by Ken Walke
Rage surged through Carl Reimann. He went to
pluck his gun from his car and shoot the policeman who had pulled him over. After all, he
had already killed five people during a bungled robbery at a small-town restaurant an hour
west of Chicago.
But when Reimann
grabbed the weapon, it seemed welded to the car roof. He gave himself up, and the officer
snatched the gun like a feather and cuffed the hardened criminal.
"Thats where God intervened," says the inmate at Dixon,
Illinois. "If I would have picked up the gun, I would have died right there."
A miracle yes. But only one of many miracles in the life of this
Illinois convict who received forgivenessnot only from God, but from the wife of one
of his victims.
In late 1982, Cheryl Gardner traveled to the sprawling complex in Dixon
to meet the man who took the life of her husband, Dave. The two still communicate about
their service to GodCarl, as a worker in the prisons hospital program; Cheryl,
as a writer and speaker on forgiveness.
"It completely filled in the hole that I carried around for 18
years after my husbands death," says Cheryl of personally pardoning the man who
left her a 26-year-old widow in 1972. "It was a mountaintop experience. It turned my
life around. I never realized I carried around unforgiveness until the Lord pointed it out
Carl recalls that a woman accompanied Cheryl to prison. He believes she
came to prove he was a phony. As they talked, Scripture flowed from his memory.
"There were four people at the table," he says, referring to Christ
presence. "That woman said, I dont believe this is happening."
"I said, If it werent for the love of Jesus, you
wouldnt be here. And if it werent for Him, I wouldnt be able to receive
Carl Reimann grew up on a farm in north-central Illinois, a dozen miles
from the 1972 murder scene. Three months earlier, he had completed a five-year sentence
for robbery in Nebraska.
He traces his crime sprees to a hardened heart formed in childhood. The
youngest of five children, he once asked his mother if she loved him. She shrugged and
reminded him that he had food, clothing and shelter.
"Love is something a child needs to hear," he says. "I
learned to live without love. I became withdrawn."
A troubling pattern soon emergeddrinking at age 8; stealing a
shotgun at 14; burglarizing a truck stop at 21; finally, serious time in a neighboring
Working between sentences in construction, in foundries or on farms,
Carl took his bitterness everywhere. Thinking nobody cared about him, he felt little for
anyone else. For 14 years after the murders, he shunned contact with other prisoners and
left no remorse for his victims or their families.
That changed as Carl, on an impulse, attended a church service in the
prison yard. As visitors from a neighboring church led the service, Carl fought
uncontrollable tears. He said the sinners prayer, but struggled to let go of
swearing and smoking. Finally, he knelt and prayed, "Lord, I dont want to quit
smoking; but if You want it, You take it."
"I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit that night," he
says. "Thats the only power that could take a 40-year smoking habit away from
"When I got up off the floor, it felt like a two-ton weight had
been taken off my shoulders. From that day on, I felt free. I had been in chains, doing
Satans work, but my Lord set me free."
Three years ago, the veteran prisoner began working as an aide to Vince
Marrandino, an Assemblies of God chaplain who preaches to prisoners several times each
Besides duties as a religious library clerk, Carl works with geriatric
inmates. Of the first three inmates he assisted, two accepted Christ before they died.
"He is very helpful," says Chaplain Marrandino, noting if
someone needs a Bible or Christian literature, Carl goes out of his way to let him know.
The question of prison converts sincerity commonly arises when
Chaplain Marrandino speaks in churches. Often when asked about this, Marrandino poses the
following question: "If an inmate gets out and buys a house next to you, would you
rather it be someone who attended services or was in gangs the whole time?"
When Cheryl sees audience members tears as she shares her story
about forgiveness, she knows God is touching hearts. But her most moving encounter came
via a call from a family friend who read about her prison visit.
"If you can do what you did, I can give up the unforgiveness
Ive carried for over 60 years," the caller said.
"I heard a whole new release in her voice," says Cheryl.
The woman had been touched by the same Power that held a gun to the top
of a car 27 years ago.