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Discovering God’s Grace Behind Bars (Part 2 of 2)

Discovering God’s Grace Behind Bars (Part 2 of 2)

Bo Mitchell and his wife, Gari, discuss his involvement in a business scandal that led to him serving 11 months in prison for bank fraud. The couple describes how God used this situation to transform and heal their family. (Part 2 of 2)

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Teaser: 

Gari Mitchell: I figured he was broken enough. He didn’t need me to pile on in any way. In fact, all he needed, he just needed my encouragement. And I also was there in 1984 when these loans happened and I knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. 

End of Teaser 

John Fuller: That’s Gari Mitchell and she and her husband, Bo, returned to Focus on the Family today to recount a really difficult time in their lives, and God’s intervention. Your host is Focus president, and author, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller. 

Jim Daly: Bo and Gari’s story is heartbreaking. At least the part we’ve covered so far, John. Bo is a business man living that fast-paced life, doing deals. Sometimes even too busy to spend time with his children and his wife, Gari. And that was a little bit of the division within their family. She was trying to hold all the pieces together and when a sinus surgery went wrong she developed an illness that took her down for a while. And we’re gonna hear more about that in just a minute. 

In the midst of all of it, Bo received devastating news that he had been caught up in a bank fraud case and now faced 11 months in prison. He never knew what he did wrong. If you missed the first part of the story, call us for the CD or go get the app for your smartphone and download it. It’s a great way to listen to the program. But it is there, and it is worth listening to. It’s a powerful story. 

John: And you can find those resources online at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and we’d be happy to tell you more. 800-A-FAMILY. 

Jim: Bo is the Chaplain and Senior Adviser for the Colorado Rockies, which is our Major League Baseball Team here in Colorado. Gari is the Director of Consulting Services with Crosswalk Fellowship. And they’ve been married 45 years. Congratulations. And they share their story in a brand new book titled, Grace Behind Bars. 

Bo and Gary, welcome back to Focus on the Family. 

Body: 

Bo Mitchell: It’s a blessing to be back. Thanks, Jim.

 

Gari: Thank you, Jim. 

Jim: Now at this time, I mean, we’re gonna get back to that to that dark spot, because that had to be very emotional. Gari, you were strugglin’ with some difficulty. You had sinus surgery. You weren’t recovering well. Discuss with us as a supportive spouse, right at the moment when Bo needed you most, you were kind of debilitated and you were not in a good spot. 

Gari: Right. I had surgery in September of ’88 and the surgery went great. You know, it fixed the problem, but it caused a complete like brain illness collapse. That’s all they could call it. And they don’t really know what happened, but I was pretty sick for the next 10 years. 

So, two and a half years into this, the summer of ’91, I was starting to feel better and that’s when Bo came home and said this has happened. And I thought, okay, Lord, You’re gonna have to step in here and give me the strength and courage and whatever. And I do think God totally started strengthening me and helped me just to go through this time and to encourage him, because it’d be like weekly he’d come home and go, “You’re not gonna believe this now.” It was like this big snowball coming at us and we wanted it to stop, but it just kept going and going and the ball just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. But you know, God just brought us through that. 

Jim: Well, let me ask you that. I mean, that’s what we say in the Christian community. You know, God brought me through. You guys had to be sayin’, “God, what are You doin’? I mean, here I am a good guy. I helped build the church. I’m leading Bible studies. I’m doin’ everything that I think lines up with Your character. I’m an honest person. These friends who helped build the church asked me to do this. I did that to help them out so they wouldn’t lose their business.” And now you’re standing in front of a judge saying, “You’re guilty of a felony.” 

Gari: Well, and— 

Jim: You didn’t shake your fist at God and say, “Okay, what’s goin’ on?” 

Gari: Yeah, well, I got into some fist shaking (Laughing)– 

Jim: What did it sound like? 

Gari: –for sure. 

Jim: How did you argue with God? 

Gari: The first night that Bo went to prison, I just remember taking my dogs out for a walk that night and it was cold. It was in January and— 

Jim: Your first night alone. 

Gari: –the first night alone and I can remember being out there and I remember saying to God, “This is so overwhelming. I do not know what to do here. I feel like I’ve just been thrown off the edge of the Grand Canyon and I don’t know if I’m gonna have an umbrella or a parachute or anything to catch me. It was just like everything that I knew … I didn’t know what to do. 

And so, I did shake my fist at God and I did say, “I don’t know how You can allow a child, you know, Your child to go through this.” But on the other hand, I really did believe that God was in control. 

