Chapter One
This Is It

March 24, 1983: McClinton, I thought to myself, this is it. You’re about to die.

I had known for quite some time that it was coming. I was keenly sensitive to the inevitable conclusion of being a man marked for death.

Walking into the break room of the prison, all of my senses went on red alert, sounding the alarm that things were not right. The first thing I noticed was the steam floating across the ceiling. The inmate in charge of boiling water had heated gallons and gallons of water to an angry, rolling boil—far more and far hotter than necessary for making tea.

The two prison guards who had been assigned to protect me were nowhere to be found. I was now alone and unprotected in a room of convicted murderers and terrorists. I felt strangely calm in the face of such imminent danger. Having become a Christian four years earlier while in solitary confinement, it was not my nature now to be the initiator of violence, even though I knew it was coming. I simply took my mug of tea and sat down like usual at the table.

Four convicted IRA terrorists slowly moved to block any escape through the entrance or exit. Each of them was carrying a large redwood plank that looked like a square baseball bat. The ashen color of their faces betrayed their fear and nervousness.

I reached for the little Gideon’s New Testament that I carried in my shirt pocket, but my hand never made it. I felt the heat before the boiling water actually touched my skin. In an instant, gallons of scalding liquid were being poured on my head and back. My first sensation was of the soft skin behind and around my left ear instantly bubbling up and disintegrating. Within a couple of seconds, a large portion of my body had been scalded and burned severely.

It seems strange now, but at the time, I felt no immediate pain. With calm resolve, I stood up and removed the reading glasses from my eyes. I couldn’t see well, because the boiling water had run over my face, but I sensed the danger coming in front of me.

Thud! A hammer from the workshop, wielded in cowardly fashion, struck me on the high right-hand side of my face between my temple and jawbone, quickly opening a profusely bleeding wound.

My natural survival instincts kicked in as I backed into a corner, shaking my head and wiping the water and blood from my eyes. I had not uttered a sound up to this point but knew that I was very badly injured by the boiling water and the blow to my head. The first thing I saw after clearing my eyes was a terrorist-prisoner I knew by the name of Becker. He was making his way toward me, holding one of the three-by-three, baseball bat-like sticks, his eyes already focused on where he was going to deliver the coup de grâce. In my heightened state of shock and adrenaline, I took the initiative and lunged straight for him, taking the first swing of the bat into the outside of my left bicep. Whack! He really nailed me, and the pain was excruciating, but I had successfully fended off an otherwise fatal blow. I ducked the next swing, grabbed the surprised Becker by the ankles, and with strength that was beyond normal circumstances, I picked him up and tossed him over onto my badly burned back.

With Becker flopped over my shoulders and my head actually between his legs, I was somewhat protected from the next round of hammer blows, baseball bat swings, and punches that were now coming from the other attackers. Like a movie scene, everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and twenty-two years later, I still remember it all in half speed.

One of the terrorists, a young guy whom I didn’t know, had slipped on the water that spilled on the floor and was now attempting to get a grip around my ankles to hold me for the others who would finish me off. Four others, armed with the bats, were still blocking the door and any attempt to escape. I charged them, holding Becker upside down on my back, and threw him off me and on top of them. The combined force of our two bodies sent the door guards stumbling backward against the wall and into the corner, like bowling pins being scattered.

That bought me an instant of opportunity to dive through the doorway and onto the steps toward the safety of being out in the open where others could see me. Landing facedown on the stairs, I thought I had succeeded in escaping when suddenly the door was slammed shut on my foot, trapping me. I felt the hands of the terrorists grabbing my ankle and holding me fast so that I could not get free. The door opened, and to my horror, another bucket full of boiling water was dumped on my already-blistered and burned body. Almost my entire upper torso now bubbled and broiled in the intense heat. The skin just simply melted away in a matter of seconds.

I kicked my free foot with all the strength I could summon, and suddenly my other foot was unexpectedly released. The door slammed shut. I was left there as good as dead. The pain rushed over me in waves and consumed every nerve in my body with intense fire.

I was still alive. In the coming days, I would wish that I wasn’t.