"I die at midnight!"

 

 

And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:32-33, 39-43

When you read this, Iíll be dead. But donít be alarmed at hearing from a dead man. For now, as I begin this story, Iím very much alive. Itís September 9, 1947ó Tuesday. Midnight Thursday I am scheduled to die for murder. Sitting here in my cell in Cook County Jail, Iíve been doing lots of thinking. Some of my thoughts ó a warning to criminals ó were published in "a note to tough guys" in todayís Chicago Tribune.

This afternoon I read the note for a radio broadcast. But that was really just part of my story.

The real story, I feel, lies in the fact that I donít mind talking about dying. Iím a Negro, just 23 years of age, but Iím ready to go you see. Why, I am ready to meet God. Iím really happy. Just this week I had a dream that I will carry with me to the chair. I was on my way to Heaven. Jesus was with me. But I was taking four steps to His two. He asked me why I was going so fast. I told Him I was eager to get there. Then I was there, surrounded by numerous angels.

Some folks might think thatís strange talk from a man who came to jail an atheist. But thatís just the way I feel. Youíll understand better when I tell you how I met God early one morning.

But first, take a glance at my past. Seven years ago I was a stickup man, head of my own gang of tough guys. There were eight of us. One was Earle Parks, dubbed Smiley, because he would kill you with a smile on his face. Another was Charles Jones known as Pretty Boy because he was a nice looking guy. The others: Herbert Liggins, known as Hop-a-long because he had a bad leg. William Lee was called "Wild Bill" and Charles Hill was known as Colorado Kid. Clyde Bradford was so dark that we called him Blue. The Wheeler was Percy Bellmar. We nicknamed him that because he was a good driver, my number one wheeler. All are in prison, except for Parks, and he died for murder.

They called me "Little Gaither the Money Waster and Woman Chaser." I tried to act the "big shot," always flashing a big roll ó sometimes two or three grand.

I started all this when I was just a kid. My folks tried to get me to go to Sunday School and church. More than once they gave me a quarter to go with my younger sisters. But I never went. Instead Iíd make them promise not to tell, and then Iíd go to a movie. Iíd stay in the show most of the day and tell my folks that Iíd gone to church. They didnít know the difference.

Crime was in me and the movies I saw helped give me ideas. I got some good tips on "how to do it." I remember when I saw the movie, "I Stole a Million," I sat there wishing Iíd been the guy who got the million.

I decided on a boxing career because I thought I was tough and could care for myself. It would beat working, I figured. I was one of the best fighters in my class for a while. I turned pro in 1938 and fought a middleweight, and ended up in the light-heavy division. Jimmy Bevins was the only man ever to knock me out.

At 18 I was in the Illinois State Training School for Boys, for armed robbery. In October 1941 eight of us made a break but the following month I found myself resentenced to Joliet penitentiary. I had life for a Chicago park murder, but got out on parole in 1946. It looks as if that would have been a lesson to me, but it wasnít.

Within six months, after I was out, I was leading another gang. That lasted until last February 9. That night three of us held up Max Baren, 49, in his liquor store on Chicagoís West Side. Baren reached for a gun. I yelled at him to put the gun down, but he meant business. I knew it was us or him. So I shot Baren and killed him. We ran out with the money, only $300 which I later gave to the other guys. I went to New York, then to Atlanta, where police nabbed me.

Then weeks later I stood in a Chicago court. "...sentences you to die..." the judge said sternly. 

And thus I went to Death Row.

Not long after I was placed behind the bars last March 23, a woman of my own race ó Mrs. Flora Jones of Olivet Baptist Church ó invited me to attend a prisonersí gospel service. I was playing cards with some other fellows at the time, and laughed at her. "Why, I donít even believe thereís a God." I boasted, and went on playing cards, the woman still pleading with me. Actually I felt so sinful, that I didnít want to know about God even if He existed. So I ignored her.

Suddenly something she was saying caught my attention. "If you donít believe in God," she called from outside the bars, "just try this little experiment. Before you go to sleep tonight ask Him to awaken you at any time; then ask Him to forgive you of your sin." She had real faith. It got hold of me.

I didnít go to the service, but I decided I would try the experiment that night.

"God," I mumbled as I lay on my cot, "Wake me up at 2:45, if youíre real."

Outside it was wintry. Windows on the inside were frosted. For the first few hours I slept soundly, then my sleep became restless. Finally I was wide awake. I was warm and sweating, although the cell was cool. All was quiet except for the heavy breathing of several prisoners and the snoring of a man near by. Then I heard footsteps outside my cell. It was a guard, making his regular check. As he was passing, I stopped him. "What time is it?" I asked.

