User, Dealer, Felon . . . Chaplain
Having a father who is an alcoholic is nothing any child desires. Having a father who is an alcoholic who turns brutal when he’s drunk is something any child would fear. For Danny Cox, whose childhood was marred by the curse of alcohol, the fearsome threats of his too-often inebriated father and the dull thuds and echoing cries of his mother being beaten still ring in his ears.
Yet, when his father died in a car accident when Cox was 10, that loss played heavily upon his life — the drunken brute created by alcohol he despised and would never miss; his father, who he still loved, left a hole in his life that no one could seem to fill.
But while growing up poor in Illinois in public housing, it was there that by chance Cox and a friend got on a church bus one Sunday. At that church he was introduced to Jesus and he gave his life to Christ. For an entire summer, Cox attended church and ongoing revival meetings, soaking in the preaching. He, in fact, found Someone who filled the hole in his life.
“At 12 years old I became a walking, talking Jesus machine,” says Cox, who is now an AG chaplain. “If you were in my path, you heard about Jesus.”
A DIFFERENT PATH
But when Cox returned to school that fall, slowly Jesus was pushed to the back as Cox’s acceptance and popularity increasingly grew. He was an excellent athlete in a number of sports, which also seemed to increase his popularity among students — especially with girls. By the time he graduated high school, God was no longer a concern for him.
In college, Cox started to experiment with a variety of drugs as he pursued a business degree. Nothing really seemed to help with the renewed feeling of something was missing in his life.
After taking several business courses, Cox dropped out of college to start his own business. He was determined that he would have money — and plenty of it — so he would never be wanting for things as he had throughout his childhood.
Where sports and popularity drove him in high school, the pursuit of money and “bigger and better” now consumed him. He bought a tavern and worked tirelessly to make it successful — and it was. In addition to work, his life revolved around alcohol, sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
As his business and wealth grew, he maintained an interesting culture of physical fitness — he became a personal fitness trainer, owned two gyms, and held a black belt in karate — and drug use. He was popping pills, smoking marijuana, and dropping acid, but he managed to keep things together while continuing to build a small empire of lucrative businesses in the day and being a “party animal” through the night.
“But then I turned 30 and I started using cocaine,” Cox says. “I was spending $700 a week feeding this new habit. So, I figured I’d start selling cocaine to my friends and that way I’d get my cocaine basically for free.”
For a time, that self-deception worked. But then he tried crack cocaine and was instantly hooked. His drug habit nearly tripled in cost, his businesses began to suffer, and his body did as well as his passion for money — and all the earthly “pleasures” money can bring — was replaced with an irresistible lust for crack. He began to sell cocaine in greater and greater quantities in order to support his own growing addiction.
“Drugs began to control my life and I started losing my businesses,” Cox says. “I was in a death spiral that I couldn’t get out of — I couldn’t break free.”
It was only a matter of time before the drug trail led authorities to Cox. He was arrested and offered a deal if he would give up his supplier. He refused to take the deal and was charged with selling over five kilos of cocaine. Although he did not realize it at the time, life as he knew it was going to end in just a few days.
Through a questionable series of events, Cox ended up being denied bail — repeatedly — despite no evidence of him being a flight risk. But within a day of his arrest and lock-up in a county jail, where he believed he had sunk to the lowest point in his life, the words of that revival preacher from his youth began to come back to him.
He had what some may call a “jailhouse conversion,” but this was a bit different. Danny was pulled into a vision with Jesus. It was in that vision that Cox gave his life to Jesus — this time for good. He was a new man and his addictions were instantly broken. He immediately started reading the Bible voraciously, for hours at a time.
Experiencing God’s forgiveness was one thing; gaining the law’s forgiveness was another story. For nearly two years Cox remained locked up awaiting trial. It was a roller coaster ride of high hopes followed by deep disappointments as just when it seemed he might be set free, doors closed — time after time.
In the end, Cox pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and was sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison, while all that time studying God’s Word and growing in his faith in Christ despite the bitter disappointments. Cox observes, “God will forgive you, but the government won’t.”
