Escape From Death

The Slaybaugh Story

By Rose Slaybaugh



Hastily I opened the letter written on the penitentiary stationery and started reading the regulations at the top of the page. Among them it said, "Limit your letter to one side of one sheet of paper only."

"Roy, they didn't get our cards," I exclaimed.

"Well, Rose, go on and read!" he said, impatiently.

"But down here in larger letters it says, 'If rules are not followed, mail will not be delivered.'"

"Rose, let's read the letter!"

I didn't get very far, for I read, "Dear Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy," and we two silly old people sat there and cried like babies.

"Dear Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy,

"You asked me to use this title, and that is why I am taking the liberty of heading this letter as I have. Gordon and I received your Christmas cards and are extremely grateful to you for sending them to us, as we have no parents and haven't had any letters or cards for some time. You can surmise how much your visit and Christmas cards meant to us, and how we will appreciate any future letters from you. Gordon and I are making billfolds, and we thought you might like a sample of our work. So as soon as possible we are going to send you both one. They are not what you would call masterpieces, for we are just learning and these are our first, so far. I can't quite summon the right words or phraseology to try to convey to you how sorry we were that Uncle Roy was hurt so badly in that wreck, and how glad we are that he has recovered. I am afraid that our 'tongue-tiedness' when you were here to see us might have left some doubt as to our feelings in this matter. But taking into consideration that you are the only people to visit us in so long, and also that you had not held any grudge or bad feelings toward us for the great wrong done you, you can see why we were slightly befuddled, to say the least.

"Gordon will write to you next week, and we will both answer any letters you might send us, although I can't think what we will write about, as there just isn't anything happening in here worth writing about.

But we'll fill the page if we have to mention the weather in every other line.

"I am running short of things to say, so will close for now. Hoping to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours, Berkley Jones."

In the same mail were the billfolds-one for Uncle Roy and one for Aunt Rose. They were beautiful little billfolds. Berkley said they were not masterpieces, but in a few weeks a masterpiece did come. It was a most gorgeous purse, made of leather, hand-tooled in a beautiful design with sterling silver trimmings.

We sent each of the boys a new Bible, and it wasn't very long before they were asking, "What are all these things in Daniel and Revelation? The animals, etc.?"

So we sent each of them a copy of Daniel and the Revelation, by Uriah Smith. They wrote and thanked us for them, saying, "We received your letters. They are certainly always welcome. We also received the books you sent." Berkley wrote: "We have set a limit of twenty-five pages a day to read in Daniel and the Revelation. I believe that this is better than reading straight through the whole book. I seem to remember things longer, and more of the details are clear this way."

In a few weeks we visited the boys again. After this visit, as we were leaving, I said, "Boys, is there anything more we can do or get for you?"

Gordon spoke up and said, "We're just starved for something sweet."

"Do you mean candy?" I inquired.

"Oh, yes, we haven't had any candy for such a long time."

I said, "Boys, as soon as we get home, I'll make you some candy and cookies and send them to you."

"No, Aunt Rose," Berkley said, "you can't do that. They won't permit anything like that to come through."

"How can we get it to you?" I asked.

"When you sell some of our billfolds (we had told them we would sell their billfolds for them) the next time you come in, stop at the counter in the administration building and buy us a candy bar or two."

"You don't have to wait until we sell your billfolds," Roy said. "We'll see that you get some candy this very day."

When we left them that afternoon, we went down to the counter where they sell candy and other refreshments and, oh my, didn't I have fun! I said, "We want two orders just alike," and I started picking out the various "goodies." They had a lovely little cake with white frosting and coconut all over it, wrapped in cellophane. I said to the clerk, "Do you people in here have plenty of desserts?"

"Well," he said, "we have good food, but not too many desserts."

I said, "Do you suppose the boys would enjoy having a cake?"

"What those kids wouldn't do with a cake!" he said.

I said, "Send each of them one like this."

As we were driving home that night, riding along in the dark, we were not saying very much. Finally I asked Roy, "What are you thinking about?"

"I wouldn't wonder if it's the same thing you're thinking about," he said. "I was thinking about the boys. I know where there are two mighty 'sweet' boys tonight."

In a day or two we received this letter:

"When I think of how you and Uncle Roy have befriended us, I often wonder what we have done to deserve such kindness. I still haven't found the answer. I am really trying to tell you how much we appreciate everything you have done, but I am afraid I've failed utterly.

