Bob’s Turning Points

Bob’s Turning Points -Believer, Baptized, Elder and Ordained Minister: Serving God in Virginia’s Prisons

Chaplain Lee Harris and Chaplain’s Assistant Bob Bradshaw of Green Rock Correctional Center

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain: but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 1 Corinthians 15:10

But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst of sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:16

My name is Bobby Branshaw but most people who know me call me Brother Bob. I’m 58 years old and have been incarcerated for the past 35 years for killing two men in a jealous rage over an unfaithful wife. After I was sentenced to life plus 39 years, they took me to the prison where they sent the worst men in the Virginia prison system. There was no doubt in my mind that my life was over and I knew what society thought about me.

While I spent the next 6 years trying to stay drunk or drugged up, my mother and father were raising my three sons. My mother was a Christian. She never stopped praying for me and asking every other Christian she met to pray for me and my boys.

I’ve been a born-again Christian since April 1, 1989 –  the day I turned 30. I got on my knees and prayed in the hole at Powhatan Correctional Center. I asked God to make Himself known to me. Four days later, I got a letter. There was a Christian family – the Davidsons – they sent me a letter out about King David committed adultery and had the woman’s husband killed in battle to try and cover it up. Once he was confronted with his sin and confessed it, God forgave him… and God would forgive me, too. I knew that was my answer.

The first chaplain I got involved with was Chaplain John Austin, the man who baptized me on September 21, 1990 at Buckingham Correctional Center. Chaplain Austin set me up with counseling and gave me some books which introduced me to Charles Spurgeon. In 1990, I was in the 2nd Kairos ever held in Virginia. Kairos started at Buckingham. I made strong friends. It was an answer to prayer.

I’d been a Christian for a year but I hadn’t seen any Christians. I had prayed for God to show me some Christians and for God to help me understand why my family had continued to turn their backs on me after a full year of living as a Christion. An ex-prisoner came to preach on the miraculous delivery of Peter in Acts 12 – through prayer. Rhoda said that Peter’s outside. But even those who were inside praying for Peter’s delivery didn’t believe it. Peter just kept knocking until they realized it really was Peter. Even people that pray for you, sometimes don’t see that God does stuff miraculously that answers your prayers. That was an answer to my prayer about my family.

A month later, I attended the 2nd ever Kairios event at Buckingham. I went and I saw – HERE were all God’s people. I made really very close ties. George Wakefield still writes although he is no longer in Virginia. He was part of the original committee to get Kairos in Virginia. My spiritual foundations were at Buckingham with Chaplain Austin.

The 2nd chaplain to help was at Keen Mountain Correctional Center.  I eventually became an elder at the church there. I received a certificate for helping get the Kairos ministry to Keen Mountain. I was at Keen Mountain 15 years. On lockdown once, Chaplain Rod Wicker brought Chaplain-in-Training Keven Richardson to my cell before he started at Pocahontas. Chaplain Wicker told Chaplain Richardson, “You can trust this man.” In 2007.

When I was transferred to Pocahontas in Nov 2007 I saw Chaplain Richardson again. The administration placed me as Chaplain Richardson’s first Chaplain’s Assistant. The administration knew me and I worked under Chaplain Richardson. Eventually I learned what a blessing God had given to me and I got really involved. An opportunity for me came up for me to start grading Bible Studies through Good News Jail and Prison ministry. Chaplain Richardson called Mr. Green and asked permission for me to grade the lessons inside the prison. I graded them in my cell. I’m the first prisoner ever allowed to do that in a 50 year history. In Sept of 2008 until my transfer to Green Rock, I graded Bible Studies in my cell –about 50 men each year. In August of 2013, the interim chaplain at Green Rock made arrangements for me to grade the papers. GraceInside supported that. I’ve graded lessons of a hundred men here. I’m not sure what God is going to do with me within the next year as I am waiting on a parole answer [parole remains an option for those incarcerated prior to 1995].

The 2nd chaplain of Keen Mountain got me to send a one page testimony on how do you know God exists to Christian Inmate News. In the fall of 1998, it was published nationwide. I heard from prisoners as far away as Alaska, Florida, Arizona, Michigan, New York – a Native American in Arizona said until he read the scriptures I had said to read, that until that scripture and my testimony, he had thought God was a God of only they white man. Then, he noticed God was a God for all people.

They even put my testimony in the Chaplain’s Corner – I wondered if they thought I was a chaplain! I know I have talked at least 2 men out of committing suicide. One many

I’ve been speaking on the yard and share my testimony. One man told me it kept him from killing himself. Chaplain Richardson brought a man to me in the religious library, once. He said, “I have spoken to this man for over an hour and I can’t minister to him like you can.” The man was suicidal – an empty shell. He was thinking he was a burden to his children that it would be better for him to die and remove that burden. I used God’s title as The God of Hope because this man had no hope. Over the next 3 days working with him, he and his hope were restored. When I came here [to Green Rock Correctional Center], I saw him in church for the first time and he is still doing good.