In a book Cox wrote about his life and prison years, High on a Lie, he tells of how when he was young, a shotgun pellet had ricocheted off a metal sign and struck him in one eye, leaving him with 20x400 in that eye. In prison, however, when he received a medical exam, doctors determined that an operation could restore most of his sight — the surgery, performed at the Mayo Clinic, was a success as a plastic lens was inserted and his vision improved to 20x40.
It was a small miracle of sorts, as he may have never obtained the operation otherwise.
But God isn’t limited to “doctor-assisted” miracles. During his fourth year in prison, Cox, who continued to work out while also maintaining Bible studies and personal devotions, found himself growing physically weaker.
At first, he thought it was a series of bad work out days, but as time progressed the weakness on his right side grew. He started dropping things and after it became obvious that the right side of his upper body was significantly smaller. A prison doctor examined him and speculated that perhaps Cox had a bulging disk that needed to be repaired to relieve pressure on nerve.
But that wasn’t the case. After going through a battery of tests conducted by a well-respected physician, Cox suddenly found himself on a plane headed to Springfield, Missouri, and the Federal Medical Center. There, after more tests conducted by the former assistant director of Washington University School of Medicine (neurology) at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, he was called in to meet with the doctor.
Assuming that the doctor was going to explain the procedure for correcting a disk problem, Cox was caught totally unprepared to learn that his physical decline was due to something far more serious. He had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — an incurable, debilitating disease that’s also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He had a year, maybe two, to live.
“I often wondered what could be worse than being in prison,” Cox states, “and that’s dying in prison.”
His response to the diagnosis, which was confirmed by two additional neurologists, was shock followed by devastation. He knew God was calling him to be an evangelist — dying a lingering death as every muscle slowly stopped functioning didn’t seem to fit that call upon his life. He began searching the Scriptures for God’s guidance on healing, reading books about healing, and seeking God fervently in prayer for healing.
“Ten months after my diagnosis, I had lost 45 pounds, my right hand was extremely weak, and my right leg was beginning to drag a bit,” Cox recalls. “I was in my cell one day memorizing Scriptures — I had memorized about 100 of them and had taken my eyes off the disease and put them on Jesus. I got to around 60 some Scriptures, and suddenly I had a vision from God that I was healed — I didn't look or feel any different, but knew that I knew that I knew that I was healed right then because 'it ain’t over till Jesus says it’s over.'”
However, when he started telling people that God had healed him, no one believed him. Family, friends, and fellow inmates patronized him, believing he was living in denial. But the truth was, God had touched Cox. Over a two-month period, all the weight and strength he had lost, returned. He had been healed! Some inmates, noticing his physical recovery, started to believe, but what about medical proof?
IRONY OF IRONIES
When Cox was originally diagnosed with ALS, his lawyers began the long process of seeking a compassionate release in order for him to be eligible for experimental ALS therapies. After months of paperwork and appeals, the compassionate release from prison was granted, provided doctors determined he was a good candidate for the experimental treatments. For 35 days Cox was a free man, outside the prison walls, while doctors ran a barrage of tests on him.
The testing, however, occurred months after Cox believed God healed him. As the weeks of testing concluded, Cox was informed that he was not eligible for the treatment — the doctors had conclusively determined there was no ALS! However, with that determination, his compassionate release was rescinded and he had to return to prison to finish out his sentence.
GOD IS BIGGER
Cox entered prison when he was 42 and after spending time in 12 federal prisons and five county jails in eight different states, he was released in 1999 when he was 51. During his final years in prison, his testimony became well known among inmates as “no one” ever recovers from ALS. Also during the last six months of his sentence, he wrote a book about his life — from his childhood through his years in prison.
The book, High on a Lie, isn’t overly graphic in nature, sparing readers of too vivid of descriptions of his mother’s suffering, his partying lifestyle, and the brutal and demeaning experiences that take place among prisoners. However, those untold hours spent writing the book behind bars have resulted in untold numbers of inmates turning to Christ after Cox himself was outside the bars.
“I came to have hope and faith that no matter the situation I was in, that God is bigger than that situation,” Cox says.
