Stories are the best sermons.

Marvin J. Ashton spent a conference talk telling stories about President Spencer Kimball.

Here is my favorite:

One day a few years ago President Kimball said, “Marvin, I’d like you to take me to visit the Utah State Prison.” He remembered that when I was in charge of the Social Services programs for the Church I had had the responsibility for prisoners.

I said, “President Kimball, I don’t want you to go to the prison. I am afraid for your safety. There are some men confined there who would do anything to attract attention by embarrassing, injuring, or insulting you. I just don’t want you to go.”

That was once when I felt I couldn’t grant his request. He took my advice, and we didn’t go.

However, about two months later, D. Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s personal secretary, phoned me and said, “Elder Ashton, President Kimball wants you to go to the Utah State Prison with him.” The next day we went. My delaying tactic had lasted only a few weeks.

I called Warden Morris and said, “May we come and visit you? We do not want anyone to know of our visit. Could we just meet in your office and not go through the minimum, medium, or maximum security places? Perhaps you could invite two inmates with whom President Kimball could visit in your office. Later we could look around the grounds and talk with others.” He agreeably made the arrangements.

We traveled to the institution, where about a thousand people are incarcerated. Soon into the warden’s office came two prisoners. I was impressed with how hard the convicts looked—how mean, how sullen. After they were introduced and sat down, I broke the silence by saying to President Kimball, “Would you like to say a few words to these two men?”

He said, “Yes.”

They both looked steadily down at the floor. President Kimball waited, and finally when one raised his head up a little, President Kimball looked directly into his eyes.

Let me just pause for a minute and set the stage. One prisoner had been convicted for murder and the other for manslaughter. Here is a prophet. Here were two hardened criminals. What do you say? What do you do? Do you say, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves? What a waste for you to be in such a place as this”? Those are things that might cross your mind and mine.

As I mentioned, as President Kimball caught the eye of one of them, he looked at him with a penetrating stare and said, “Tell me about your mother.”

This inmate looked up and told him about his mother. Tears came to his eyes as he talked in detail about his mother.

When that was over, President Kimball looked at the other one, who was now paying strict attention. He said, “Young man, tell me what your father does for a living.”

The prisoner said, “I do not know where my father is. I never hear from him.” And he went on and on talking openly about his family.

I won’t tell you the details, but what a lesson in counseling, interviewing, and kindness was being taught by this great prophet. I learned more about interviewing in those fifteen minutes than in any similar period in my life. No condemnation. No judging. Only displaying a real interest in the person and his circumstances.

Before our interview was over, somehow the press found out that President Kimball was there. They were at the door and wanted to get into the warden’s office for an interview and a picture. I remember one of the inmates said, “Mr. Kimball, could I have my picture taken with you?”

President Kimball responded with “Why don’t I stand between the two of you, and we will take all three of us at once.”

I did not feel very comfortable with President Kimball standing between those two men in this setting. I had the responsibility for his safety. I had tried to talk him out of it. But he is a disciple of Christ and holds on to the words of God: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: … Naked, and ye clothed me: … I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matt. 25:35–36.)

After the pictures were taken, President Kimball looked at one prisoner and then at the other and said, “Thank you for letting me have my picture taken with you.”

I like family as an icebreaker.

Other posts from the Priesthood session of the April 1985 General Conference

Pleasing Heavenly Father by Being More Good by Jan Tolman
Help us to understand them by Marilyn Nielson

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