The Walter Johnson Legacy

 

Walter Johnson is the man on the left in this picture; I am on the right.  Below this you will find a description of how we met and what he did to help me in my life.  I am a living example of his legacy, and this branch of our ministry has been established in his memory.  The Walter Johnson Legacy will build support for men and women returning to society after time spent in prison.  Their needs are outlined in the REENTRY page.  If this is something that strikes your heart and you want to follow in his footsteps to help these men and women who are struggling in their transitions back into society, please go to the DONATIONS page.  Thank you.


On Christmas Eve, 2017, Bakersfield, California lost Walt(er) Johnson, one of the finest men to ever walk this earth. Most people know him from his days as a coach and later as the athletic director for Bakersfield College. Others got to know him at his church, where he was a pillar. His family had the pleasure of experiencing his wonderful love, which they will cherish forever—and certainly pass on to their own children and grandchildren.


Walt and I met each other while I was still in prison.


I was at New Folsom Prison when he retired. His retirement was mentioned on a Sacramento news station that evening, and I watched that newscast. When I heard his name mentioned I wondered if he might be the same Walter Johnson who was famous for his pitching with the Washington Senators (turned out that they are cousins). I did not hear anything else about him, but for some reason I remembered that newscast.

In the meantime, life moved on for me in prison, and a few months later I signed up for the Match-2 (M-2) program. This program matched men in prison with men in society (and women with women) who would come in and visit them.  When I was interviewed by the M-2 coordinator I asked him not to rush to assign me a visitor. I had a friend who visited me when possible, so I was not without visits. I asked the coordinator to wait until he found someone who had accomplished something special in life, so I could sit across from that person and learn more about that kind of life. 


The M-2 coordinator promised to wait until he found the right person for me. But not long after that I transferred to the prison in Corcoran, and a few months after that I transferred to the prison in Tehachapi. A year or so after I got to Tehachapi, the M-2 coordinator there called me out to tell me that he had heard from the coordinator at New Folsom who told him about my request. He told me that he, too, would try to find this special person for me.


Then, only a few weeks later, he called me out again, and told me he thought he had the right one for me: Walt(er) Johnson, the retired athletic director from Bakersfield College. When he told me that, I recalled the newscast from when he retired, and I was excited about getting to meet him.


Walt and I met sometime around 1994-95. He visited me regularly at the prison, at least once a month, and in 1996 when my parents flew out from Florida to visit me he met with them and helped guide them through the visiting process. After our visit, he and his lovely wife Hazel took my parents into their home for the night before their flight back and treated them like family.


Walt was patient with me. He always encouraged me, even though he knew I was not living right. I gambled and hustled dope in the prison (although I hid the latter from him), and back then he felt like prison was where I belonged: yet he remained patient and always encouraged me.


In 1997, I got into serious trouble for drug trafficking, and was later transferred to the Florida prison system where I had been previously sentenced to multiple life and other very lengthy sentences. 


Walt and I stayed in touch with each other through correspondence.


In 1998, a year after my return to the Florida system, I had a wake-up call and began working to rebuild my life. I stopped hustling and am now working on my 20th year of sobriety.


On November 10, 2009, I was paroled from my Florida sentences and transferred back to California to serve my final sentence of seven years there, which I was released from on February 13, 2013. I have been a free man ever since.


My first ten months of freedom was spent living in a halfway house in Fresno, California. Walt and Hazel came to Fresno to spend time with me my first weekend there. That will always be a special memory for me, and that was only the beginning of how Walt continued to minister to me.


I had been in prison for nearly 40 straight years and the world had changed so much during my absence. I was so unprepared for my new life! But Walt was there to help me through my transition back into society. We spoke together on the phone nearly every evening; he listened to me, and he guided me when needed. I was given permission by my parole officer to leave Fresno and visit with him during Thanksgiving of that year, and then he introduced me to his family. They had heard about me for years, but now we were finally able to meet. And, like Walt, they accepted me warmly into their lives.


Ten months after my release from prison, I was able to return to Florida. I spent my last couple of days in California with Walt and his family, and then he and his son Mike drove me down to LA catch my flight. Walt paid for my flight, and before we parted company he gave me some money to help me get started. Some came from him, some from his family, and some from other people Walt asked to consider helping me. (I used that assistance to help pay my first, last, and security deposit for the apartment I still live in.)


During my ten months in Fresno, my transportation was a bicycle Walt bought for me. My first few months in Florida I used another bicycle, then moved up a few months later to a small scooter, and almost a year after that I began searching for a car. I was having a difficult time finding one I could afford, and when Walt learned about this he offered to loan me the money for it (repayment checks have gone out to him monthly ever since).


For years, I dreamed about putting together Ephesians 4:28 Ministries to help others. Our first major project is scheduled to begin at Lighthouse Community Church in Dania Beach, Florida on April 8, 2018. This project is called Love-Ops and can be read about on the LOVE-OPS page. When I was working to establish Ephesians 4:28 Ministries, Walt was one of the donors who helped me pay the legal fees. More importantly, he encouraged me. He believed in what I was working to achieve, and he believed in me. 

 

Walt helped me in a lot of wonderful ways, but most wonderful of all he led me as a faithful man of God and taught me by example.


This past summer I was able to return to California for my vacation, and I spent a significant amount of that time with Walt. Now that he has passed away, I am even more grateful for that time I was able to spend with him during my vacation. I once made a terrible mess out of my life and I never should have been released from prison. But Walt met me there and helped me get to where I am now. He did more than mentor me, though, he gave me love and treated me like a son. I am so honored.


When I told my parents that Walt had passed away, my dad said, “Walt was the nicest man I ever met.” 


I agree with my dad; Walt was the nicest man I ever met, too.


—John W. Eddimgs