January 31, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

An African American man wearing glasses in prison blues speaks behind a podium.
Waddell Fisher speaks during President Wiebe Boer's Inauguration Ceremony at Handlon Correctional Facility. Courtesy: Deb Hoag

In the Fall of 1987, Wadell Fisher in utter despair cried out to the Lord. Some poor life decisions, including drug addiction, had ultimately led to him making the most destructive one, taking a life.

“I screamed out ‘God Help Me!’” said Fisher.

For the next 36 years, Fisher would realize the significance of those three words.

From addiction to destruction

Fisher grew up going to church, was an altar boy, went to a parochial school for a time before switching to public school. As a teenager he started experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. He’d go on to serve two terms in the military, then work for a major airline as a transportation agent. But during this time he started to use cocaine and became what he called a “functioning addict.” This addiction would lead to more bad choices and eventually to where he was at in 1987.

The same day he took a life, he tried to take his own. Today Fisher is quick to warn that “to harm someone with malice is to violate one’s own soul.” Fisher ended up in the hospital for 10 days under the custody of the Detroit Police and then the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.

And so began his journey.

Help along the way

“The first sheriff who came into my room happened to be a Christian,” said Fisher. “This man began to minister to me. Every morning for 10 days, he came into my room and ministered to me.”

And when he left, another sheriff took over.

“The Lord sent me another Christian sheriff and that man ministered to me. It was God’s tag team and this brought me out of my despair and that was like a point where God said “no, you are going where I want you to go, you’re not going to die, I am with you.”

First stop … county jail.

“When I went there, there was a volunteer, he was a preacher,” said Fisher. “I couldn’t tell you who he was today, but he called me for a visit and so I went … He basically told me the Gospel and at the end of that, he asked me to go back and read 2 Chronicles 33.”

Finding himself in God’s Word

After the preacher left. “I immediately went back to my cell and began to read it,” recalls Fisher. “and when I read, I saw me.”

It was the story of Manasseh, king of Judah.

“Manasseh did those things that were an abomination to God and then listed those things,” said Fisher of the story. “I thought about all the times my family members, some friends who knew of my addiction said I need to change, [in essence] be like Manasseh, but I wasn’t hearing that [at the time]. So I ended up committing this crime and I found myself in jail, like Manasseh.”

“And it [the Biblical story] went on to say, he humbled himself and prayed unto the Lord,” said Fisher.

Humbling himself in the sight of the Lord

“[Murder] is one crime you can’t give back, can’t pay restitution for, it doesn’t work, you can’t give a life back,” said Fisher as he held back tears. “So, I told God I give my life to Him.”

Fisher began to read the Bible and people started noticing.

“While I was in county jail the men around me always saw me reading my Bible and praying, so some would come up to me and say ‘pray for me, I’m going to court.’ I knew very little about the Bible, but what I did know I would share, and God kept bringing people into my life.

Fisher found that the more he was reading the Bible and sharing with those around him, the more God would give him to share.

“I believe this was part of the healing God was doing in me. Because after taking a life, I felt worthless, I felt actually like one of the most worthless human beings on Earth. But, I believe that God began to work as he does in broken people, and it went from there and so from that time in the county jail he began to bring people into my life.”

Fisher served as an assistant to the chaplain in the facilities he’d be transferred to throughout the state of Michigan over the next 30 years. He continued to pour into his fellow inmates, and he continued to have faithful Christian friends and volunteers pour into him and encourage him along the way.

Equipped to build and renew

Then, in 2021, while at Lapeer Correctional Facility, Fisher saw the opportunity to apply to be part of the seventh cohort of the Calvin Prison Initiative program. He saw this as another way God would equip him to help others better, to help him continue to go beyond and to help others go beyond just surviving or living for physical freedom someday.

“Unfortunately, for some prisoners, freedom is the ultimate end game. ‘I’m free, I’m out of prison,’” said Fisher. “But when you continue to read about Manasseh’s life, you see he became a positive asset within his community. He tore down the idols that he had built to false gods, and he built up the temple to the true God, and he taught others to—that’s what Calvin is, it’s a gift that God has given me so I can be a construction worker in here and God-willing after my release from prison.”

Fisher, like Manasseh, is working as an agent of renewal.

“CPI gives me the academic knowledge to go along with the spiritual knowledge of God. It’s helping me to better understand the gospel that I preach, that I share. It gives me a stronger foundation to be able to reach more people,” said Fisher. “Some people might not quite understand the Bible or might not be ready to receive it, but if you have a broader base for conveying the Word of God to people and if you understand it better, you can share it with more people effectively. I believe that’s what CPI is sharing with me. It enables me to answer questions that someone who is not a Christian might ask. But all of those things [CPI classes, concepts taught] are building materials, tools so you can help people better understand the gospel. Why? Because it helps me better understand the gospel.”

“Regardless of where I am, I want to be a construction worker in the Kingdom of God, building on the foundation of Jesus Christ,” said Fisher.

And it all started with an act of submission in the Fall of 1987.

“That cry—God heard it, and he answered it.”

And that decision is now impacting countless others.

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