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It’s summer vacation time in the Eerdmans Internet marketing department — and to celebrate, we’re reposting a few “greatest hits” from our first year and a half in the blogosphere.

Today’s selection originally appeared August 3, 2011. Enjoy!

* * *

W. Paul Jones, a Roman Catholic priest and family brother in the Trappist order, here recounts his unlikely relationship with Clayton Fountain, a multiple murderer who was condemned to live out his days in solitary confinement. Fountain’s life and his remarkable religious conversion are the subject of Jones’s gripping new book.

W. Paul Jones

W. Paul Jones

My new book, A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk, is an attempt to share with as wide a readership as possible the pilgrimage that I was on for years with a man regarded as the most dangerous person in the entire federal prison system, Clayton A. Fountain. Clayton’s downward spiral began in a deadly fight with his sergeant in Vietnam, followed by an escape involving a SWAT team and incarceration at Leavenworth prison. In the book I describe how, despite heightened security in each new prison, this man only became increasingly incorrigible — until, even in solitary confinement in the highest security prison of the nation, he killed four more persons in succession. By that time prison authorities had more than enough and declared him totally beyond their ability to control. They constructed an underground steel and concrete cell just for him, where he would remain in total segregation and isolation for the rest of his life.

My background — one that couldn’t be more different than Clayton’s — is academic; I have taught at Yale, Princeton, and Saint Paul School of Theology. Born and raised a Protestant, I am now a Roman Catholic priest and a Family Brother of Assumption Abbey (Trappist). I was thus amazed to find myself gradually becoming not only Clayton Fountain’s spiritual director but also, in time, his companion and friend on an amazing spiritual pilgrimage.

As I reflect back on my relationship with Clayton, I find myself pondering the issue of the death penalty in graphic new ways. Had present federal law been in effect at the time, Clayton would have been executed long ago, sealing his reputation as the most deadly of murderers. Instead — I became convinced — he underwent a process of genuine conversion, one that made him a new person — gentle and caring, committed to studying for the priesthood, even though he knew the prison would be his only “parish.”

I decided to write this story in order to pose for others the same conundrum that I encountered through my dealings with Clayton.  If Clayton’s transformation was authentic, then I have to believe that no one is beyond God’s divine mercy. As he himself stated, “If I can be forgiven, then no one is beyond the forgiveness of God.” It follows that to execute anyone, no matter how heinous his or her crimes, is to take on ourselves the role of God — declaring that there are persons who are beyond God’s power to change. It is with this conundrum that my monastery also struggled, and in doing so the monks came to accept Clayton fully as a Family Brother. His name is on a cross in our cemetery, where one day I too will be buried.

A Different Kind of Cell

A Different Kind of Cell

What others have said about this book:

“Clayton Fountain was regarded as a ruthless killer beyond anyone’s power to save. Yet in the stillness of his solitary confinement — entombed alive in a cell of concrete and steel — God was at work redeeming and remaking Clayton Fountain. I am grateful to Father Paul for ministering so compassionately to a man precious only to God — and for sharing his remarkable story with the world.”
— Martin Sheen, actor

“Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century once liberated a murderer being led to execution. ‘I will kill him myself,’ Bernard promised; he took the man to Clairvaux and made him a monk. Bernard meant that through the process of monastic conversion the man’s false self, which had expressed itself in violence, would die and his true self emerge and thrive in peace. W. Paul Jones tells a twentieth-century version of that story. Through Jones’s sensitive, gripping prose the reader follows the conversion of Clayton A. Fountain from chaos to clarity.”
— Fr. Mark Scott, Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky

“No one is beyond the mercy of God. No one. The message of this book is that to kill anyone on the assumption that their redemption is impossible is to take the place of God.”
— Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

Click to order A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk.

Here at Eerdmans, we tend to be fairly inclusive, big-tent people, generally not much inclined to choose sides or pick favorites.

We do, however, have a favorite movie star.

Actor Martin Sheen — besides being a former TV president, Hollywood icon, devoted Catholic, passionate political activist, and all-around classy guy — has also been a generous supporter of several Eerdmans books.

To the Field of Stars

To the Field of Stars

Office legend has it that when he first called several years ago to offer a blurb and left a voicemail message on one of our editors’ phones, star-struck Eerdfolks (including not a few of the female persuasion) lined up to take turns listening to Sheen’s cheerful and instantly recognizable voice on the recorded message. Sadly, the message was lost several years later when Eerdmans moved into its new building.

Given our affection for this likable celebrity, when we found this article by Sr. Rose Pacatte discussing Sheen’s new movie, The Way, which hit theaters last Friday, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to reflect on our very occasional but exceedingly memorable interactions with Martin Sheen (and with Hollywood in general).

The film The Way tells the story of a modern pilgrim trekking through Europe on an 800 km camino — a pilgrimage — to the medieval shrine of Santiago de Compostela, where many believe the relics of St. James the apostle (whose feast day was this past Sunday, for those who mark such things) are buried.

