A long journey ends with faith in Jesus and a desire to serve him.
Amanda M. Klemp
At age 66, Daryl Fleck is retired and lives in New Ulm, Minnesota. He likes to spend his time volunteering. Now he’s getting his feet wet helping with WELS Prison Ministry.
But his journey wasn’t exactly down a straight and narrow path.
Fleck grew up in Minnesota, in a poor family with an alcoholic father. Despite his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s tendency to enable it, he says, “There was love in our family. My dad didn’t express his love outwardly so much, but we knew that he loved us. And my mother would always show her love.” His father was Catholic, and his mother Lutheran. His mom made sure he and his two younger siblings were baptized, attended church, and were confirmed.
After graduating high school, Fleck worked in construction and eventually met his first wife. They got married and had a son and daughter. Fleck had always considered himself a Christian and would, at least periodically, attend church services. But that was a cause of conflict. He says, “She didn’t believe in going to church. She wasn’t a Christian woman, which was a big mistake I made. She wouldn’t even let me hang a picture of Jesus on the wall. I tried bringing my kids to church, but because their mother wasn’t going, they didn’t want to go either.” It was a rocky 22-year marriage.
The spiral downward
He eventually left the marriage and moved back to his hometown, where he could be closer to his mom and an old friend. “I had so much guilt and shame for leaving my marriage,” he says. “I felt I had let God down and started drinking very heavily.”
Then his mother died. “It all happened at the same time. I lost my mother and my wife and family,” he says. “Emotionally I was a wreck. I had so much guilt and remorse. I would try to drink my troubles away. Physically and financially I started going downhill. And, spiritually I gave up on everything. I gave up on God. I was pretty lost.”
He started racking up DUIs and stays in the county jail. Each subsequent DUI led to more time in jail. He moved to North Dakota, but the dependence on alcohol moved with him. One morning, he woke up in his car. A neighbor had called the police, and he was charged with another DUI. This time, he went to prison.
A temporary lull
During his prison sentence, he pored over Christian materials that were available to him. He says after he was released, he felt he was back on his feet and doing well. He remembers feeling like he was getting a fresh start; he even had a good job that he liked. “The biggest mistake I made at this time was saying ‘Okay, God, you can go help someone else now; I don’t need you anymore.’ I pretty much abandoned [God],” he recalls.
His life soon took a downward turn. A woman he went to high school with got in touch with him. She lived in Massachusetts, and he moved east to marry her. He admits, in hindsight, he probably shouldn’t have jumped into that relationship, but he was looking for something he felt was missing after his first marriage ended. After three years in Massachusetts, they moved back to Minnesota, but things weren’t going well. After one big fight, he got his last DUI. This time, he spent 5 months in county jail and another 29 months in prison.
The beginning of a new life
While in prison, one day, Fleck felt compelled to pick up and open a Bible. He doesn’t recall why he did it, but he remembers exactly to what passage he opened the Bible: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). It’s a Bible verses he still cherishes every day.
Later he also saw WELS Prison Ministry booklets that were available for inmates.
“They have these little tests at the end of them, so I did the test and mailed it to Prison Ministry. They mailed it back to me and then sent me another book,” he says. Fleck ended up completing level one and level two. “I have the certificates hanging on the wall at my apartment,” he says. “They mean a lot to me.”
Fleck says he was excited to keep getting the new booklets and tests, because it was nice to get mail in prison. He stresses the simplicity of the materials is really important, because many people in prison don’t have an education. To have something that’s simple but still teaches the love of Jesus is very valuable. He says that the notes from the volunteers and the pictures from school children also really mean a lot to an inmate who doesn’t hear much from the outside world. One of the notes he received encouraged him to find a WELS church after his incarceration. He did just that, joining Good Shepherd, Burnsville, Minn., when he was released from prison.
While his time in prison brought him closer to God, there are still family relationships that need to be healed. He says his daughter and brother don’t speak to him anymore, and his son, who like his father and grandfather seems addicted to alcohol, isn’t interested in a close relationship. Fleck wonders if this is a blessing in disguise. He hasn’t had a drink since 2015, and perhaps the distance from his family also keeps him away from alcohol. But he’s praying that the relationship with his children will be mended and that they too will come to know their Savior like he does.
Fleck says, “For an inmate, living in the inside like that, it’s important to have something to give you hope, something to look forward to when you’re released. That’s what the WELS Prison Ministry gave me. I couldn’t wait to get out to find a WELS church. It gives you hope. I’m still hanging on to that hope that I’ll reconcile with my family. I believe that’s going to happen because WELS keeps me in a relationship with Christ by attending their church services and Bible studies.”
Now a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minn., Fleck hopes to be able to help share God’s peace and love with other inmates and with those who are released from prison so that, with God’s help, they can fight their addictions and demons, stay out of prison, and stay in the Word. He remembers the Savior’s message. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Author: Amanda M. Klemp
Volume 106, Number 12
Issue: December 2019