"We received the cake and candy you sent to us, and I may as well confess I got a stomach-ache for being such a glutton. It was kind of a pleasant stomach-ache, though. I want to send a million thanks for the cake and candy.

"Gordon and I are waiting expectantly for your next visit to us. We always look forward anxiously to seeing you again."

We sold some of their purses and billfolds and sent the money to them. We wondered what they would do with the first money they had earned in all these years. Now came the answer:

"Gordon and I are now the proud owners of a typewriter. I feel like a small child who has received some much-cherished gift which he has longed for with all his heart. The typewriter is of fairly ancient vintage, but it works. Gordon and I are studying hard in school now."

Next came the wonderful news that Gordon was to be paroled. He wrote us about it, and we were there when it happened, July 2, 1949. We visited the boys in the morning. Gordon was excited. He was telling us that he'd soon be leaving. At one o'clock we again went back to the prison, where we met the boys' aunt and uncle, who had come from Illinois. We all met with the parole board in the warden's office. First we had a little visit with the uncle, for he was to take Gordon home with him. We told him about Gordon's conversion and that he was taking home a Christian young man now, and that Gordon would want to keep the Sabbath.

The boys' uncle and aunt were fine people. Their uncle said, "I don't know very much about all this, but Gordon is going to work for me, and he can have any day he wishes for his day of worship."

Then Gordon was brought in. He was carrying something under his arm. He came over and put his arm around Roy and said, "Uncle Roy, how can I ever thank you for what you have done for Berkley and me? If it hadn't been for you, we might have rotted in this place."

I asked, "Honey, what have you got under your arm?"

"Aunt Rose, you don't mind, do you? Just now when I bade my cell buddy good-by, and the fellows on either side of us, they begged me to leave my Bible behind. We've been studying it together. They wanted this, too, my Daniel and Revelation, but no one's going to get this. I didn't even want it packed with my belongings."

So we bade Gordon good-by. We have visited him since; he is a fine young Christian man starting his young life all over again.

It was about five o'clock that afternoon when we started to leave Salem, but as we got to the edge of town, I said, "Roy, we must go back and see Berkley before we leave. He must feel awfully lonely."

It was after visiting hours. As we went into his office I said to the warden, "Can you guess what we'd like to do?"

"I don't even have to guess any more what you want to do," he said. "Go on back; I'll have him in the visiting room."

He was sitting there all alone, and he did look lonely. I said, "Honey, the chair next to you looks so lonesome, it looks so empty. We, too, are going to miss Gordon."

"It was my fault that Gordon got into this place. He should never have been in a place like this."

We bade Berkley good-by and promised we'd come and see him again as soon as possible. The next day he wrote this letter:

"July 3, 1949. It sure is lonesome without Gordon. I keep forgetting he is gone, and I look for him in the dining room. Of course he doesn't come through. It's hard to explain my feelings when I think of him. I guess you could call it a happy lonesome feeling. I'm happy that he is free, but lonesome to see and hear him again."



Berkley was studying his Bible. He was reading all the Christian literature that we sent him. We told him about the wonderful Christian colleges, where our young people study and get their education, and how happy we would be if some time it could be arranged that he could attend one of those schools and continue his study.

At the close of his letter he wrote:

"I have been seriously thinking of what you told me about going to a ministerial college. The more I think of the idea, the more I like it. It would give me a chance to make something out of myself that I could be sincerely proud of. It would also give me a chance to delve further into the subject of Biblical prophecy. The deeper I dig into the subject, the more astounded and intrigued I become with the accuracy of the ancient prophecies, and the more certain I become that no mere human mind could comprehend and so accurately predict forthcoming history without the guidance of some heavenly being."

August 8:

"Now I have received the Voice of Prophecy Correspondence Course. I believe I wrote you this before in my last letter, but I will write it again in case I didn't. I have sent three of the lessons in to be corrected. I was wondering if they had any set rule on how many could be sent in at one time. I could do five or six a week, but I don't know if this is advisable. Where am I supposed to write to apply for the correspondence courses which will make me eligible for college? I was talking to one of the fellows here who had completed a ministerial course of another faith, and he said the main subject you had to know was English."

September 4 this word came:

"I am eagerly looking forward to entering college if I can get the required credits and also providing the parole board is so kind as to grant me a parole, which I certainly hope they do."

We were to leave our home now and go to the East and the South and were to be gone some time. We knew Berkley would not be having many visitors, although Pastor Strever went to see him as often as he could. We asked Pastor Blehm from near by if he wouldn't like to meet Berkley and go in to visit him once in a while.

