Swamp Song

Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought.

Yip Harburg

A new road was being constructed near Polk City, Florida, and my crew was called in to cut trees and build fences. We wore the most amazing outfits with just the right amount of dazzle. Each team member was dressed in a blue shirt with matching blue pants, highlighted with a bold white stripe down the leg. To maintain a professional but conservative look, we wore a plain but attractive brown brogan boots.


Our assistant supervisor, Boss Kennedy, stood guard over us, smoking a pipe and holding a twelve gauge shotgun. Boss Martin ran the operation and was responsible for laying out the fence line and showing us what to do. He had a thirty eight special strapped to his side. We were criminals, serving time for various offenses, but I was the only one who had committed his life to Christ. My walk of faith began in the back of a State Police car when I said to the Lord, “This will never happen to me again.”


Mother Dodge, a black minister, conducted services for us every Sunday morning in our gated community. There were times when I was the only one who came to the fence and listened. She opened each meeting with a song. Since I did not know any Gospel tunes Mama Dodge gave me a hymnbook. I had grown up singing, or trying to sing, Born to be Wild, Just Dropped In, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction and Hey Jude. None of those songs were in the book. David, a fellow inmate and minister’s son was my tutor. He didn’t have an interest in God, but he helped me learn to sing Amazing Grace, the Old Rugged Cross and my favorite—Blessed Assurance.

While working in Polk City I was promoted to water boy. It was an awesome privilege with lots of responsibility. I stayed with the truck at all times, answered radio calls, sharpened tools, brought water to the men and served lunch. One day, I was all alone at the truck, something that almost never happened, so I took advantage of this rare moment and began to sing Blessed Assurance. I had memorized the words and sang them to myself over and over again, but now I was free to sing out loud. And out loud I sang, lifting up my voice to the top of my lungs: Blessed Assurance Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood. This is my story, this is my song; praising my Savior, all day long. Even though I was a criminal dressed in prison blues and spent most of my time locked inside the stockade walls—I was free at that moment, feeling as though God was so close to me that I could reach out and touch Him.


Since that day the earth has made many trips around the sun, but that experience remains etched in my memory. The Apostle Paul declared, “… be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs … and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sing always, for those who sing scare away their sorrows and their despair (Miguel Saavedra).

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