about unconditional love
is warden of Salinas Valley State Prison in Monterey County,
Calif., a super-maximum facility employing 1,286 personnel,
housing 4,200 inmates and operating on a $111 million annual
budget. Salinas Valley provides long-term housing and services
for minimum and maximum custody male inmates. Productivity
and self-improvement opportunities are provided through academic
classes, vocational classes and work programs. The prison
opened in May 1996 and covers 300 acres. The facilities include
a hospital and psychiatric program. Lamarque has served in
corrections for 30 years and as warden at Salinas Valley for
four years. He and his family attend Seaside Assembly of God
in Seaside, Calif. (Ted Britain, senior pastor). Lamarque
spoke recently with Scott Harrup, associate editor.
PE: How did
you become involved in corrections?
I grew up on the mission field. My parents and grandparents
were Baptist missionaries to Haiti. From the age of 5, I knew
that I wanted to be in law enforcement because I saw a lot
of injustice and brutality in Haiti. I remember my grandmother
used to pray for me, and she used to tell me that one day
I would be in a position where I could help people and ensure
that they were not abused. From that early age, I believed
the Lord was calling me to serve as an officer. But I never
dreamed He would lead me to this side of that career. When
I started working in corrections in 1974, I thought it would
only be for a couple years. Now I can look back and see that
God prepared me and has led me all these years. Even growing
up in Haiti, growing up in an environment where people are
bound in voodoo and superstition, I can say to prisoners today
that I serve a God who is more powerful than all of that.
Since coming here,
I’ve been amazed at what the Lord has done. There is
a lot of violence, but I’m also seeing more and more
prisoners turn to Christ. It gives me chills when I walk out
there and someone will say, “We know you’re a
Christian, Mr. Lamarque. We’re praying for you.”
It’s so incredible to see how much light God can bring
into such darkness.
PE: Do other
people see a difference at the prison?
I recently gave a group of Monterey County police and sheriffs
a tour of the prison. When it was over they asked me, “How
do you do it? How do you get that much respect and love from
your staff and the inmates? Everywhere we go someone is hugging
you.” I told them, “There is a God who watches
over me and I give Him all the glory.”
You mentioned the problems with violence. How have you seen
God intervene under those circumstances?
I’ve been in riots. I’ve been attacked. But I’m
still walking today with all my limbs and a joyful spirit.
Recently, I got a call to let me know that an inmate’s
brother had been killed in a gang fight. The inmate was also
pretty heavily involved with gangs. He’s a huge guy,
filled with all the anger in the world because of his brother’s
death. And I remember the Holy Spirit just put in my heart
to go up to him and hug him. I put my arm around him and said,
“You know, Jesus loves you. Sometimes you have to turn
it all over to Him.” He just broke down and began to
cry. One of my staff pastors was with us and we prayed for
powerful. Can you tell me another testimony?
There are so many. At my last prison there was one inmate
who was a lifer. He had murdered a man, but he was always
in denial. He would never accept it. One day he was in my
office preparing to go in front of the parole board. I told
him, “The only way you can resolve what you did is get
it right with God. He’ll help you to get it right with
the victim’s family.” We prayed together. Some
time later he asked to see me. You know, when the Spirit of
God falls on someone, you can watch that person change. He
started crying. “I’ve always believed in religion,”
he said. “Well,” I said, “Jesus is alive.
Don’t believe in religion; believe in the One who died
for you.” I challenged him to begin talking to God just
like he was talking to me. God did a powerful work in him.
When he went before the parole board, he turned to the mother
of his victim, apologized to her and asked for her forgiveness.
You know, he didn’t get parole. He’s still in
prison and may be for the rest of his life. But in my 30 years
in corrections, I’ve never seen anyone more changed
than he was. God has used him to touch so many other lives.
Whenever I ask about him, he’s doing something for God.
Some people believe inmates merely come to God to make themselves
look better to a parole board. Would you say that, for the
most part, inmate conversions are genuine?
do have a few guys that try to use a conversion story that
way. But even there, I believe that God touches a life anytime
a person is exposed to the gospel. For the most part, inmates
come to Christ in a genuine way, and other inmates know it.
Christians in prison are watched, and if their testimony is
genuine the other prisoners won’t pressure them to be
involved in prison politics. But once a Christian does something
that violates his testimony — does drugs, or gets in
a fight with another prisoner — that space that was
given to him is taken away. So, Christian inmates are usually
very careful in their life-style. They know they’re
being watched. They have to walk a straight line. I’m
so glad to see that the Christians at Salinas Valley are growing
in their faith every day.
Working at a government facility, how do you separate your
faith from your obligation to the State of California?
I’m not allowed to push my faith on anyone or mix my
faith with any guidelines of this prison. But I am allowed
to answer questions inmates have. And if you ask me a question
about my faith, I’m going to explain it to you. God
has given me so many opportunities like that.
You’re rubbing shoulders with some of the most hardened
criminals, yet you keep speaking of your love for these men.
Where does that love come from?
I have no problem going to anyone, regardless of why they’re
in prison, and telling them that there is a God who was kind
and good enough to save me. And He will give them that same
love and blessing. To have someone come to you and pray for
you, that’s one of the greatest gifts you can give.
I’m so fortunate. I feel so blessed that God has allowed
me to share the love of Christ like this. Jesus is calling
to these people every day. All they have to do is turn to
Him and give it all to Him. I have a lot of Christian staff
members, and we have a group that prays for our whole facility.
The greatest thing I can see the Lord doing here is to continue
opening the hearts of our staff for the needs of our inmates.
I’m seeing God soften so many hearts. You know, when
I first came here, some officers didn’t want anything
to do with a project like Angel Tree, where you buy Christmas
gifts for needy kids. Now they go right to the list of gifts
each Christmas and find out what they can get for the kids.
For the last several years, they’ve given literally
thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts to those kids.
PE: Any other
you’re a Christian, and you want to reach out, prisons
are the places with the most opportunities. Prisons, county
jails, whatever, are full of people who need to know that
Someone years ago died for them and knows the kind of pain
they’re facing. Prisoners are our biggest home missions
field. We’re talking about thousands of people across
this country. Imagine them being freed when they give their
lives to Christ.
PE: Is Today’s
Pentecostal Evangel available at Salinas Valley?
No. But you guys can send me whatever you have. Flood me!
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