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Former inmate remembers Tom Clements' grace, belief in redemption

By Lindsay Watts, Weekend GMC Anchor/Target 13 Investigator , l.watts@krdo.com
Published On: Mar 26 2013 12:04:22 AM CDT
Updated On: Mar 26 2013 12:21:34 AM CDT

A man behind bars for 20 years remembers slain Colorado Prison Chief Tom Clements for his belief in redemption.

During his two years as prison chief, Tom Clements worked to reform the system in Colorado from the inside out.

Former inmate Howie Close remembers Clements for his compassion, belief in redemption and for the help he gave to his prison ministry.

"I'll do everything in my power for the rest of my life to live up to the grace he showed me," Close said Monday, hours after a public memorial for Clements.

Close was locked up for more than 20 years after he and his brother assaulted six men in Denver. It was considered a hate crime.

"The motivation was not racial, but we were not good kids," said Close.

Close said he found God in prison, and met Clements soon after he was released two years ago. Close was involved in a service at Woodmen Valley Chapel, where Clements also attended, and he remembers Clements waiting in line to meet him.

"If that doesn't prove his character, I don't know what does. He stood in line for a half hour to give me a hug. And I'm an offender," said Close.

Close saw the prison chief again when he went to him with plans for a ministry program for offenders.

"There's a whole lot of rules on the books that would prohibit offenders from contacting other offenders out (of prison), and there are certainly rules on the books to keep offenders from going back into prison," Close said.

But Clements took a chance on him; letting him go back to prison to minister to other inmates even while he was still on parole.

"It humbled me," Close said, tearing up.

Close's program, Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, partners with Woodmen Valley Chapel to minister to Colorado prisoners while they're behind bars and after they've been released---providing help getting jobs, finding housing and transportation, and general support.

Close isn't the only former inmate at Woodmen Valley Chapel to be touched by Clements. Chuck Limbrick, who served 23 years for murder, sang at Clements' memorial.

"He offered us hope that things were going to get better," said Close. "That the walls in our mind, this line that's drawn between offender and officer, it doesn't have to exist."

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