How Tommy Davis Went from Burning Prison Mattresses to Setting Souls Ablaze for God

"I set mattresses on fire," says Tommy Davis about his years in the prisons he now visits as a Christian minister. "I was so violent I had to be incarcerated 23 hours a day in my cell. I felt my purpose was to persecute non-Muslims in hopes they would turn to Allah."

In 1991 Davis, then 18, received a 29-year sentence for assault in Rochester, N.Y. He embraced Islam but met Frank Farrow, a chaplain who for nine months talked with him about Jesus, the Trinity, and salvation through grace. Davis remembers that he prayed one night, "'Lord'--I don't know why I said Lord, I didn't say Allah--'if Christianity is real, you need to answer these questions.' And I went to church that morning, and the chaplain preached a message on salvation--how the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. He answered every question I had in that one sermon."

David professed faith in Christ in 1994, studied for three years, and began taking on some chaplain duties. Farrow, now 81, says, "When Tommy started talking--he hit home. Some of the fellas there almost started ducking when he got up to preach. He found his calling." Paroled in 2001 after nearly 12 years in prison, Davis gained a full-time job in meat packing, married a prison guard, had three children, and earned a bachelor's degree in theology and then a master's in ministry from Tennessee Temple.

Now Davis, along with fellow Good News Jail and Prison Ministry chaplains Paul Burress and Ron Morse, spends about six hours daily in the jail. They make an odd trio. Burress, senior pastor at Rochester's Victory Church, wears a T-shirt marked "American Fighter" that just covers his tattoos. Morse, who was a volunteer in the jail during Davis' time as a prisoner, wears a gray suit and calls himself "the minister to the sinister." Davis wears a blue argyle vest. His shoes shine.

The three move as a unit through the facility. Many staff members stop to trade shoulder-slaps with them and exchange greetings. A passing officer says, "Surgery coming up, say a prayer for me?" "Sure will, brother." They take the elevator to the housing part of the prison. There they walk the floors and talk and talk. Sometimes prisoners ask them for greeting cards to give to family.

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Chelsea Kolz
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