I’m telling you this because I believe that most of the people that get involved in this type of ministry either know someone who is locked up or they have a friend who has someone locked up and you have a genuine desire to do some good for your loved one or friend.

I can’t tell you all my testimonies without writing a book. For the purpose of this testimony, you need to know that since January 1st of 2008, the only job I’ve held is “Special Assignment – Chaplain’s Assistant in the last two prisons I’ve been in. I came here to Green Rock in August of 2013 and was hired part-time by Chaplain Lee Harris as soon as a position opened up for me. I started work on St Patrick’s Day in 2014 and went full time in August of 2014. In May of 2014, I was ordained as a Minister of the Gospel here at Green Rock by the Pastor of a local church in Gretna, Pastor Gary Phillips.

Like Paul in the scriptures above, I know I’m not worthy to be an ordained minister, but I am what I am by the grace of God. And like Paul, I know God wanted to use me as an example of how willing He is to save the worst of people from a devil’s hell. Hell was prepared for the devil and his demons. Man has to choose to go there.

Like Paul, God had to send a man like Ananias to ordain me. The only thing Pastor Gary Phillips told me when I asked him why he ordained me was that he believed God wanted him to do it. Pastor Gary Phillips is a very conservative Baptist and was a Sargent in the military involved with the Special Forces in his day. At 70 years old, he still requires a healthy respect from all!

In my life, I’ve had many people like Barnabas speak up in my behalf. You can check out Acts 9:10-27 and read about these people in Paul’s life.

I need to be very honest with you. About 5 years ago Chaplain Kevin Richardson asked me to write a testimony similar to this one for Chaplain Services Prison Ministry of Virginia, which is now GraceInside. I wouldn’t do it because the chaplains have to be chaplains for every faith group – and I didn’t understand. God had to send me here to work for Chaplain Lee Harris so I would learn the truth.

I’ve observed Chaplain Harris treat everyone with dignity and respect. I’ve seen the genuine concern he has for every man. I’ve seen him love men of different faiths like the father of the son who wanted his inheritance early. The father gave his son what he asked for and let him go to find his own way. When the young man was about to starve from his bad choices, he decided to go back to his dad. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen men of other faiths come running to Chaplain Harris to find help in their time of need. They know he is a Christian, but they come to him because he has shown them the love of Christ in the past.

Every morning the Chaplain and I begin our day with prayer. We acknowledge our complete dependence upon God to serve Him. Jesus says in John 15:5 that we can do nothing without Him!  We ask God to bless us that we might be a blessing to everyone we come into contact with that day whether they be friend or foe. We pray for everyone and their families from the Warden to the lowest convict.

Every prison is a community in itself. It is only as good as the leaders in that community. The chaplains have to work with everyone in their particular prison. Most prisons are constantly changing staff. Inmate populations are constantly changing. Chaplains communicate with all departments in a prison and minister to staff as well as prisoners. They work with and coordinate with all the volunteers coming into a prison whether they be local or statewide volunteers [like Garry Sims of Hope Aglow or Kairos of Virginia or local pastors like Gary Phillips]. Most large ministries will not send resources to prisoners without going through a chaplain.

I cannot tell you the amount of work a chaplain has to do but I can tell you that in the prisons I’ve been in, federal standards recommend one full time chaplain for every 500 prisoners. We have part-time chaplains for prisons that should have full-time chaplains!  There is a great need for your help.

Look, I’ve read in 2 Corinthians 8 and other places in the Bible where Paul was seeking help for the saints in Jerusalem. I’m using 2 Corinthians 8 because in verse 5, Paul declares that those who were giving to the cause had first given themselves to the Lord and then to them by the will of God. Please check that chapter out.

One last thing: Two days before I was asked to write this, one of the Unit Mangers brought a young man to the chaplain’s office because he was having an anxiety attack. The man’s grandfather was close to death and he didn’t want to be put on life support. The young man didn’t understand why his grandfather who is a strong Christian would want to leave him. The young man is attending Wiccan services here. Chaplain Harris tactfully explained to him why his grandfather wanted to leave this world and go to Jesus. He explained that we couldn’t stop God’s will in this matter either. He asked him if he had any other questions and if it was alright to pray with him in the only way he knew how. Chaplain Harris sowed good seed into that young man’s life and I’m sure a grandfather’s prayers were answered that day. Praise God! Thank you Jesus!”

Chaplain Lee Harris wanted to share a bit more about Bob so we can understand just how deep his faith funs. Last year, Bob got turned down for parole. Most men get very disappointed and angry. When Bob found out, his response was, “Praise the Lord! God has another use for me here. I will serve here according to His will and purpose. It is all for God.”

Chaplain Harris concludes that as chaplains and as Christians, we are who we are. We treat these men with dignity, respect and love. We are Christ-like in our attitude (no matter theirs) and you can see how in those critical turning points, it pays off in spiritual dividends for years to come.

Many thanks to Chaplain Harris and Bob Bradshaw for making this article possible. Also, we are very grateful to the administration of Green Rock Correctional Center for allowing GraceInside the support we need to share Bob’s story.

GraceInside August 15, 2017