| Terry Pluto has been a sports writer since 1979; currently a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, he also writes for the religion section twice a month. Pluto has written 18 books, the latest being Unguarded, the autobiography of Lenny Wilkens. Many professional athletes and coaches, as well as other writers, throughout the country respect his work. They have shown an appreciation for his skills by recognizing his writing talents with numerous awards and nominations. Pluto was named Ohio Sportswriter of the Year five times. Six-times he has been in the Associated Press Top 10 for column writing for a medium sized paper. Twice he has taken first place as the nation's top sports columnist for the Associated Press. He was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize; in addition to receiving over 50 national, state, and regional awards.
An accomplished writer, yet he spends about two nights a week in jail.
Pluto is involved in prison outreach. Every Thursday night at Portage County Jail he leads a chapel service with Deacon Tim Defrange. He often volunteers at other area jails.
Building relationships with the inmates is an essential element to successful outreach in prison, according to Pluto. He listens to the inmates tell their stories and they listen to him share the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Pluto listens, he realizes the men often haven't examined their lives. "You don't have to convince them their world is a mess. They really haven't thought about why or how to stop it."
Using allegories he is able to encourage his listeners to think. "I talk about feeling like a pinball; how life bounces you from one end to another and you're being hit by flippers, shot in different directions, rebounding off of here and there. That resonates with these men and women." Then Pluto reasons with them. "I ask, don't you just want some order and a sense of what to do?" This approach has allowed Pluto to reach the inmates and build relationships by bridging the gap.
While doing a story on Bill Glass, a former defensive end with the Cleveland Browns, and his prison outreach Weekend of Champions, Pluto had his first experience with prison ministry. "I had first talked to Bill Glass in 1996, when I was writing a book called, When All The World Was Browns Town. That was about the 1964 Browns, the last Cleveland team to win a National Football League Championship. I tracked down all the key players from that team, and did a 'Where Are They Now' section at the end of the book."
The Weekend of Champions became one of the most impacting events in his life. "It wasn't just the prisoners, it was the people ministering to the prisoners. Everyone in the prison seemed so ordinary. Frankly, some of these guys reminded me a lot of the athletes I deal with." Indeed, when Travis Fryman, the Cleveland Indians third baseman, asked Pluto what is it like in prison. He said, "Travis try not to take this the wrong way, it's not a lot different than a lot of the guys you run into in different locker rooms. It was really a combination of a bunch of ordinary people talking to each other only some of them had DOC (Department of Corrections) on their back." As Pluto began to watch the men ministering to the prisoners, he began to see Jesus working. "It was pure evangelism, the likes of which I never knew even existed, much less could be available to someone such as me. I said to myself, "So this is what real Christians do."
Believing that prisons are an easier place to reach people for Christ than in everyday life Pluto goes where he feels he can do the most good. "It's much easier to talk about God in a prison situation than it is the workplace because they are all in a point of crisis. They have plenty of time to read." Pluto also believes that the best way for someone to encounter Jesus is through the scriptures. "Just get a Bible and read it."
Pluto has co-authored a book with Bill Glass entitled: Crime: Our Second Vietnam. The book discusses society's war on crime and the story of Bill Glass' work in prison ministry. In addition, it invites the reader to experience the reality of prison life through stories. Pluto shares, "the book is written the same way Jesus taught, through parables and stories." Many people who are not interested in Christ have enjoyed the book because it takes you into a place where most people will not go. The book is published by Bill Glass Ministries and is available only by phone at (972) 298-1101 and the Internet (www.glassweb.com).
Another event in Terry's life that had an immense impact on him was his beloved father having a stroke. For nearly five years, Pluto lived with the reality that his father was dying. A long time to struggle, to question, to seek.
Sharing his struggle with the readers of his sports column and inviting them into his personal life, Pluto revealed himself as a person of depth and character, and most of all a seeker of truth.
He also recounted the story in his first article to appear in the religion section of the Akron Beacon Journal entitled: Americans Searching For God. He asked himself the question we all ask at some point in our life. Is there a God? He began to wrestle with this and other questions. Then He searched for answers; a search that led him to the truth, to Jesus.
After discovering a relationship with Jesus, Pluto was able to help his father find peace and accept Jesus as his Savior before he died. "My father lead me to Christ as much as I lead him to Christ." Sharing Christ brought healing to their relationship.
Writing in the religion section of the Akron Beacon Journal, Pluto has explored many theological and everyday issues; including choosing a church, prayer, relationships, consequences of our choices, and where is God in tragedy? "I try and write about issues rather than things. The things being the new church, the issues being what do you do when the steam engine blows up in Medina and there are bodies all over the place. How do you handle that?" These are the issues, real issues encountered by real people that Pluto addresses. This makes him unique in his field and usable by the Lord.