On March 20, Lawrence Edward Buckner marked his twenty-seventh birthday with some of his friends. It wasn’t exactly a celebration, though, because they were all locked up at the county jail. It was Larry’s fifth straight birthday behind bars.
Larry has been in and out of jail since 1997 and is weary of living this way. “I’m tired of letting God down. I know it tears his heart up. I just want to get married and have a family.”
When he was a child, Larry might be the last person you would expect to see in jail some day. He was reading the Bible at three years old, and recalls his mother telling him that God had a call on his life. And he knows that is true. He went to church regularly, and was baptized at eleven years old.
But at age sixteen, he joined a gang and started doing drugs and alcohol. “Even then I could see myself in the story of Jonah,” he says. “God told me to go to Nineveh and serve him, but I went the other way.” Larry has also faced death many times. He was stabbed, shot, and in several auto accidents. Scars on his body, including a prominent one to the right of his mouth, bear evidence. His first time in prison was at age twenty-two for carrying a concealed weapon.
After prison, Larry went home. However, when a relationship with a girl didn’t work out as he hoped, he began selling drugs, and was back in prison in 2004 for twenty more months. He remembers someone telling him then that the calling of God on his life was so great that he wouldn’t be at peace until he committed his life fully to Christ.
“I Was Stuck.” Not long after being released, Larry was jailed again, where he has been for seven months. “I know I have contributed to destroying people’s lives in the past, including when I was out last time, and maybe God will have me pay for that,” he said. “I don’t want to go to prison. Being locked up is like being in a temporary tomb; it’s next to being dead. And if you keep telling family and friends that you’re going to change, after enough times, they stop believing in you. They leave. But if I do go to prison, I also know that the Lord allows circumstances for good.”
Regardless of what happens, Larry knows that something is different now. It may have begun with an inner voice he heard in his cell one day: “Until you get the Eucharist, you’re not going anywhere.” He still isn’t sure if that referred to going somewhere physically, but he knows for sure that it did apply spiritually. “I was stuck,” he says.
Growing up, he had always heard negative things about the Catholic Church, so his perception of Catholics was naturally the same. And his knowledge of the Eucharist was limited to the symbolic communion that his church did occasionally. That was shaken when he encountered some of the men from Catholic outreach in the county jail. “I learned from them, and experienced genuine concern from them,” he said.
Seeing with New Eyes. As a result, Larry went through RCIA (it was a shortened course because many inmates aren’t in jail for the entire nine-month version), and was confirmed on February 3. “It’s the best decision I have ever made,” he says. “Now I know Jesus, not just about him. I feel so proud to be a Catholic. I have had a total transformation. When I get out, I will attend the parish of the guys who have helped me grow in Christ. I will have their support. They are beginning a program called Friends of the Master to help inmates when they are released.
“Since studying Catholicism, my eyes are open to seeing the Eucharist all over Scripture, from the manna to Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, to Paul’s letters. It is really Jesus’ body and blood.”
He faithfully attends Eucharistic Adoration every other Sunday evening when it is available to the men at the jail. That’s when Larry and a number of other men, even non-Catholics, can be found for two hours, face down before the Blessed Sacrament, or praying for themselves and one another.
“The first time I went to Adoration, I cried like a baby,” Larry says. “It was the deepest cleansing moment in my life. I knelt before Jesus and confessed sins I hadn’t remembered to confess before to the priest.”
“Maybe I Can Help Now.” Larry’s confirmation sponsor, Larry Orlewicz, says that Buckner is sharing his faith even more since he has become Catholic, and is bringing other men from his cell block to the services and to join RCIA. “When we have him give his testimony, or preach a little to the other men, there is dead silence,” Orlewicz says. “They know where he has come from, and respect what he has become.”
Buckner says that some of the other guys now come to his cell to ask him to pray for their trial or for other needs. “I’m no saint,” he says, “but maybe I can help them in some way. I took the name Obadiah as my confirmation name because it means ‘servant of God.’ My goal is to do what God asks me to do for the Catholic Church.”
Bob Horning has been involved in prison ministry and is a frequent contributor to
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