Jim: So emotionally that’s where you were at. Bo, let’s go back to standing in front of the judge and he tells you you’re guilty. He worked it out to where you could delay for a little while, get things in order, but then that day came. You had to go to prison. Describe that. 

Bo: Well, first of all this huge bank of grey bars slide and you step forward and then they slide back and close with a big boom! And then you hear this voice over your head say, “I’ve got one in the trap.” And that’s what we try to say in the book, is that a lot of people feel trapped—marriage, debt, bad jobs, tough things with their children, whatever. And Gari and I were saying that to each other even going through this. We were saying, there are more difficult things than going to prison, so let’s just do our best here with Christ. 

Jim: Sounds like almost what the enemy of our soul would say to his demons. 

Bo: Absolutely. 

Jim: I’ve got one in the trap. 

Bo: Yep, it is. 

Jim: Wow, think of that. 

Bo: So, I hear this voice in the sky say that and then the doors in front of me slide open, same big grey bars and then I step out and now I’m in a cell block just like you’d see on TV—two-tiered, tables in the middle, and nobody’s there to greet you. You’re just standin’ there and that’s when this huge fellow stepped into my face and said, “That’s my T-shirt you’re wearin’ and I’d like it right now.” 

Jim: Seriously? 

Bo: Yeah, ’cause the people that are in there are arrested off the streets and their clothes don’t fit, Shirts, pants don’t fit. Shoes don’t fit. Takes a little time in the prison system to get things that fit. And here I come in with this big white comfortable T-shirt that I was told to wear, not knowin’ I’m stickin’ out like a neon light. And this guy walks up and said, “That’s my T-shirt; I want it right now.” 

Jim: What’d you do? 

Bo: So, I said, “Look, you know, I just walked in here and I got enough trouble, but this is my T-shirt. My wife wrote my name in the back of this T-shirt last night. My name’s Bo.” And then what came from the Holy Spirit was, “And Bo knows T-shirts.” And this guy fortunately thought that was funny. (Laughter) So, he laughed to that statement. He laughed at that and then he kinda moseyed off and then two other guys came up and said, “Hey, we saw what you did there. You did a good thing, ’cause if you’d have given him that shirt, you’d have given him everything.” 

But I said to these guys, “What am I supposed to do now?” And that was the next step in the whole process. They said, “Go down to the end of the cell block, up into that guard station and …” 

Jim: Man, nobody told you anything. 

Bo: (Laughing) No, you’re just kinda stuck in this. 

Jim: It’s like the the strong survive, huh? You just walk through the cell block tryin’ to find your way. 

Bo: Yeah and you don’t know that all 100 sets of eyeballs are on you. 

Jim: Sizing you up– 

Bo: Yep. 

Jim: –all the way. So, you got to your cell block and then you encountered your cellmate. What was that like? 

Bo: Well, in that cell block, Cell Block A, I was in a 6 x 9 cell with a guy that wouldn’t say a word to me. (Chuckling) In fact, he didn’t really say a … 

Jim: Six by nine, you’re right there and he wouldn’t acknowledge you. 

Bo: No, just a bunk bed and I remember that first night thinking, well, this must be in part what they mean by institutionalized, ’cause if this guy touches me, I’ll kill him. Fortunately, I was bigger than him. But laying in that bunk and lookin’ out the window on the big barbed wire, thinkin’, I did every … I was never shakin’ my fist at God, but I did think, “Are You sure you’re in control? (Emotional) ‘Cause it doesn’t quite feel like it.” 

Jim: And there’s tears in your eyes right now, ’cause you could feel that emotion. I mean, I’m thinking of that statement Jesus made. “Why have You forsaken Me?” 

Bo: A little bit, yes. But also the same thing I did in my family, I caused this. I did my part. I don’t want to ever present any of this like I was just a victim. Did I get, you know, did we kill a fly here with a sledge hammer? Maybe that’s the case, maybe not. I’m not sure what the government would say about this now. 

But for me, eventually, you know, I’m in this tough situation, but I’m making it a God deal. And Gari, why don’t you tell ’em some about your first night if you don’t mind. 

Gari: Well, the first night through this amazing thing, Ashley and Andy and I got to go see him in prison. And so we walked in and we had to check all our clothes and they had to pat us down and then we had to go through this door. And then they closed that door and I felt like I was in a trap. And then they said okay, here are these people. Then we got to come into a little room. And it was like a small lunch room. And then Bo walked in and he was just crying, which made us all cry. 

Jim: Yeah. 

Gari: And we all just looked at each other and just cried and cried about it. And then on the way … 

Jim: And there was glass separating you and all that. 

