Larry Lawton Finds His Purpose in Prison
By Dory Nissen – The 700 Club
“I took over the whole store. I’d tie up the owner. I would tie up whoever was in there.
And empty the whole store. One robbery I had seven people tied up. It was a big rush.”
In 1996 Larry Lawton was on the FBI’s most wanted list as the number one jewelry store robber on the east coast. “I felt like I would never get caught. I definitely thought I was better than everybody else, smarter than everybody else.”
Larry Lawton life of crime began in his 20s. He became a “bookie” taking bets on the streets of New York. Larry had seen his dad win while betting on sporting events and was intrigued by the easy money. But Larry delved far deeper than harmless, small time bets with buddies. “I got into the lure of gambling, and excitement and that fast life.”
Larry became so successful; members of organized crime took notice and asked Larry to work for them. “The more you are involved, the more money you make the higher people recognize you. And when they recognize you as an ‘earner’ as they call it; a person who makes money for organized crime or whoever you are working for at that time. You become bigger and bigger and your power becomes more and more.”
That’s how Larry began robbing jewelry stores. Over the next 7 years, he heisted 20 stores and got away with 15 million dollars in diamonds alone. But to Larry, it wasn’t the money that mattered. “I don’t think any amount of money would have been enough for me.”
A small slip up ended Larry’s run from the FBI. A store owner called in a car that looked suspicious. The license plates were from a rental, and Larry’s name was on the rental agreement. The FBI had found their man. He was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison.
“Walking into prison, I don’t care how tough you are, you are not the biggest and toughest there. They’ll stab you. They’ll get you in the morning. They get you when you are not looking. There is a different demeanor. You don’t bump into a person in prison because you will get killed.”
It did get worse. Larry was thrown into solitary confinement for over a year. But in ‘the hole’, Larry made a friend by communicating through a vent. It was his daily sanity— until the friendship abruptly ended.
“So we are just talking and he turns and said to me, ‘Hey Larry, I love you brother. I’m checking out.’ And I thought, ‘Where are you going? You are in the hole with me.’ And it hit me that he was going to kill himself! And I jumped up and I talked to him right into the vent. I said, ‘Jack, lay down. We’ll talk about it after count.’”
“Then I felt total helplessness. I couldn’t help this guy. I couldn’t get to his cell. I couldn’t go through the wall and help him.”
When the guards came through the count the inmates, Larry was afraid of what they might find in Jack’s cell. “The guards all came running. And I’m standing at my door looking at all these people come running. And they go into Jack’s cell and they bring him out on a gurney. That was the end of it.”
Larry’s friend Jack had killed himself. “It’s like a punch in the stomach. It’s a punch that you cant’ feel but you can feel in your heart because you get close to people. I just lay down and was just sitting there. I wasn’t crying. I was in shock.”
That night, Larry thought back on lessons about Jesus he’d learned as a child, and he prayed to God.
“And I’m saying, ‘Why am I here? Why not me? Why didn’t I kill myself?’ And I heard God tell me, ‘I have plans for you.’ I heard the words, ‘I have plans for you.’ People think you’re crazy. And I am not. I heard those words, “I have plans for you”. At that point I knew Jesus Christ was mine. I knew that Jesus was going to be in my life forever. I knew I had a purpose. That God had a mission for me.”
When Larry got out of prison two years later, he started an outreach called ‘Reality Check’. He speaks to at-risk teens about the dangers and the consequences of crime. Reality Check is rapidly becoming one of the most successful teen programs in the nation. It is approved for court ordered counseling.
“You need hope. You need Jesus. You need a way. You need faith. If you don’t have faith you don’t have anything. God changes people. Jesus Christ can change your life.”