Death on Hold: A Prisoner's Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God's Answer

Death on Hold: A Prisoner's Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God's Answer

by Burton W. Folsom, Anita Folsom
Death on Hold: A Prisoner's Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God's Answer

Death on Hold: A Prisoner's Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God's Answer

by Burton W. Folsom, Anita Folsom


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In January 1983 Burt Folsom read a story in Time about Mitch Rutledge, a man on death row with an IQ of 84 who said he was sorry for what he did. "Forget him," the last line of the story read. But Burt wrote Mitch a letter and discovered a man more interesting and intelligent than the article revealed.

Burt and his wife, Anita, began a friendship with Mitch and saw him become a leader and role model for others in prison, teaching himself to read and write (starting with copying down the spelling of items he knew from TV commercials) and becoming a national spokesman on prison life.

Death on Hold is the amazing story of their friendship, and of grace, reconciliation, and redemption for a man without hope who was given a future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595556004
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/11/2015
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Burt Folsom currently holds the Charles Kline Chair in History and Management at Hillsdale College. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, Business History Review, and the Washington Times, among publications. Burt is the coauthor of FDR Goes to War. He has made numerous television appearances and is a frequent guest on talk radio. Burt and his wife, Anita, write for their blog at

Anita Folsom has directed Hillsdale College's Free Market Forum since 2006. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Detroit News, Continuity, the American Spectator, Human Events, and other publications. She is the coauthor of FDR Goes to War.
Anita has appeared on numerous television programs and given numerous radio appearances. Anita and her husband write for their blog at

Read an Excerpt

Death on Hold

A Prisoner's Desperate Prayer and the Unlikely Family Who Became God's Answer

By Burton Folsom, Anita Folsom

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 Burton Folsom, Anita Folsom
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59555-600-4



Time magazine, "An Eye for an Eye," January 24, 1983:

Death row is about the same size in Alabama [as in other states], where 55 men await the [electric] chair in Holman. Mitchell Rutledge, 23 years old, I.Q. 84, is among them. ... To most people the life of a foolish punk like Rutledge does not count for much. He is defective. His death would not be unbearably sad. ... There are guys not worth killing. Let Rutledge sit and stew in his 8-ft. by 5-ft. pen in Alabama. Forget him.

Those are powerful words, and even today they startle me. Why? Because I am Mitchell Rutledge. Time was mostly right with its facts. I was illiterate — I could not read or write at all. I had no friends. I had no family that cared. My mother was dead and my father deserted me at birth. I was constantly in trouble as a teenager. I spent years in jail and prison, and then I killed a guy and was on death row waiting to die.

I told Time magazine, "I just want to let everybody know that I am sorry for what I did," and they said, "He is defective. Forget him."

Forget him? I was already forgotten. But I cried out to God for friends, and I cried out to God to give my life meaning and purpose. It was at that point that He put my death on hold. This is my story.

I was born in October 1959, but my mother was still a kid herself: only thirteen years old. I never knew my father. We lived in Columbus, Georgia, most of the time. Sometimes my mother took me to my grandmother's house, and some- times I lived in an apartment with my mother.

When my mother was about sixteen, she was sent to reform school, so then I lived with my grandmother. Once my mother was released, we were back together. I can remember staying with this aunt or that aunt every week- end because my mother would be out doing other things. My mother would pack me a few clothes and off we would go to one of my mother's aunts for the weekend. I liked it because it meant eating candy or maybe getting a quarter to spend.

Fridays were very big days for my cousin Perry and me. I can remember homemade ice cream made by Great Aunt Dewbell. She had a cat, and I'm afraid of cats. I still remember sitting on top of something to get away from that cat as I was eating her homemade ice cream.

I usually wouldn't see my mother for two or three days. This was every week. I called her "Little Mommy." She wasn't but seventeen when I was four. After the weekend, she would come to get me and we would go home.


A poem written years later by Mitchell Rutledge

    Christmas was coming.
    I knew I couldn't get that much.
    Asked for a cowboy suit
    A black one.
    Yes, the bad guy.
    Played with my cousin
    He wore white.
    Yes, the good guy.
    I shot him.
    Cap pistol.
    Hit him too.
    Got a beating for it.

When I was a young teenager, I had a choice: I could stay in school or I could operate in the streets. I chose to be on the streets most of the time because that's where I had confidence and a chance to excel. School wasn't much of an option because I couldn't read. That meant I couldn't succeed academically.