He looked at his pocket watch. "Fifteen to three."

"Thatís the same as 2:45, ainít it?" I asked, my heart taking a sudden leap.

The guard grunted and passed on. He didnít see me climb from my cot and sink to my knees, I donít remember just what I told God, but I asked Him to be merciful to me, an evil murderer and sinner. He saved me that night, I know. Iíve believed on His Son Jesus ever since.

Iíd promised a whipping to another prisoner the next day. That morning I went to him. He backed off. "I donít want to fight you; you used to be a boxer," he said.

"I donít want to fight," I said. "I just came to see you." Several prisoners had gathered for a fight and were disappointed.

But God had saved me from my sins: why should I want to fight? Later it was whispered around that I was putting on an act, trying to get out of going to the chair.

My case did later come up before the Illinois Supreme Court, but they upheld the death sentence. Sure, that jolted me some, but I havenít lost faith in God. I know He will go with me. So, you see, Iím really not afraid.

Before I die I want to leave one last message for the young people:

Start serving the Lord while youíre young. Grow up this way and itíll keep you straight. Once crime gets ahold of you, itís hard to stop. Just like the habits of smoking and drinking: if they once get ahold of you, you canít quit.

Yes, Iíll be dead when you read this, but please take my advice: "...the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23. I found out itís true.

 

Earnest Gaither, Jr.

 

 

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Pete Tanis, a prison gate missionary from Pacific Garden Mission accompanied Ernest Gaither to the electric chair. His description of the prisonerís last hours follows.

I was admitted to Ernestís cell about an hour before midnight. The atmosphere seemed charged, and guards who stood about his cell kept talking to keep his mind off the midnight journey. But things they said were strained and meaningless, like the things you say when you donít know what to say.

As I entered, Ernest smiled and greeted me. A Negro chaplain was reading to him from the Bible. He gave me the Book and asked me to read. I selected the first chapter of Philippians. Ernest leaned forward intently as I read:

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain...For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:" (Verses 21,23).

This seemed to be a favorite with him, along with the Twenty-third Psalm. He got a lot of comfort from Psalm 23:4: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." He quoted this from memory, as the clock ticked away the last hour of his life. Outside, the guards listened quietly, some wet eyed.

About 11:30 we had a song service. Ernest said heíd like to sing "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder" and soon the corridors rang with music as a Negroís high tenor voice rang out above the off-key voices of the guards.

As the last strains of another song: "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" were dying away, guards came with clippers to give a hair cut to the man with the tenor voice.

Just before midnight Ernest prayed, "God," he began softly, "when I first came here, I hated these guards. But now, God, I love Ďem ó O God, I love everybody." Then he prayed for people heíd made suffer: for his mother, that the Lord would bless her. "And, Lord," he concluded, "Iím not going to die of electrocution ó Iím just going to sit in the chair and go to sleep."

A moment later a black hood was placed on his head and he began the last mile. At each side were guards, both noticeably nervous. Ernest sensed it.

Now 75 witnesses looked on as unsteady hands strapped the hooded figure into the big black chair, accentuated against a stainless steel floor. Then for two minutesó hours, it seemed ó an attendant worked feverishly on a defective electrode.

Finally, at 12:03 a.m., the first of the three electrical shocks flashed through his body.

By 12:15 five doctors had paraded up, and one by one confirmed his death.

But I knew that the real Ernest Gaither still lived ó only his body was dead. As I left the jail, I thought of the verse he liked so well: "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

...Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures. I Corinthians 15:3b,4.

Earnest Gaither had much in common with the thief on the cross. Neither expected to be reincarnated and to receive a second chance. Neither had time to perform good works to pay for their sins. Both were saved shortly before their death sentences were carried out. Both put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls.

If Earnest and the thief had believed in reincarnation and a second chance it would not have mattered for the Bible teaches: And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement. Hebrews 9:27.

If they had hoped for time to do good works to pay for their sins it would not have helped because the Bible says: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.

Both Earnest and the thief dangerously waited until the eleventh hour to be saved. No man has the promise of another day.

Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. Proverbs 27:1.

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14.

The simple truth is today could also be your last day!

...behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation. II Corinthians 6:2.

Earnest and the thief wisely put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6.

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? John 11:25-26.

Do you believe, my friend? Will you put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen...But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:1,6.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: John 1:12.

If you would like to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, please pray the following prayer.

"Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve Hell. But I know that you died for me. So right now, Jesus, I ask you to come into my heart and save me. Amen."

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the lord. Psalm 40:2-3

 

 

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