Five years after his release from prison, Cox returned to prison to begin sharing his testimony — having demonstrated that it was possible to live a law-abiding life and maintain his Christianity outside of prison. He was and continues to be warmly welcomed back by wardens, chaplains, and inmates alike, only this time he enters prisons through the front doors.
HIGH ON A LIE
“My book has been translated into Spanish — as a significant percentage of inmates are Spanish speaking — and into audio for those inmates who are blind or cannot read,” Cox says. “I receive letters and notes all the time from inmates who have given their lives to Christ after I’ve shared my testimony or they’ve read my book.”
Stephen Holem has been in the ministry since 1993 and serving as an endorsed AG prison chaplain since 2012. Currently he’s the chaplain at the Marion Federal Penitentiary located in Williamson County, Illinois. It houses approximately 1,300 inmates.
“One of the biggest impacts [Danny] has in my prison is the book that he wrote,” confirms Holem. “He donated some copies to the chapel and I’m able to take a copy to where guys are locked down . . . they’d just be amazed at his story and often say ‘I can see myself in there.’ I had some pray the prayer at the end of the book for salvation and others that were started on a journey toward the Lord because of that book.”
In 2007, Cox himself began working as a chaplain to inmates. After taking Berean Bible courses through Global University to answer the call for ministry, Danny also became an endorsed chaplain in 2017 as well as an evangelist with the Assemblies of God at the age of 69.
Over the past 20 years of being “clean and green” — as inmates respectfully refer to those who make it — Cox, who is now 72, has seen the miracle of salvation repeated over and over again in both church and prison settings.
“After I got saved [in prison], when my family could come to see me face to face, I led them all to Christ,” Cox says. “And all my friends who came to visit me in prison, I led them to Christ there as well.” That kind of response continues to today as the authenticity of God’s care, compassion, and calling on Cox’s life is undeniable.
Chaplain Daniel Odean serves as the Correctional Ministries representative for AG U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries. He has more than 35 years of ministerial experience, including 23 years in the Bureau of Prisons as a chaplain.
“Danny Cox has been an endorsed AG chaplain for approximately three years now,” Odean says. “He is an amazing and a passionate person with an amazing testimony. He connects with inmates and builds relationships with institutional chaplains and others in correctional ministries outreaches in an effort to reach those in prisons and jails for Christ.
“I fully endorse Danny and his ministry and promote him to our AG chaplains who currently serve within institutions,” Odean continues. “I see Danny as a great asset to our chaplains who seek quality and authentic correctional ministers to invite into their facilities. He has prisoners’ respect since he served 10 years in federal prison and knows what it feels like to be incarcerated and lose everything.”
Holem’s opinion of Cox’s ministry mimics that of Odean’s. Not only seeing him as an anointed and passionate minister, but as a trusted friend and volunteer.
“He understands the mindset of the inmates — he’s experienced God’s work in his own life and he wants others to feel the same kind of freedom,” Holem says. “And because I also serve as chaplain in the National Guard, I’ve had a lot of opportunity for someone to come in when I have to be gone — that had to be someone I could trust. Danny met every qualification and rule set forth for him . . . and we’ve always got good responses from the guys and they look forward to the times that he is the one coming to fill in for me.” Holem also expresses his personal appreciation for Cox making time to visit him while he was in the hospital for heart valve replacement surgery last year.
In addition to preaching, Cox is a volunteer handyman for a local home for pregnant teens and volunteers with another prison ministry, while he also has his own Prison2Preacher Ministry.
Although COVID has placed a barrier to Cox from currently entering and ministering in prisons and has reduced the availability of churches to speak in, that hasn’t slowed him down. He recently started creating podcasts called Gimme-5 that appear weekly on Maximize the Moment. He’s also now sharing his testimony with numerous other media outlets, with several choosing to feature his story. He will be the cover story in the January 2021 edition of the popular prison outreach magazine called Victorious Living.
“We’ve got to keep our hope and faith that He is working — even when we don’t see Him working,” Cox says, “because with God, nothing is impossible!”