Gari: No, it was like a lunch room. 

Jim: But you couldn’t– 

Gari: We got to sit at the same table. 

Jim: –but you couldn’t touch each other I thought. 

Gari: We could. I had to ask permission at the end. We said, “Can we, can I just hug him?” And the guard stood right there and watched us. 

Jim: Wow. 

Gari: And I came back home and I said, “God, You have got to give me something to get through this night. I don’t know what it is, but I have just desperately gotta have something.” So, I got my Bible out and I started reading at Psalm 60. And then I kept reading and then I got to Psalm 66. And He just said, “For You, O God, tested us. You refined us like silver. You brought us into prison. You laid burdens on our back. You let men ride over our heads. We went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.” 

So, I remember thinking, okay, Lord. You know what’s going on. You’ve allowed this to happen. You’re in control. You know this is it. And I was just so encouraged and that was enough peace, enough understanding that I could sleep that night. 

Jim: That’s amazing. I mean, I am in awe of your strength there, Gari, ’cause again, physically you’re in a tough spot. You’re just coming out of your illness. I know, Bo, being the man of the home, that had to rest heavily on your heart that in this time that Gari really needed you, here you are in prison. And you mentioned your kids and describe for our listeners how old are your children in this moment and how are they responding to this environment? 

Gari: Well, Andy was a junior in high school and our daughter, Ashley was [in] her first year at the University of Kansas. And when this happened to her dad, she said, “Look, I can’t go back to school in Kansas for my second semester. If this had happened to me, dad would get an apartment right next door to where I was in prison and he would be there for me every day.” So, she said, “I can’t go back when my heart’s in Colorado.” 

So, our two kids loved their dad. They have great relationships with him and they were …Andy was really mad, you know. He was really mad, really hurt that somebody was takin’ his best friend away. 

Jim: Did they get mad at God? Were they saying, “God— 

Gari: Andy was. 

Jim: –how could You do this to— 

Gari: I don’t think— 

Jim: –our dad?” 

Gari: –Ashley. I think Andy definitely did. Later on when Bo had been in prison for a while, they were, Bo was sitting with Andy at the table and an inmate came up and said, “Andy, I just want to thank you so much for loaning us your dad for a while” and he said, “because he’s got a Bible study and he’s brought people to Christ and we’re just so grateful we got to have him.” And Andy said, at that moment he got it. He thought— 

Jim: Wow! 

Gari: –God really is in control of this. He does love us and He has a plan. And his anger just went away. 

Jim: Bo, that’s a profound statement and I want to ask you about that in terms of what the Lord did. It almost sounds like a modern-day Paul. I mean, here you are going to jail, not for the same reasons. I mean, Paul went to jail because he believed in Jesus. But for you, there you are in jail and you start drawing people to Christ. 

And in the book, Grace Behind Bars, you mention these stories of how men were attracted to what you were saying about God. Describe a couple of them. 

Bo: Well, I want to say first though, somebody said to me before I went, ‘You’re gonna be like Paul.” And I said, “Please don’t say that. I’m going in to be quiet and fall at God’s feet and see what He has for me. I’m going in selfishly just to learn what …” 

Jim: You weren’t a willing participant at first. 

Bo: (Laughing) Correct, I was not. And yet, things happened. Like Sunday nights we had a great chaplain that came in and had church for us. Tuesday nights, Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship group came in and we had a good group of inmates that would gather for that.

And then ultimately, some of the inmates said, “Would you please just lead us on Wednesday nights in a Bible study?” So, I was happy to do that, but Easter Sunday, the guys said, “Would you preach an Easter Sunday message for us?” And I said, “I will if some of you all will help. Let’s get a group goin’ here and to have the service.” 

But individually, there were just some fun things. Like there was (Chuckling) this really cool guy that would come with a big smile to Prison Fellowship every week. And I would just kinda glance at the guy and think, he only had a few teeth in his mouth, just a sweetheart. And I’d glance over there and think, he struggles a little with what we’re talkin’ about here. 

So, I said to him one night after the Prison Fellowship meeting, “Do you have a clue what we’re talkin’ about here?” And he said, “Not a clue.” (Laughing) And I said, “Tell me why you come here?” He said, “It makes me feel good.” And I said, “Would you like to know what about this makes you feel good?” And he said, “Yes, I would.” 

So, we had half hour before bed check and lights out, so we went across the hall and I mean, I did the full circles, the carnal man, natural man, spiritual man. Went through John 3 and he received Christ that night on the spot. 

