People don't normally find themselves working near the Oval Office simply because they are charming or owed a political favor. The White House staff is an assembly of talent convened by their proven ability to function well in an openly hostile environment. Sustained success in a job that reports directly to the President demands an understanding of human sinfulness (though it might not be articulated as such) that transcends the pleasantries of daily life. At that level, power and access must be maintained or else it will be lost to clever minds capable of more surreptitious behavior because everyone in the inner circle desires to remain in the inner circle.

When the Nixon administration collapsed, however, the fallout was swift and substantial. Colson soon was confronted by a grand jury that questioned him with an intensity so fierce that he described it as one of the most difficult experiences of his life. He was hauled before Senate committees that exposed his actions before millions of Americans on live television. The man who once stood at the pinnacle of power was dragged down and stripped of everything that once marked him as a person of prestige and influence.

News of his later conversion to Jesus Christ prompted widespread criticism. Many assumed it was all an act—a convenient ruse to excuse his past behavior and grant him easy forgiveness for his ruthless and scandalous abuses of power. Yet, after his entrance into prison, he was visibly shaken as he realized he was now a mere number with nothing left but a tarnished identity built on the sands of political expediency. Broken, he discovered in prison a reality that found form in the ministries he would later establish.

Colson trained his redeemed intellectual agility and organizational ability on destroying the idols of power and corruption through a peculiar instrument: prison ministry. Those who knew him best still observed that he was most himself when he was around prisoners—a broken man among broken men. Even as he sought to engage with the profound ideas that invisibly shaped public culture, he remained a marked man: a convicted felon whose public identity would always be remembered for the day he entered Maxwell Federal Prison on July 9, 1974.

News of his death prompted widespread attention to a life that had spanned the gamut from power to prison to pulpit. Unlike Victor Hugo's Jean Valjean, Chuck Colson willingly owned his prison brand because he had discovered something alluded to by Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne. "Hidden sinfulness" loses its power when exposed. While the memory of the crime might still reside in the conscience of the offender, redemption comes through a change brought about through the mystery of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit. Chuck Colson was a changed man who now lives in a place where only sinners dwell—sinners made righteous through a conversion to Jesus Christ.