Another book I have used for this article is, “Love Can Open Prison Doors,” by Starr Daily. One of my hopes in writing blog articles about Starr Daily, Glenn Clark, Frank Laubach, and their spiritual friends is to generate interest in their writings. I hope that people will read these men and women and be inspired by their words and lives. I truly feel that they are some of the greatest men and women to follow Jesus Christ that I know of.
If I were to go back in time and ask Starr Daily some questions, the questions in this article would be some I would ask. The answers come from Stephanie Wiggins and Starr Daily’s books. I have paraphrased some of the answers from Daily in this article.
Bob: You spent twenty years – 1921-1941 – in prison. What were the events that let up to your incarceration?
At 14 I was a confirmed criminal with all the bitter, negative philosophy possessed by the toughtest of men. My dreams changed as my life changed. They became a merciless jungle filled with gun-toting enemies, emissaries of the law, all bent on my capture. I would see myself arrested and escorted to the electric chair. Nothing changed my criminal mind. Neither fear of punishment nor kind treatment had any effect on the type of life I preferred to live.
Personally, I am convinced that a man changes his life pattern only when he himself is definitely ready for such a change. Until he is ready, no pressure, reason or persuasion on earth can influence him one iota. I am convinced that reform is wholly a matter of transcending old desires and habits of life, and not the suppression of them through fears and other forces of the will. No man can claim to be reformed who is still in conflict with the old habits of life. I could not be reached by either reason, punishment or persuasion, because my mind was as hard as concrete against every attempt made to change me by those who motives I questioned. I was a confirmed fault-finder, an absolute destructionist, and I was full of moral decay.
Bob: Would you give us an illustration from your life of what you just talked about?
As a teenager, I moved from crime to crime and from jail to jail. None of the actions of society worked to make me a better man. All for the simple reason that I didn’t want to be corrected. Only God can help the man who has no desire to help himself. If anyone tried to help me, it released in me two responses: I looked upon every such gesture with suspicion, as a counterfeit with a selfish motive behind it, a trick of some kind. I held it my duty to turn the tables and to outwit such persons to my own benefit. I was tortured, cajoled, persuaded, and I continued a criminal in thought and feeling and action.
So my actions brought me before a judge, who was at one time a defense lawyer. He defended me as a teenager and kept me from going to reform school. It was 1920 and he was my judge. He sentenced me to twenty years in prison for a major crime. I still remember what he said to me at the time of my sentencing. He said, “I know you are sick. And I know that more punishment is not the remedy. There is something wrong in our system of dealing with men like you. I don’t know what it is. Your record leaves us powerless. Our helplessness is your hopelessness.”
Bob: While you were half-way through your sentence, you had a powerful experience of Jesus life-transforming love. How did that happen?
First, let me tell you about my hate-filled plans toward the warden. About ten years into my sentence, I began a three week plan to instigate a prison riot. My plan and that of my mates was to excite the convicts into a grumbling protest about prison food. In the confusion, the key members of the gang would seize the deputy warden as a shield and hostage. I actually wanted to kill the warden and escape.
The plan didn’t work and I was brought before the prison court and choose to not agree with the warder. We had a court, but it was a joke. You see, everyone had to confess to the warder or go to the hole. I wouldn’t confess, so I was taken “off the record,” so no one would know what happened to me. They sent me to the hole that day.
The hole was a place where the system broke men like me. The hole is a square, solid structure, fashioned of dark gray, limestone. In front of the cell is a solid wooden door, in the center of which is a covered peephole. Just behind the door is an inner one made of case hardened steel bars. The only light that filters into the cell comes from a small window set high in the outer wall. In one corner is a foul-smelling and battered waste bucket. This, with a quart tin cup, comprised the furnishings.
It was winter time. The cells were cold and seeping moisture. The stone floor was damp and icy. The air felt like and smelled like the air inside an old-fashioned ice box. I was prepared to die in there. The deputy warden told me when he put me in the hole, “When I let you out you’ll crawl to me on your knees and whine like a dog. And while you’re in there eating bread and water, I’ll be living on ham and eggs and sleeping in a good warm bed.”
I knew I wouldn’t crawl and beg like a dog and I knew the deputy warden would hold fast to his promise. Right then and there, I embraced a self-willed death, slow and paralyzing, and indescribably painful.
The keeper of the “hole” was a stolid, thick-bellied, lumbering giant of a man, with a short, heavy neck, a massive, coarse face, and a closely-cropped low-bowed beard. Set deeply in a pair of pouches were two small, piggish eyes, which remained dull even when his great hulking body is shaken with anger. We knew him as “the Bull.” He took an instant dislike to me, a sentiment which I returned in full measure.