He said, "Yes, I'd be happy to do that."

He went with us on one of our visits. Berkley was happy to meet him, a young man about his own agea young minister. After Pastor Blehm had talked with him a little while, he said, "Berkley, when you get ready to go over to Walla Walla College, I want to be the one who drives you over. I want to be the one that introduces you to the faculty, to the dean, and to the students."

As we were going home, Pastor Blehm said, "What

a horrible place that is, and what a fine young man Berkley is." And then he added, "But you know, he'll never have to thank me for anything I ever do for him. The look of gratitude that came into his face was almost divine."

Pastor Blehm sent him the Walla Walla College yearbook, and he enjoyed it greatly:

November 13:

"Pastor Blehm sent me his Walla Walla College annual, The Mountain Ash. Since receiving it I've done nothing but wander through its pages and daydream, letting my mind take off on flights of fancy.

"I spoke to the professor who is in charge of the school here. He's going to give me a test next week which will finish my high school credits, providing, of course, I pass it. I certainly am looking forward to going to college. So I will try very hard to pass the test."

A year quickly passed by. Then one day this letter came, dated December 17:

"Dear Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy:

"One year ago I met you personally for the first time. Since then I have eagerly looked forward to your visits and letters. What I want to thank you for even more than your visits and letters is introducing me to Christ. This, above all else, is the most priceless gift anyone can give to another, an introduction to Christ, who in turn gives those who believe and are faithful eternal life. I completed the Voice of Prophecy lessons last week, and signed up for the course on Daniel and the Revelation, which they will send me in the near future. The Voice of Prophecy lessons have helped to enlighten me so very much concerning the Bible, which, as I wrote before, had me slightly befuddled. I have interested several others in taking this course, and those who have already received their first lessons are as enthusiastic as I was. The fellows you sent Daniel and the Revelation to have received them and want me to thank you for them. We have long talks about the Bible prophecies and their fulfillment. Most of the people I talk to are amazed at the changing of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday by the Catholic Church.

"I received the book Bible Readings for the Home you sent me. As I thumbed through the pages I found a message which directly concerns us who are in prison: 'Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; ... be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.' This says in a few lines what would take others many pages and even books to express so clearly and thoroughly. It also explains why Christ has let the devil cast some of us into prison, and it gives the necessary hope that through faith we also can enter the kingdom of God, though our paths may have many obstacles to surmount. The early Christians gave their lives for the Word of God, so we shouldn't find it too hard being asked to be faithful.

"I am anxiously looking forward to going to Walla Walla College. I only hope for the great honor of being able to study and be a minister of God. In closing I want to thank you again for introducing me to Christ, and also for sending me and the other fellows the many books which have helped immensely, and lightened many lonely hours for all of us. I also want to say that my first year with Christ has been the most satisfying of my entire life, and my intentions are to spend my following years and all eternity for Him and with Him."

Berkley was planning to be baptized, so I sent him a baptismal certificate that he could look over. This is the letter we received June 18:

"I received your letter with the baptismal certificate enclosed, also the three paper-bound pamphlets you sent, for which I want to thank you. I read the baptismal certificate through, and for curiosity's sake I checked again most of the references that prove the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Every time I read them I wonder to myself how people, even if they don't know these things, can so grossly misinterpret the Bible to fit the wants and lusts of their sinful flesh. They just haven't given their hearts to Christ.

"I am hoping and praying that I will be able to be baptized But most of all I hope that it is God's will that I enter Walla Walla College. If wanting alone would make it a reality, believe me I'd be right there now. I had the book Pastor Blehm sent me, The Mountain Ash, down from the shelf again last night and was thumbing through it. If I don't watch out, I'll have the pages worn out by so much handling. It seems as if I know each member of the faculty and every student personally, although I haven't seen any of them. I am sure I would recognize them if I met them on the street.

"Aunt Rose, when you asked me if I wanted to join the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I'm afraid I didn't thoroughly explain my views of the subject to you. I always took it for a certainty that you knew I wanted to join. If a person's only ambition is to accept the free gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ, and serve Christ to the best of his ability, his first step in this direction after accepting Christ is to follow the Ten Commandments of God, of which the Fourth Commandment is a vital part. If upon checking the various doctrines of churches throughout this country one finds that there is only one church which adheres to the true conception of God's Ten Commandments, there is no other alternative but to join it. We cannot follow nine of the Ten Commandments and discard the remaining one just because it doesn't fit into the present pattern of our lives. At least we can't and expect to have eternal life. God forbid that we hold His commandments in such low esteem."

