Escape From Death

The Slaybaugh Story

By Rose Slaybaugh



The boys who caused the accident were taken back to town, the older one placed in jail alone; the younger boy was put to bed in the hospital with a guard sitting at the door of his room. The first night as I stood at Roy's side, whenever the door was opened I could look down the little hallway and see a man in uniform sitting on a chair with a gun in his hand. I was too worried about Roy's condition to think very much about this, but the next morning when another officer took up the watch, I wondered. I said, "Nurse, what is going on in this place? Who do you have in the next room here?"

She said, "Don't you know? We have one of those young outlaws that almost killed your husband."

I walked down the little hall and looked in, and there on the bed lay a beautiful child. He didn't look fifteen years old—he looked more like a ten-year-old—just a little boy.

"May I go in and talk to him?" I asked the guard.

He said, "No, lady, no one can go through this door."

"I'd like to go in and talk to him," I repeated.

"No one can go through this door. He's desperate."

"That child?"

"That's right, and you can't go through."

The officers were trying to find out who these boys were and where they came from. I would see a group of them go past the door and then I would hear them questioning the younger boy. "Who are you? Where did you come from? What is your name? Who is that other fellow with you? You may as well tell us; he's dead." But he would not talk.

Finally the nurse and doctor went in. He was lying with his eyes closed. The nurse walked over to him. She raised his eyelid and then dropped it and said, "Oh, doctor, isn't it a pity, and he is so young!" At that the boy sobbed out his story and told them who he was and where he came from.

"We have no parents, and that other fellow was my brother."

"Don't you have any relatives?"

"Yes, we have an uncle." He told them where he lived.

The boys were tried and sentenced to penitentiary terms to be served in the Oregon State Penitentiary at Salem.

For three and one-half years we tried to get in to visit the boys. But the answer was always the same "No." Roy asked the sheriff if he could drive him to Salem some time when he had business in the penitentiary so we could see them. But he replied, "They won't let you in to see them. They don't receive visitors, and they have them in solitary confinement at present." We were not discouraged and continued praying that the Lord would open the way for us to see them.

In December of 1948 we were working with Pastor H. D. Strever in the Albany, Oregon, district, visiting churches there. It was only twenty-five miles from Salem. We were talking about the boys, and I asked him if he thought he could get us into the prison.

He said, "I can try. Ministers sometimes do have more privileges than most people." Mrs. Strever telephoned the penitentiary. Yes, it was a visiting day-and the hours were two to four. It was just two o'clock when we drove up to the gate in a pouring rain. The gate was closed with a sign on it warning, "Keep Out" To one side was a small brick building from which stepped a big guard. He said, "What do you want?" as he looked us all over.

"We would like to visit the penitentiary," said Elder Strever. And I quickly added, "And we would like to visit two of the boys you have here."

He answered very gruffly, "They don't want any visitors here today. It's raining. The warden doesn't want to be bothered." With that he turned and went back into the small building.

I said, "Elder Strever, he can't do that to us!"

Getting out of the car, Elder Strever said, "I'll see what I can do. I have my ministerial card. It does give me certain privileges." He followed the guard into the little building, and soon he came out smiling. As he got into the car he said, "We can at least get into the prison, but we can't visit the boys. We can't do both."

"Well," I said, "at least we can get into the place. We'll let the Lord take care of the rest for us."

The guard opened the gate leading into the penitentiary grounds. As we drove in we noticed the signs that read, "Lock your car." Carefully we locked the car and walked up the cement steps leading into the building.

Opening the front door, we entered a large room. There were many men in uniform busy going here and there. They didn't pay, any attention to us. We just stood there. The first door to the right was open. It had a glass in it with a sigh which read, "Warden, Private, Keep Out"

I said to Roy, "I guess it won't hurt to take a little peek at him." Looking in through the open door, we saw a fine-looking man seated behind a desk. It was the warden. He was busy talking with another man. When the man left, the warden came out and greeted us. He said, "And now what can I do for you?"

"We would like to visit the penitentiary and also visit two of your boys here," said Elder Strever.

"Well," he said, "I think that can be arranged. Who is it you want to visit?"

I said, "We'd like to visit the Jones boys."

He smiled when he said, "Lady, we have many Joneses in here. Which ones do you mean?"

"We would like to visit Gordon and Berkley Jones."

"Gordon and Berkley Jones!" he said. "What in the world do you want to see them for? They don't receive visitors. I should say not! Those boys have caused us more trouble than any prisoners we've ever had in this place. They had been here only six months when the younger one escaped with four other young men."

I said, "Please, Mr. Warden, couldn't we visit them for just a few minutes? We want to see them so much."

"My answer is still No! They do not receive visitors." The warden sounded like he meant it. "But," he said, "if you want to visit our institution, we'll be glad to show you through. I'll call one of the guards to take care of you."

"We'd like to see everything," I said.

