A Story Worth Telling
by Terry Burke
As I watched the CBS movie "Helter Skelter" last night, I kept thinking to myself, whenever the character of Charles "Tex" Watson was being portrayed, "Who was THAT guy?"
Everyday for the last four years, I've worked as a janitor with Charles, scrubbing showers, sweeping and mopping floors, emptying trash cans, etc., in a 200 man cell block at Mule Creek State Prison. A few years ago I was going through my incarcerated life somewhat frustrated with my Christian faith. It seemed that the harder I prayed, the more I'd feel emptiness and a growing feeling that God wasn't hearing me. One day, between wringing out our mops, I kind of jokingly brought up the fact that I believed God was: "Putting me on hold on the prayer phone."
From that moment on, Charles "Tex" Watson began to gently and quietly minister to me. He guided me to Scriptures and Psalms that helped me begin to renew and strengthen my waivering faith ... and so, watching the mindwashed automaton character of Charles in "Helter Skelter" had me not recognizing the guy I know now.
I enrolled in a class that Charles teaches through the Chapel here, called: "Breaking the Cycle". It's a class of approximately 38 convict students, who Charles ministers the word of God to. Charles makes time to insure that everyone gets his questions answered, and is guided to other sources of material to feed their spirit and build their faith in God.
Charles Watson doesn't just "talk the talk", he "walks the walk" day-in and day-out, and in the four years I've known him, I've never seen him stumble in his faith. To see the drug infested, Manson family "Tex", unquestionably carry out orders from a mad man had me thinking, that Satan was sure working within my friend then!
Today, Charles is the first one there when anyone needs help, in any way. He's quick with a laugh, and a smile and is genuinely interested in your reply when he asks, "How are you doing today?"
The knife wielding, Buntline revolver shooting, acid dropping, space case in "Helter Skelter", isn't even close to the man walking around in here, 35 years later.
Countless times I've heard Charles testify about being born again, and how it was being Charles Manson's right-hand man. Countless times I've heard him express remorse for his notorious and heinous crimes. I've heard his heartfelt expressions of remorse for what he did to his victims and their families, their friends, his family and friends. I believe he'd give his life to bring his victims back.
In "Helter Skelter" THAT Charles obviously had no feelings at all, and it's no wonder I saw no similarities between the "THEN Tex", and the "NOW Tex".
I know the Manson family murders took place. I know that with the work of the D.A.'s office, the public, the witnesses, the victims and perpetrators, that somewhere between the summer of 1969 and today, a somewhat accurate portrayal of these events has been presented. Charles Watson himself has always been open and forthcoming when anyone asks him about the facts of those horrible murders, and life within the "family", but I still have a difficult time putting Charles in that scenerio. God has worked a miracle within the heart of Charles Watson.
I wish the movie could have spent a little more time showing the audience some background on the major members of the family, and just how Manson was able to take them in, from good homes to form this twisted family.
I was a child of the '60s and in the summer of '69, I was between my junior and senior year of high school. I was what could be considered a "hipp". I was a long haired activist and radically against the war in Vietnam. Like the young hippy girl at the end of "Helter Skelter", who was being interviewed by a TV reporter, I too felt the Manson family left society with an image of all "hippies" as long haired murdering scum. That image made our baby boomer activism that much more difficult.
The Manson family and their horrific crimes will be with us forever. It is history, and often times history is deeply tragic, but we can learn from it as a society.
I now work and worship with one of the most notorious ex-members of the Manson family, but because of the miracls of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Daddy God, Charles Watson is not the same man he was 35-years ago. That prompted me to ask myself several times during "Helter Skelter": Who was THAT guy?