It was one of the happiest days of our lives when we received word that Berkley had received his parole. On the morning of June 8 we drove into the penitentiary grounds and received "our" boy, for surely he belongs to us, and we love him as though he were our own son. Why shouldn't we? Didn't God give that young man to us? Nobody else wanted him, so we claim him as ours.

I had so much pleasure that afternoon shopping with him for new clothes and fixing him all up for school. In the afternoon Roy shopped with him to get his typewriter, and then, on June 9, a beautiful Sabbath morning, we took him to Sabbath school and to church for the first time. In the afternoon he was baptized. We had made arrangements with the pastor of the church to have the baptismal service at the Salem, Oregon, church. It was packed with hundreds of people. Pastor H. D. Strever and his wife had driven day and night from Tucson, Arizona, so that he could officiate at that service. He had been a great help to Berkley, for he had written to him occasionally-as had also Pastor Blehm-and had visited him many times. He had helped to teach him the beliefs of the church.

We had made arrangements for him to enter college, and had talked with the president about it. I had talked with the dean also, and he urged us to be there in time to attend the graduation service. We were there. True to his promise, Pastor and Mrs. Blehm drove Berkley to Walla Walla College in their car, and the Strevers also went along. It was Pastor Blehm, Berkley's new friend, who introduced him to his friends in the administration building, to the dean, and to the students. Berkley enrolled as a student of theology.

When summer school was ended, he came home, to the first home that he could really call his. We had his room all ready for him. He was with us during vacation between the summer session and the fall term. It was just a little hard for us to let him go back to school again, for it had been so good to have our boy with us. He is studying hard now, for he wants to finish as soon as possible and get out into the Lord's work. He was home with us again during Christmas vacation. It was so much fun to prepare for Christmas with all the "trimmings" again. When we gave him his Christmas gift, we said, "Berkley, we wondered, would you like to call us Dad and Mother?"

He said, "I have thought of it many times, and I would like to. But I was waiting until you asked me." So it's Dad and Mom now.

One more letter from Sittner Hall, College Place, Washington:

"Dear Dad and Mom:

"It's been a week since I last saw you, and I think that it's about time I write. Things are beginning to move at a very rapid pace around here now that midterm tests begin tomorrow. I have three book reports and a lot of studying to do between now and tomorrow morning. Each time I come to another test period, I always begin thinking how much I don't know about my subjects, then I begin worrying whether or not I will be able to pass. Somehow or other, though, I always seem to worry in vain. It certainly is wonderful just to be studying in a Christian college. I really don't believe that one fully appreciates what it means to be in such a college unless he has seen the corruption of the world.

Of course, one meets with discouragements, even in a Christian college; but now, when I find myself becoming discouraged, I know where to turn for comfort and guidance. God has never failed me yet when I have turned to Him for aid, and I am positive that He won't in the future. Before I knew Christ and before I decided to follow in the path He had planned for me, I didn't know what to do or where to go for counsel and guidance. I relied mostly upon my own weak, human mind for my decisions, and it never seemed to fail that I would make the wrong ones. Now I never fear making a mistake such as I used to. I just kneel and pray for guidance. And somehow or other my mind is relieved and the way is pointed out by the unfailing Word of God.

"Mom, do you remember when you told me about the woman who asked you if I ever had the urge to go back into that prison? It sounded to me like a very foolish question, and it really was. It could be likened to a man who was walking along the street when he stumbled and fell into an open sewer. If another man came to his rescue and pulled him back into the light of day, would that man turn around and jump back into the sewer again? He knows that there is nothing but corruption down there.

"Well, Dad and Mom, I must close for this time. I am sending my love and prayers along with this letter.

Lovingly your son, Berkley."

We have come to the end of our story. It had its beginning in Spokane, Washington, where our son lay dying, and a young man, a nurse, one who was not ashamed of his religion or of the gospel of Christ, shared his faith with Jack. He didn't have to do that No one asked him to do it. But what if he had failed? What hope would Jack have had in the resurrection? And where would we be today? Out in the world of sin and ignorance and darkness.

Then came the tragedy in Gold Beach. Was that merely an accident? Did it just happen? Then we met the boys. What if we had failed to visit them? Surely God's hand can be seen in it all.

Our hearts should be so filled with the love of Christ that we give ourselves wholly to Him and follow His directions. Our first object should be to save perishing souls from utter destruction. We have a great responsibility to our fellow men. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." Romans 13:12. "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." Daniel 12:3.


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