With that he turned around and went back to his desk, but I was still determined to visit the boys. We had waited for this opportunity so long and were so close to them now. I knew they needed friends. They needed someone to care for them. They needed help, and I was determined to see them if it was at all possible.

The warden turned around and went back into his office. I followed right behind him. As I entered the room, I overheard Roy say to Elder Strever, "We'd better stand here and catch her as she comes out."

The warden looked up in surprise when he saw me standing before him, as though to say, "I thought I got rid of you."

"Do you know who we are?"

"No," he said, "am I supposed to know you?"

I said, "You're going to know us quite well before you get rid of us."

By this time Elder Strever and Roy had followed me into his office.

I pointed to the scars in Roy's head and said, "Do you see this man? Do you see these scars?"

"Yes," he said, "I noticed that he had been terribly injured at sometime."

"Well," I said, "he's the reason that you have these boys here."

He pushed himself back from his desk and walked over to Roy. Carefully he looked at the scars and said, "I don't understand."

"Do you remember a little incident that happened about three and a half years ago at Gold Beach, when the two boys locked up the sheriff there and made their escape, and then crashed into a man's car and almost killed him?" I asked. "Here's the man they almost killed."

"Oh, yes. I'm beginning to understand." Looking at Roy, he said, "I suppose now you want to go back in there and finish them of."

Roy said, "No, I don't want to finish anyone off. But we would like to visit the boys and leave some religious literature with them. We've brought two little books, Steps to Christ and Seeing It Through With God."

"Religious literature! Religious literature!" he said. "We have tried everything on these boys but religion. Maybe you've got something. But on second thought, I don't know what their reaction or their behavior would be in front of a woman."

"Warden, I'm an old woman," I said. "I'm a mother. Anything they would say or do wouldn't have any effect on me. Please, may we just visit a few minutes?"

He got up and walked out of the room. I was afraid I would lose him, so I stayed right with him. He went into a room where the records were kept. Running through the files, he pulled out two large ones of the boys' records. There were the pictures of the young men. Then he walked right past me over to Roy and showed him the pictures and said, "Are these the boys you want to see?"

"I'm sure I don't know; I've never seen them."

I said, "Why, yes, warden, they are the boys we want to see." Hurriedly I opened my purse and took out a picture and said, "See, I have the same picture you have."

"Where did you get that picture?" the warden asked sharply.

I said, "We cut it out of the Portland Oregonian, and had it rephotographed."

He warmed up a bit then. "I believe that you are sincere. I believe that you really do want to see these boys," he said; "but in all my experience, I've never seen any people try so hard to get into this place, when everybody else is trying to get out. But you do want to visit the penitentiary too, don't you?"

"Yes, we would like to see everything," I answered. "I'll call a guard and have him take you through.

And while you're gone, I'll be thinking whether or not it is wise to let the boys up into the visiting room." Then he called for the chief censor, who censors all incoming and outgoing mail. We were introduced to him, a fine-looking man in uniform.

The warden said, "Eddie, show them everything."

"Warden, I'm counting on you," I said, as we left him.

We followed Mr. Hayes, the censor.



0ur guide took us through block after block of cells. At last we had reached the death chamber. It was a large room. Over to one side was a cell that looked like a cage made for a wild beast with heavy steel bars. Inside was a cot.

He said, "Here's where we bring the men that are to be executed. We bring them up here on a Thursday night. Friday morning at six o'clock their breakfast is brought to them, then they're taken out of this cell and placed in the shower, and then a pair of shorts is placed on them. I'm one of five men who help with the executions. As the time comes for the criminals to be placed in the gas chamber, it takes all a man has in him to drag them out of this cell, screaming and begging for their lives. They've all been young men lately, but when they come up here it's too late."

He continued, "We've traced the lives of these young men back to babyhood, and almost all come from broken homes—their mothers and fathers are divorced, and they were left to roam the streets. They got their early training in the moving-picture houses and from reading the 'funny papers' and comic books. Folks are making criminals out of their children in their own living rooms by permitting them to listen to crime stories on the radio. I know what I'm talking about, I see the results. God pity the children whose homes have television without censorship.

"Many times," he went on, "when these men are facing execution, I've had them ask me, 'What is death going to be like? Where will I be after I'm dead? What is it going to seem like to die?' I believe in the Bible and in a Supreme Being. I believe in God, but I don't know very much about the teachings of the Bible. I wish I knew something about the state of man in death. All I can do is point to that door, and say, 'See that door over there? I don't know what's behind it and neither do you. But Friday evening we'll open that door, and we're going to push you through and pull the door shut, and you'll have to suffer the consequences."'

"Oh," I said, "Mr. Guard, would you read something if I sent it to you?"

"Yes, I'll be glad to read anything."

As soon as we reached home I sent him a book about the state of the dead. I told him not to send it back, but to leave it there for the inmates to read. His reply to my letter follows:

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Slaybaugh:

"I received the book you sent and I want to thank you very much for it. I have enjoyed reading it and will pass it on when I have finished. I am sure that you do enjoy your religion. It is really an inspiration to meet such devoted Christians in these times when you meet so many who are not. It restores your faith in people.

