Choose Your Iron Legacy

TAGS: prison, Iron Legacy: LEGACY, good deeds, film, life lessons, Mark Dugdale, seminar, transformation

Providentially, I wound up in a unique part of culture. Besides being a husband of 16 years with three daughters and running a produce business in Woodinville, I also compete in professional bodybuilding. In fact, I have been competing ever since winning the Overall title at the NPC USA Bodybuilding Championships in 2004.

A few years back, an idea began gnawing at my conscience—the idea to engage men to consider their legacy. I personally believe that there is a mandate upon men—a harkening that goes back to the beginning of the Bible where God tells Adam to go forth and subdue the earth, to be cultivators and producers. Within the narcissistic, self-focused world of bodybuilding, I hoped to ignite a desire in some guys to live up to that calling. So, I set out to create a film that might do just that…a film titled LEGACY.

A call to cultivate something of much greater significance than biceps circumference and bench press poundage.

Young dudes tend to gravitate towards strong men that they respect. Unfortunately, these individuals are not often men of good character. Thankfully, an opportunity soon opened for me to speak on the notion of legacy alongside two men whose strength spreads equally between the physical and the faithful.

It began with an unannounced visit by my former Junior High Science teacher, John Burkholder. Although I knew him as an educator, he is also an All-American wresting champ, the 1977 Mr. USA winner, and someone who now devotes his time to reaching and changing prison inmates.

 

Now 60 years old, John Burkholder’s presence is still imposing. John heads up Cascade Prison Ministries as an extension of Cascade Community Church. Our discussion of legacy struck a cord that day, and John quickly suggested that I speak at the prison, noting that over 80% of inmates had non-existent or abusive fathers.

Legacy rises and falls with men, so I knew that these guys could shed light on the subject.

John worked tirelessly for the cause, wading through red tape to get me, one other guy, and a camera crew into the Monroe Correctional Complex in order to conduct a seminar. The other man called to speak with me was the 2009 Mr. Olympia runner-up—Branch Warren.

Abandoned by his father at age six, Branch and his siblings lived out of a car for a period of time while their mother worked two jobs in order to provide food. By God’s grace, however, Branch met Brian Dobson (owner of Metroflex Gym, Texas), who taught him that you can be both a man of God and a warrior. While the aggression from his past still exists today, Branch is now armed with a cool testimony and is faithfully married, and he takes it all out on the weights.

So, on April 16, 2013, John, Branch, myself, and a film crew headed to Monroe to speak with 70 inmates. I should note, though, that before we arrived I distinctly recall an email from John explaining the men with whom we would meet. "We will be in the Special Offenders Unit. About 70% of them are sex offenders." Oh, perfect...f*#!%-ing sex offenders! That label elicits a pretty strong reaction, at least for me. If someone like that touched my girls, they’d soon end up in a box buried in dirt...and I'd be added to the prison population. I mean, couldn’t we talk to murderers or something? I began hoping for restraint.

One-by-one the inmates filed in. Yet, before sitting, each walked over, told us his name, shook our hands, looked us in the eye, and offered his sincere gratitude for us taking the time to come in and talk to them. The only way I can really describe their excitement is like little kids on Christmas...and my preconceived label for these men soon began to crumble.

 

The Apostle Paul’s words kept repeating in my head…

Men are the image and glory of God.

I realized that, despite their crimes, inmates still bear the image and likeness of God. Many of them had endured horribly abusive upbringings. For instance, one guy was born deaf, and his first memory of his father involved being beaten with a two-by-four for not listening...and he was only six years old . For most of these men, the hour or so they got to spend on the weight deck for good behavior was all they had to live for. I soon felt ashamed of my own self-righteous pride in thinking of them as labels instead of image bearers because ultimately, there is only one judge of a man’s heart and soul—and it’s not me.

I left deeply convicted of a couple things: 1) these men have souls, and 2) so long as there’s breath in their lungs, there is hope for transformation.

A bad beginning does not have to equate to a bad ending. Opportunity exists to leave a better legacy–either upon their release or by imparting wisdom to other inmates with whom some will invariably come in contact with during their life sentences. I went in hoping to help change others, but I walked out a changed man, keenly aware of my own sin and filled with sadness for men who didn’t get to go home that night and hug their children and kiss their wife.

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