Free Russ Ford: Catholic Apostle Behind Bars Seeks Help Overturning Conviction
He needs the help of faithful Catholics and other concerned individuals to help bring his appeal to a happy conclusion
Russell Ford has won more converts to the Catholic faith than most of us could ever imagine. He has helped convert more than 100 persons and has served as godfather for 77 of them. He has written a Catholic catechism and founded a catechetical apostolate that have reached thousands more, all from within an Alabama penitentiary. New evidence proves he is innocent.
Russell Ford. His case will soon be heard in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; if necessary, the case will be petitioned before the United States Supreme Court. If the Court of Appeals rules in his favor, Ford will be exonerated and set free.
MONTGOMERY, AL (Catholic Online) - Russell Ford has won more converts to the Catholic faith than most of us could ever imagine. By his own count, he has helped convert more than 100 persons and has served as godfather for 77 of them. He has also written a Catholic catechism and founded a catechetical apostolate that have reached thousands more.
While those are impressive figures, there is something about Ford that is even more remarkable: He has done all of this from within the confines of an Alabama penitentiary.
Now, after serving 23 years of his 25-year sentence, Ford presently is appealing his conviction because new evidence proves he is innocent of the crime for which he was convicted - but he needs the help of faithful Catholics and other concerned individuals to help bring his appeal to a happy conclusion.
Although innocent of the crime, Ford admits that he was not a good man when he arrested, convicted, and locked away in prison back in 1987. He was a self-proclaimed atheist who lived the wild life to the fullest and was not a particularly nice guy to be around. That all changed about a year after his incarceration, when a fellow prisoner, himself a new convert, began speaking to Ford about the Catholic faith and earned his rapt attention. He became an eager student of Church doctrine and avidly learned all he could about his newfound faith.
Ford was baptized in 1989, but even before that the prison's priest-chaplain gave him a catechism and instructed him to teach it to other inmates. He resisted at first, but before long he was conducting catechism classes of his own and gaining new souls for Christ and his Church.
From that initial effort, Ford founded and developed First-Century Christian Ministries (FCCM), an outreach to inmates in his own penitentiary and other prisons across the nation. His first convert was his cellmate; many more were to follow. He also wrote articles and was published widely in Catholic journals such as This Rock and the National Catholic Register. His book, "The Missionary's Catechism," is beloved by many and is still in print.
Criminals can be a tough audience, so Ford had to learn sound apologetics methods in order to penetrate the exterior resistance of inmates and reach their hearts and souls. Prison officials have often made the apostolate more difficult for Ford by confiscating his Bibles and catechetical materials and ordering him not to teach the faith. Despite being described as a model prisoner, he was denied parole in 1995 after his priest-chaplain honored the seal of confession and refused to divulge to the parole board what Ford had said to him in the Sacrament of Penance.
Two years ago, Ford began a quest for exoneration based on new evidence that has come to light. His appeal is complicated by the fact that Alabama's justice system destroyed all DNA evidence from the trial, but it appears his case is progressing favorably. Supported by advocates led by Catholic laity, Ford and his legal team have been negotiating the daunting technical hurdles and challenges of the legal system and remedies that he has to navigate and overcome. He has just been granted an extraordinary ruling in federal court granting him a "certificate of appealability" acknowledging that he has presented substantial evidence that his constitutional rights were violated with respect to his claims related to newly discovered evidence and alleged destruction of evidence.
His case will soon be heard in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; if necessary, the case will be petitioned before the United States Supreme Court. If the Court of Appeals rules in his favor, Ford will be exonerated and set free.
The financial cost of such appeals is very high, often reaching into six figures. Ford presently is receiving pro-bono legal representation, but there are heavy and essential costs involving court fees, procurement of evidence, and other necessities for mounting a credible appeal. He has no money for such expenses, but his close and longtime Catholic friends have established a legal fund to provide these costs. He desperately needs more concerned people to render monetary assistance so that he may present his case to the courts and win his vindication and freedom.
Ford's friends and supporters already include many prominent Catholic men and women. Donna Steichen, author of "Ungodly Rage," learned of Ford's story and included him in her newly published collection of conversion stories titled "Chosen: How Christ Send Twenty-Three Surprised Converts to Replant His Vineyard" (Ignatius Press, 2009).
"No one acquainted with [Ford's] record could fail to be astonished by what he has achieved, ...
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