I would enjoy hearing some more about your work and hope that you will come back to Salem soon and pay us another visit.

Sincerely, Eddie Hayes."

We came to another large room. This was the visiting room. It was divided through the center by a long table. On one side the convict sits, and the visitor sits opposite him. There is a partition of glass and a heavy steel screen between the prisoner and his visitor.

"Now we're in the visiting room," our guide explained. Looking down the table he said, "I see the warden has your boys here."

"Which ones are they?" I eagerly asked.

Pointing to two young men, he said, "Do you see those two young men sitting there?"

"Yes; what shall we do now?"

"You and Mr. Slaybaugh go over and sit down in front of them."

"How much time may we have?" I asked.

"Let's start with fifteen minutes," he answered.

"Honey," I said to Roy, "we must make every second count for the Lord. We may never get into this place again."

We walked over and sat down in front of two intelligent-looking boys. They were nineteen and twenty-three years old respectively at this time. They had to sit with their arms folded in front of them on the table, and right behind them was a uniformed guard.

I told the boys who we were. They looked a little surprised. I said, "This is the man that you ran into. No, you didn't kill him; you may be everything else, but you're not murderers."

"Boys," I asked, "did you ever go to Sunday school or church or read the Bible?"

They said, "No."

"Well," I said, "do you have access to Bibles in here?"

"I guess they have them in the library," Berkley answered.

"Boys, as soon as you get back to your cells, have a guard bring each of you a Bible. Turn to the Book of James, the fifth chapter, and read the fourteenth and fifteenth verses. Then you'll know why Mr. Slaybaugh didn't die."

They looked at the scars on Roy's forehead, and then as fast as I could talk, I told them the plan of salvation-the love of Christ, how He gave His life for all of us.

"Boys," I said, "you may have committed one kind of sin which has brought you to this horrible place, but we on the outside of these walls commit other sins. Sin is sin in the sight of God, regardless of how small or large. God has only one definition of sin in the Bible, and it's found in 1 John 3:4: 'For sin is the transgression of the law."'

 I told them to find this text and read it. I also told them to read the tenth chapter of John about the Good Shepherd and how He loves His sheep. I told them to especially read the sixteenth verse, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring." Then we told them that we loved them and wanted to help them.

The older boy said, "How can you love us after what we've done to you?"

"But we do, and we're here to prove it," Roy said.

"Would you like to call us Aunt Rose and Uncle Roy?

"Please don't say that unless you mean it," the younger one said.

"But we do mean it We've brought two little books for you to read. They're being censored now. They're religious books, Steps to Christ and Seeing It Through With God."

They said they would be glad to read them. We told them we would send more. "And we'll get each of you a new Bible. Would you like to have us come and visit you once in a while?"

With tears in their eyes they said, "If you only would."

"Would you like to have us write you a letter now and then, and would you write to us?" I asked.

"We will if they'll permit it."

On and on we talked. They told us their parents had died when they were tiny tots. We were the first visitors they had had in three and a half years, they said. Fifteen minutes, half an hour, almost an hour passed, when suddenly a bell sounded. The guard touched the boys on the shoulder and took them away. We promised we'd come to visit them again soon.

Mr. Hayes came then and said, "You must leave now; it's their dinnertime."

When we reached the administration building, the warden was waiting for us. He shook hands with us and said, "You send all that literature that you were telling the boys about. I'll see that it gets to them. I may even read some of it myself. We've tried everything on those boys but religion; maybe you've got something."

We started to go out the door, and he shook hands with us again. I told Roy and Elder Strever, "He's almost overdoing it now." Then he asked us to come back into his office. Opening a drawer, he reached in, picked up a card, and said, "Mrs. Slaybaugh, I'd like to give you my personal card. I want you to use it as a passport. This will get you in here any time if I'm not here. Take good care of it. I don't give my card to very many people. This is the third one I've issued to anyone this year."

"Mr. Warden, may I have a card also?" Elder Strever asked.

"Did you say you were a minister?"

"Yes, I'm a minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Albany, Oregon."

"Well, then, I'd like to have you have my card also." And he handed one to Elder Strever.

He urged us to come back again and visit the boys any time—"Whenever you're in Salem, or whenever you're passing through."

We had an appointment to speak at a youth meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, and also one at the College of Medical Evangelists at Loma Linda, California, the first part of January. We didn't have time to write the boys letters before we left, but I sent two pretty Christmas cards. I wrote all over them, inside and outside, under the pictures, every place I could I wrote something, and mailed them to the boys. Then we left for Phoenix. We were gone several weeks, and when we came home, the first place we went to was the post office to get our mail. As we were sitting outside in the car, just sorting out the mail and all the Christmas cards that had accumulated, I said, "Roy, see what we've got here. Here's a letter from Salem, Oregon, from Berkley Jones."

He said, "Open it. Let's not wait till we get home. Let's open it and read it."



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