This camino is the same pilgrimage traveled by Catholic priest Kevin Codd in 2003. Codd wrote about his journey in To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela, for which Sheen graciously provided the following endorsement:

“In this wonderful book Father Codd brilliantly captures for us the essence of pilgrimage. He is a candid and engaging guide to the physical realities involved — the beauty of nature, the aches and pains of weariness, and other pilgrims along the way. More than that, though, he reveals the interior journey, equally difficult and equally rewarding. It is a spiritual and emotional trek on which pilgrims are confronted with their own broken humanity and come face to face with the God they seek.”
— Martin Sheen

Sheen was already a friend to Eerdmans before that blurb came in, though. Several years earlier, he offered the following brief-but-energetic endorsement for Sr. Joan Chittister’s Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope:

“As ever, Joan Chittister’s voice rises up from the struggle to offer a powerful and transforming source of hope!”
— Martin Sheen

A Different Kind of Cell

A Different Kind of Cell

And just this summer, Sheen endorsed yet another book from Eerdmans — W. Paul Jones’s A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk, which was released just last month. In his blurb for that book, Sheen said,

“Clayton Fountain was regarded as a ruthless killer beyond anyone’s power to save. Yet in the stillness of his solitary confinement — entombed alive in a cell of concrete and steel — God was at work redeeming and remaking Clayton Fountain. I am grateful to Father Paul for ministering so compassionately to a man precious only to God — and for sharing his remarkable story with the world.”
— Martin Sheen

A Different Kind of Cell was also a favorite of Sr. Helen Prejean, best known for her book Dead Man Walking. (She was played by Susan Sarandon in the 1995 film adaptation directed by Tim Robbins.) Sr. Helen wrote the forward for Jones’s book, from which we selected the following excerpt for the back cover:

“No one is beyond the mercy of God. No one. The message of this book is that to kill anyone on the assumption that their redemption is impossible is to take the place of God.”
— Sr. Helen Prejean

The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood

The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood

Even film journalist Sr. Rose Pacatte, whose National Catholic Reporter article first gave us the inside scoop on Sheen’s new movie, has an Eerdmans connection of sorts. She recently contributed an endorsement for Sara Anson Vaux’s book The Ethical Vision of Clint Eastwood (due out later this fall). Here’s an excerpt from her blurb:

“A lavish and articulate hymn of praise to one of Hollywood’s greatest film directors. . . . Without canonizing the humanist Eastwood, Vaux casts her penetrating gaze, informed by theology and cinematic scholarship, on his movies, to reveal intelligence, talent, and the freedom of the artist’s soul. She lets us experience Eastwood’s films anew through the dual lens of ethics and transcendence.”
— Sr. Rose Pacatte

In retrospect, perhaps our list of Martin Sheen encounters isn’t really all that long, even when we pad it with some second and third-degree connections — but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t thrilled by the occasional notice he’s taken of our books. It means a lot to us to know that someone so highly respected and widely appreciated in the big, wide world respects and appreciates the work we do here.

Blessings on your new movie, Mr. Sheen, and thanks for all the voicemails.

W. Paul Jones

W. Paul Jones

W. Paul Jones, a Roman Catholic priest and family brother in the Trappist order, here recounts his unlikely relationship with Clayton Fountain, a multiple murderer who was condemned to live out his days in solitary confinement. Fountain’s life and his remarkable religious conversion are the subject of Jones’s gripping new book.

My new book, A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk, is an attempt to share with as wide a readership as possible the pilgrimage that I was on for years with a man regarded as the most dangerous person in the entire federal prison system, Clayton A. Fountain. Clayton’s downward spiral began in a deadly fight with his sergeant in Vietnam, followed by an escape involving a SWAT team and incarceration at Leavenworth prison. In the book I describe how, despite heightened security in each new prison, this man only became increasingly incorrigible — until, even in solitary confinement in the highest security prison of the nation, he killed four more persons in succession. By that time prison authorities had more than enough and declared him totally beyond their ability to control. They constructed an underground steel and concrete cell just for him, where he would remain in total segregation and isolation for the rest of his life.

My background — one that couldn’t be more different than Clayton’s — is academic; I have taught at Yale, Princeton, and Saint Paul School of Theology. Born and raised a Protestant, I am now a Roman Catholic priest and a Family Brother of Assumption Abbey (Trappist). I was thus amazed to find myself gradually becoming not only Clayton Fountain’s spiritual director but also, in time, his companion and friend on an amazing spiritual pilgrimage.

A Different Kind of Cell

A Different Kind of Cell

As I reflect back on my relationship with Clayton, I find myself pondering the issue of the death penalty in graphic new ways. Had present federal law been in effect at the time, Clayton would have been executed long ago, sealing his reputation as the most deadly of murderers. Instead — I became convinced — he underwent a process of genuine conversion, one that made him a new person — gentle and caring, committed to studying for the priesthood, even though he knew the prison would be his only “parish.”

I decided to write this story in order to pose for others the same conundrum that I encountered through my dealings with Clayton.  If Clayton’s transformation was authentic, then I have to believe that no one is beyond God’s divine mercy. As he himself stated, “If I can be forgiven, then no one is beyond the forgiveness of God.” It follows that to execute anyone, no matter how heinous his or her crimes, is to take on ourselves the role of God — declaring that there are persons who are beyond God’s power to change. It is with this conundrum that my monastery also struggled, and in doing so the monks came to accept Clayton fully as a Family Brother. His name is on a cross in our cemetery, where one day I too will be buried.

What others are saying about this book:

“Clayton Fountain was regarded as a ruthless killer beyond anyone’s power to save. Yet in the stillness of his solitary confinement — entombed alive in a cell of concrete and steel — God was at work redeeming and remaking Clayton Fountain. I am grateful to Father Paul for ministering so compassionately to a man precious only to God — and for sharing his remarkable story with the world.”
— Martin Sheen, actor

“Bernard of Clairvaux in the twelfth century once liberated a murderer being led to execution. ‘I will kill him myself,’ Bernard promised; he took the man to Clairvaux and made him a monk. Bernard meant that through the process of monastic conversion the man’s false self, which had expressed itself in violence, would die and his true self emerge and thrive in peace. W. Paul Jones tells a twentieth-century version of that story. Through Jones’s sensitive, gripping prose the reader follows the conversion of Clayton A. Fountain from chaos to clarity.”
— Fr. Mark Scott, Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky

“No one is beyond the mercy of God. No one. The message of this book is that to kill anyone on the assumption that their redemption is impossible is to take the place of God.”
— Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking

Click here to preorder A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk.

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