Watergate figure dies at age 80: leaves behind scandal, legacy
Charles Colson, also known as the White House “hatchet man,” or Nixon’s “evil genius” for his affiliation with the Watergate scandal, died April 21 of a brain hemorrhage at the age 80.
In the weeks before his death, Colson underwent brain surgery to remove blood clots from in his brain at Fairfax Inova Hospital, according to latimes.com.
Colson was sent to federal prison in 1974 for his role in the Watergate scandal when president Richard Nixon was in office.
Watergate was a political scandal that occurred in Washington, D.C. when there was a break-in at the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate offices in 1972.
As a result of the scandal, Nixon resigned his presidency in 1974 after it was revealed he had taped conversations in his offices, and attempted to cover up the break-in altogether. Colson was a key person involved in the scandal.
According to businessinsider.com, Colson was known to be one of the “Watergate seven” conspirators. He was a member of the Committee to Re-elect the President, also known as CREEP.
It was later discovered Colson was one of the men who hired the White House “plumbers” to stop the leaks about the break-in.
Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice due to his attempt to discredit Pentagon analyst Daniel Ellsberg, according to abclocal.go.com. The actual charges regarding Watergate were dropped. Colson wanted to discredit Ellsberg’s anti-war efforts.
For his involvement in Watergate, Colson spent seven months in Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama, according to washingtonpost.com. It was the time he spent in prison, however, that encouraged what many call his life’s “turnaround.”
After being released in 1975, Colson spoke about the mistreatment of prisoners and was convinced that God was telling him to fight for change in the American justice system.
According to washingtonpost.com, Colson visited inmates in prisons across the U.S. and had separate buildings and wings in prisons set aside for inmates that wanted to live in a more faith-based environment.
Colson’s involvement in reforming prisons and jails led to new programs that promote the redemption and turnaround of inmates’ lives, bettering their chances of developing a successful life once released from incarceration.
Colson also started the program, Prison Fellowship, in 1976 only a year after his release from prison, according to prisonfellowship.org. Prison Fellowship is now active worldwide in more than 100 countries.
Due to his prominent affiliation with Watergate, Colson was often mocked for his attempts to reform prisons and the sudden activism in his Christian religion.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush restored Colson’s civil rights to practice law and sit in on a jury in 2000.
Many remember Colson as a cold-hearted criminal, once quoted as saying he would walk over his grandmother to get the president elected to a second term, according to abclocal.go.com.
Ellsberg also said that Colson never once apologized, quoting, “I don’t think he felt any kind of regret,” on abclocal.go.com.
Colson did, however, continue to act on his beliefs that there were flaws in the American justice system. He criticized the death penalty and wrote more than 20 books about his redemption and his movements regarding prison reformation.
In February of 2005, Colson was named one of “Time” magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America,” according to abclocal.go.com.
For this reason, he will be remembered to many as a man who turned his life around and made every attempt to better himself and others.
Colson was the father of three children from his first marriage to Nancy Billings, whom he divorced in 1964. He later married Patricia Ann Hughes the same year.
Though considered a mastermind in history’s greatest political scandal, Chuck Colson left behind a legacy of fighting for prison reforms and following his religious beliefs.