John Drescher

This former inmate hated white people. Then two white men prayed for him.

Otis Hardy spent 21 years in prison. He says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Hardy was living in Greensboro in 1979 when he was convicted of armed robbery and given two life sentences. He was full of anger and hate. “I had a big mouth,” Hardy told me recently.

In prison, Hardy was a wheeler-dealer. “You got a lot of money in prison,” Hardy said. When he got caught organizing card games for money in 1994, the guard threatened to turn him in unless he went to a Christian service in the prison cafeteria.

Hardy went. Hardy, who is African American, had been hostile to white people. But he was moved when two white male visitors prayed for him at the service.

As he knelt, they each placed a hand on his shoulder. “That encounter changed my life,” Hardy said. “The people who blessed me were the people I’d hated all my life.” Hardy was transformed.

Bible study

Two years later, at Wake Correctional, he was the first inmate there to participate in a weekly Bible study led by two members of Genesis United Methodist Church in Cary. They were part of Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries, which started in North Carolina and is led by the Rev. Mark Hicks, a Methodist minister. It has regular Bible studies in more than 50 prisons, jails and youth centers in the state and also operates in six other states.

Of the Bible study volunteers, Hardy said: “The relationship was beautiful. The people were great. A lot of people come into a prison but there are very few people you gravitate to.”

Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries holds its annual dinner Saturday at 7 p.m. at Otis Hardy’s church — Cary’s First United Methodist Church at 117 S. Academy St. The public is invited. There is no charge but donations are accepted. Organizers ask that attendees sign up at disciplebibleoutreach.org.

WRAL’s David Crabtree, an Episcopal deacon who has counseled prison inmates, will speak. The 100 Men in Black gospel choir will perform. The event raises money for study guides, Bibles and videos. (Disclosure: I’m part of a Disciple Bible Outreach team that leads weekly Bible discussions at a nearby medium-security prison.)

A blessing

In prison, Hardy learned how to bake. From 1996 to 2000, he worked in the kitchen at the Executive Mansion for Gov. Jim Hunt and baked the wedding cake for one of Hunt’s daughters. Hardy was pardoned by Hunt and released from prison in 2000.

Since then, Hardy, now 71 years old, has led an exemplary life. He attended St. Augustine’s University and received a degree in organizational management. He’s been active in the community and has counseled at-risk children as well as inmates making the transition back to society.

He and his wife, Wynella, live in Raleigh and are devoted members of First United Methodist, where they cook breakfast every Sunday morning for fellow church members. “This church really has been a blessing for us,” he said.

Hardy recently sat upstairs in an office at his church and freely discussed his time in prison. He carried a thick, three-ring binder full of landmarks from his life, including certificates of appreciation signed by Gov. Hunt and an invitation to dinner with President George W. Bush.

The first page in the binder is a printout of his incarceration summary. “I want people to know I’ve made some bad mistakes in my life,” he said. “I want people to know because that’s my testimony.”

Hardy will attend the event and dinner Saturday night. He and Wynella will bake dessert.

John Drescher: 919-829-4515, @john_drescher

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