When they put me in the hole, I was stripped, searched, and given a thin, filthy blanket, a pair of unwashed cotton socks, an old pair of overalls, filled with the stench of their former victims and a torn and faded shirt whose last wearer must have gone mad in a foaming fit, so stiff was the shirt’s front. Then the Bull ordered me to raise my hands and put them through the bars, just above my head. The Bull clamped a pair of handcuffs around my wrists and shut the solid door.
Each morning at six I was chained up in this manner, after having been permitted to partake of a piece of bread and a cup of water. At six in the evening they let me down for the night and there was another piece of bread and another cup of water.
I knew that the maximum length of time for strong men in the cuffs is fifteen days; for the average, ten; and the weakling, five. At the end of fifteen days my arms and legs were blue and swollen, my veins and arteries were enlarged and tight, while the bottoms of my feet were puffed and black with congealed blood.
I exceeded the maximum length of time in the hole, but I was not released. I lost the ability to stand. They had to lift me up to put me in the cuffs in the morning. After this day – for many weeks after this – I just lay on the icy floor, emaciated and unspeakably filthy. They kept me alive after this with additional nourishment. The deputy warden was not willing that I die and not crawl to him and beg to be released. My only reaction was hatred. I was completely sustained by hate.
Bob: That sounds absolutely barbaric and yet Jesus demonstrated his love to you right there. How did it happen?
While I way lying on the floor of the hole, Jesus came to me. For a long time I dwelt in an indescribable sense of awareness. I began dreaming and in the midst of this I was aware that I was dreaming of the man I had been trying to avoid for many years, Jesus Christ. He came toward me, his lips moving, but not vocally. He paused by my side and looked down, deep down into my eyes, as though through them he was trying to penetrate my soul. In all my life I had never seen or felt such love in the human eye as now glowed and radiated in his eyes. Nor had I ever felt myself so utterly helpless in the captivity of love. I was submerged in the reality of Jesus. I was seeing and feeling something that would influence my life throughout eternity.
As I had previously felt myself receiving Jesus’ love, I now had the joyous sense of bestowing love. It poured from me in gratitude and blissful tears. I loved all men. I hated only the evil conditions they imposed upon each other and themselves. I loved the world. I loved God.
I dreamed again and saw something like a moving picture. It was all exceedingly vivid. I saw an auditorium full of people who I had injured and who had injured me. I spoke to them concerning love as one who had the right to speak with authority. Thus, as I became a recipient of love, I became a transmitter of it. The joy and bliss and gratitude I felt was past articulation, and was wholly uncontainable.
In the midst of such feeling I knew I must either be changed or I would die. I was grateful not for any particular thing, but for all good, for life itself. I knew that I had transcended all personal and bodily limitations of habit and environment which had bound me through the years. I was free. I knew I was free. Above all, I knew I was reborn.
When I consciously returned to my dungeon environment the state of my mind was no longer the same. It had power to give me joy but not pain. My cell was illumined with a new kind of light, the light of my own redeemed eye. It was the same dark, cold place; but now it was warm and congenial. It became the reflector of my glowing inner self.
Bob: After this experience, both the Bull and the deputy warden were changed the minute they saw you. Why do you think this was so?
I was full of Jesus’ love and they had to recognize it. Here are some words I wrote later in life. I think they explain why the Bull and the deputy were so transformed in their attitude toward me.
There is miracle magic in love. I do not know what love is. I gather examples of its work-ability. I know it has a practical utility. I know it never fails to change the thing it touches. Love heals the wound it does not make. By setting others free, love binds them. A friend is a lover. He does not preach, find fault, condemn. He frees. You cannot have the thing you will not give away. You cannot be free of the thing you hold. What you set free belongs to you. You do not belong to it, for you belong to love.
To belong to love is to have life and life abundantly, for then life belongs to you. No one with love ever fails. No one without it ever succeeds. Love does not force a thing to happen. One must maintain by force that which is born out of time by force. All you have to do is to stop trying to change them. Turn them over to God with a confession that you’re helpless in the matter. And turn yourself over with them.
You will love them without self-seeking and without possessiveness, and you will do every direct and indirect thing you can as a contribution to their happiness. To ponder love philosophically is fascinating, no doubt. But I’d rather see it work, actually. Love knows that God is tender and merciful, that man is judged by his own judgment, condemned by his own condemnation, impoverished by his own greed and mass selfishness.
Love waits for man to come to himself, to weary of his self-willed futility, arrogance and suffering, to tire of the darkness that condemns himself and generations unborn. Love knows and waits for opportunities to act.
This is what God did to me and through me, he did it to these men. They released me and took me to the prison hospital the very day after my experience with Jesus. By the way, the deputy warden never asked me to beg to be released.
Bob – There is more to your story. I look forward to sharing how the warden – the man you hated so profoundly – became one of your best friends. We will talk about that in a future interview.