And I still cried every day. Now don’t get me wrong. There was one inmate that he knew that I wasn’t afraid or embarrassed. He knew I was doin’ this with God. But he came up to me one day and he said, “You know, Bo, it’s not good to cry every single day in prison. It just doesn’t look good to the guys.” (Laughing) That’s in the book. 

So, I may have sounded like I was leading a little bit, but the guys knew what I was about. And as much as I was cryin’, I mean, I think my family was crying too. They could visit me 99 days out of the 137 I was in this terrible place. But they came 97 of the 99. 

Jim: Where was that point where you turned that corner and this is really a question for both of you, where you got it? It sounded like you came to that conclusion pretty early, Gari, that okay, maybe God has something here. And you said it, Bo, but you’re still cryin’ every day, which is completely reasonable by the way. But where did you in that 11 months say, “Okay, God, I got it. This was about me. I know why I’m here. I’ll do whatever You need me to do for these guys in here to share Your gospel, to tell people about you,” was that fairly early on? Or did that take a little time? 

Gari: I think that early on … first of all, Bo and I – we both knew God, He had this for us. This is what He had called us to do. 

Jim: Huh… 

Gari: But I got to thinkin’ about Bo a couple weeks into it. I don’t think he found this particularly funny, but I started calling this time in prison his “Enforced Spiritual Retreat.” 

Jim: Right. 

Gari: That God has just picked him up out of his world, away from his telephone, away from his fundraising, away from all the things he was doing and put him in this place where he could really concentrate on the Lord. And that just happened, you know. And I saw such changes in him. And he said, he was so broken. So, I really did have to become the strongest one in our relationship and God just did that for me– 

Jim: Yeah. 

Gari: –and just strengthened me in ways that I think was surprising to both of us. 

Jim: He came out a better person than when he went in. 

Gari: He came out definitely a better person in so many ways, you know. 

Jim: And Bo, how about you? Was there that moment you could feel, tangibly feel, you were turnin’ that corner and saying, “Okay, God, I think I got it?” 

Bo: You know, I would say when the guy sentenced me for sure I got a lot of it. But the first night in that cell, I got it. Another huge does of— 

Jim: God’s purpose. 

Bo: –the messages. Yeah, the messages God had for me. So on one hand, it was quick. On another hand, it’s never. I mean, it’s very humbling to have an ex-convict label that never is gonna leave. It keeps, still today, keeps me from sayin’ and doin’ a lot of things that would revert me back to the old days where I used to be comfortable goin’ 150 miles an hour on everything. And if you couldn’t go that pace, tough. That was my attitude. But I learned, especially with Gari and Ashley, our daughter, but everybody, that that’s not safe. I was an unsafe person. I was reckless in business. So, every day I’m still tryin’ to stay focused (Chuckling) on, you know, be a little kinder, be a little gentler, be a little quieter. 

Jim: Slow down a little bit. 

Bo: Yeah (Chuckling), 70 miles an hour is still pretty quick if the speed limit’s 30. 

Jim: Bo, let me this analogy. You do in the book, so you’re the one that makes this analogy, but let me tease it out here. Your father going back to the World Series and him striking out against the pitcher of the perfect game. There was controversy on that last call. He was thrown a bad pitch and even players on the Yankees said that favored the pitcher, not your father, the batter. So, there was injustice there. I mean, here your dad could’ve ruined that perfect game if he got a walk. Here you are years later, his boy, his young man in jail, some would argue because of an imperfect call, a strike when it should’ve been a ball or a walk. Tie those two stories together. 

Bo: Well, that’s interesting, ’cause my dad never thought it was funny. He only struck out 119 times in 3,984 major league at bats and he did not like being remembered for striking out. And I don’t particularly like my life being remembered for going to prison. So, to tie the two together I just say, I watched my dad move on from that and have a very successful life and become a better husband and a better dad and great businessman. 

And so, the repair part of this, to come out of this situation where maybe I got a bad call, too, and that’s a really good analogy (Chuckling), but is to say Gari and I are better. We’re stronger. She never said one negative word to me through the whole process. 

Jim: Boy, think of that everybody. 

Bo: How about that? 

Jim: For the listener, I mean, just naggin’ your spouse or saying a nasty thing. Gari, that’s quite a teaching moment for all of us, to hold your tongue, especially in a moment of desperation. 

Gari: Yeah, I figured he was broken enough. He didn’t need me to pile on in any way. In fact, all he needed, he just needed my encouragement. And also, I was there in 1984 when these loans happened and I knew he hadn’t done anything wrong. 

