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
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
"Do you mean candy?" I inquired.
"Oh, yes, we haven't had any candy for such a long
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
"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
I said, "Do you suppose the boys would enjoy having a
"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
"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
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
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."
PAROLE AND A NEW LIFE
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
"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:
"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
"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
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
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,
"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.