Chuck Colson's Greatest Legacy May Be His Story

Charles "Chuck" Colson, a key figure in the Richard Nixon White House, died Saturday. Colson was the president's special counsel and went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. While behind bars, he embraced Christianity. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, he went on to become a central evangelical leader after his release.

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Charles Colson has died. Colson was jailed for his crimes during the Watergate scandal in the 1970's and he emerged as an evangelical Christian, who dedicated his life to helping prison inmates.

NPR's Joel Rose has this remembrance.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Charles Colson once said he would walk over his own grandmother to help Richard Nixon, and as special counsel to the White House, he came pretty close. Here's Colson on the phone with former President Nixon in 1972.

CHARLES COLSON: We'll put the screws to these fellas. Pronto.

ROSE: Colson was charged with several crimes connected to the Watergate break-in, and he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his role in trying to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked "The Pentagon Papers." Colson served seven months in prison and it was then that Colson figured out what he would do with the rest of his life, as he later told Fox News.

COLSON: I saw the world through the eyes of people who were disadvantaged and marginalized and rejected; the outcast of society, the untouchables in American life. 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.

ROSE: After he was released, Colson founded the Prison Fellowship to minister to inmates and their families. Initially, his conversion to evangelical Christianity was greeted with suspicion.

JONATHAN ATIKEN: The hostility to him was enormous on grounds of skepticism.

ROSE: But biographer Jonathan Aitken says Colson proved the skeptics wrong over the next three-plus decades.

ATIKEN: Because Colson has walked his talk in a very convincing way.

ROSE: Colson wrote many books starting with the memoir "Born Again." And the Prison Fellowship now operates in more than a hundred countries. Its current CEO, Jim Liske, says Colson's greatest legacy may be the power of his own story.

JIM LISKE: I think his legacy is you know what? Anyone can make that change and anyone can become an individual who has positive influence on our world - a transformation and a new life was possible.

ROSE: Charles Colson died Saturday after a brain hemorrhage earlier this month. He was 80 years old.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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