Jim: Yeah. 

Gari: I just knew it. So, it wasn’t like, you know, that happened, but, yes. 

Jim: You know, again, in part you wrote Grace Behind Bars, not to be one of those prison stories, although it is that. But it’s also, as you said a while ago, it’s aimed at the person who’s carrying heavy load, in their marriage, their parenting. Maybe it’s not going the right way. Their career is not going well. As we wrap up, what is that word of encouragement to the person who’s shaking their fist at God saying, “Why have You forsaken me? Why aren’t You here?” What do you say to them? 

Gari: I think that what you say to them is, you know, God loves you deeply. He loves you deeply and He knows what you need to come closer to Him. And if you will really choose Him and what He has for you, God’s got great gifts for you in the middle of these very difficult times. 

Bo: And I say, get ready in advance by coming into a relationship with Christ, making right choices in doing your part in responding to this gift of salvation by making those right choices and living in obedience, because you will get a call. It’s gonna (Laughing) happen to everybody. It’s how life works. 

So, when you get that call, have your roots down in Christ so you can maximize whatever the pain experience is you’re gonna face. And know that you are gonna come out a better person and God, Romans 8:28, He will work everything together for good. So, if there’s sin involved and you’ve caused something bad, that’s why He went to the cross, was to forgive you of that sin, gives you a fresh start. 

If there’s no sin involved and you just get a call from your doctor that says you’re in bad shape here and you need to come back and see me quick, ’cause we’re dealing with a serious cancer issue, you’ve got what it takes in Christ Jesus to not only withstand what’s comin’ your way, but overcome it. He’ll turn that upside down. So, He’s in the business of makin’ our lives all they were meant to be from the start and I wish I was sittin’ here talkin’ about bein’ the quarterback on five consecutive Super Bowl teams, but that’s not what it took for me. What it took for me was going to prison, and glad I went. Don’t want to go back, except as a guest speaker, but if God wants rain, it’s rain for me. So, I would just say, get ready. 

Jim: Well, and I so appreciate that Bo and Gari, because I think in our culture today in the Christian community, we relate to the Father in a kind of a quid pro quo relationship. Lord, I will tithe. I will go to church. I will teach my kids all the right things. I’ll treat my spouse right and in exchange for that, Lord, I want a comfortable and peaceful life. Is the deal a work, Lord? Is that good for You? And sometimes He says, I’d say, every time He says, “No, I want your heart and I’m gonna take you through some things so I can teach you to be humble, to teach you to be selfless, to teach you to be loving and kind.” And that’s what’s most important to me. And it has happened in your life. Thank you so much for being with us. 

Bo: Thank you, Jim. And Focus has been a great friend to us from the very first moment this happened to us 25 years ago. So, thank you for helpin’ make this book a reality, too, starting with Ken Windebank and all of the Focus staff that said, “We oughta put this story down, ’cause it’s gonna encourage people.” 

Jim: Well, here’s the reason why. If you, listening right now, if you’re in that dark place, you feel like you’re behind bars. It may not be true prison, but it’s something that has kept you down, um … this is a resource for you. This is a book you should receive. So, write us; call us. E-mail us. Let’s get this into your hands so that it will give you the tools to help you crawl out of that pit and to help you in your relationship with Christ first and foremost. 

And we have caring Christian counselors who can help you in that discussion. Hopefully, if you don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, they’ll show you and explain how to encounter Him for the first time. And it’ll be a life that’ll be changed for good in every way. So, don’t be embarrassed. Call us today. 

Closing: 

John: And the number is 800-232-6459. 800-A-FAMILY. Or find resources and help online at focusonthefamily.com/radio. 

And when you get in touch be sure to ask about the book by Bo and Gari Mitchell. Once again, it’s called, Grace Behind Bars. And it recounts with great heart the story that you’ve heard them tell today along with some powerful spiritual lessons that you can apply when you face trials of your own. We’ll send a copy of that book, Grace Behind Bars, to you when you make a generous gift of any amount to the ministry of Focus on the Family. 

Once again our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. On behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday when former teacher of the year, Guy Doud, inspires us to find ways to reach out to those who need encouragement. 

Teaser: 

Guy Doud: So you know what I do as a teacher? I go to school a little early in the morning. And here’s a desk. Here’s where Shaun sits. I sit down in Shaun’s desk. And I pray for Shaun, sitting in his desk. And then when Shaun comes walking down the hall I can never think of him, again, in the same way. 

End of Teaser 

John: That’s next time on Focus on the Family as we once again help you and your family thrive.

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