I don't want to be too hard on the public schools because I was a tough case for them. But no teacher ever helped me learn to read when I was in the early grades; they just passed me through social promotion. By the time I was enrolled in Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia, I was told to bring a pen and paper to a special class for students not doing well with their studies. We were all from broken homes, and none of us had any money. I wasn't sure I could learn anything out of a book. Were we incapable of learning? That was the message the school was sending us, and no teaching took place. We did nothing and stayed until lunch — it was a way to get a meal that day — and then most of us left for the streets.

As I said, my mother gave birth to me at age thirteen. She then had three more children — Anton, Jackson, and the youngest, Caroline — with three different fathers. Caroline's father was in the military and was transferred to Germany. He offered to marry my mother and take her, Caroline, Anton, and Jackson with him to Germany. But not me. My mother — to her credit — wouldn't leave me behind alone. She ended up deciding not to go, but after he left she did need the allotment check he sent us each month. His payments became irregular, and then they completely stopped.

I was fourteen, almost fifteen, when the payments stopped. After a while a German lady sent a letter to my mother, and I found out why the cash had stopped coming. Her letter said that he (Caroline's father) loved her and no longer loved my mother. In fact, they were planning to get married and did so and had a child. As my mother read the letter, she was crying more and more with each sentence, even each word. As my mother bawled and bawled, I found myself hating him more and more.

I also felt more drawn to my mother because, after all, she hadn't gone with him to Germany because she didn't want to desert me. Now she was deserted. After a month or so, my mother had to go to the hospital for about a week. My two brothers and my sister went to live with my mother's family in Phenix City, Alabama. I went along, too, because she wanted me there and I was in an obliging mood. But I was still planning to be a part of our hood in nearby Columbus because that's where my friends were.

I would check in with my grandmother from time to time to let her know I wasn't dead. When my mother got out of the hospital, we all went back to Columbus, Georgia. But disaster had struck. Our home had been broken into. We didn't have much, but what we did have was now gone. My mother's prized possession was a very small color TV, and now that was gone.

That next year, at fifteen, I began selling drugs — or I should say, fake drugs. I picked that up by listening and watching. And I almost didn't make it to age sixteen.

One night at about two in the morning, I was calling it a night and went to an area of downtown Columbus that was full of black-owned clubs and businesses. Drugs, prostitutes, and pimps were all over the area. I was walk- ing by a place called Top Hat and stopped in to get some chicken.

I started again for home and a black guy, maybe about fifty years old, driving a red Thunderbird, stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. I had seen that car in the area before, so I said, "Okay." Once I got in, he asked where I lived. I said, "Georgia Terrace Apartments."

Then he asked, "Do you have to go home right now?"

Hearing that question raised my antenna at once, so I said, "Yes, I have to go right away."

Then I saw him reach down on the side of his seat, next to the dash on the driver's side, and he was coming up with a gun. I immediately jumped out of the car, which was not easy because we were going at least twenty-five miles an hour. I hit the ground. He stopped the car to come after me, and I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Help, help! He's trying to kill me!"

We had reached a residential area, so some lights came on and fortunately for me, he drove off. God was with me right then. I was in a lot of pain, but I made it home. My mom was upset with my appearance and my lateness and was even more upset when I explained to her what had happened. I had made some money selling drugs that night, however, so at least we could have food the next day.


    by Mitchell Rutledge, written years after his childhood

    It goes without saying,
    I came up very poor.
    Which means there were times when there
      wasn't anything.
    At an early age I can't remember
    The importance of food.
    Food had no real value to it
    Because I looked at it the same way
    I looked at everything else given to me
    At that time on a regular basis.
    How was that?
    The same way I looked at night and day.
    It came and went
    Without any knowledge of where it come from.
    But once I became older
    Old enough to understand the importance of it
    Everything became clear.
    Now it was different for me. I was aware
    There was no food to eat
    In the house for the moment.
    There was more to it
    Than just eating it or desiring it.
    All types of questions were coming into play.
    At the sight of no food
    My heart went out to my younger brothers,
    Sister and mom.
    Not myself, why?
    Because I was 15
    I could take care of myself.
    So I decided to bring
    Some of the stolen things to the house.
    If there was money I would give that.
    At that age I was also very selfish and into
    Yes, the look.
    That cost money, if you can't steal it.
    I really didn't like being around the house
    With all those things going on.
    No food, no money, it was very sad.
    I consider this to be the lowest moment in
      my life.
    My mother is in her room,
    My two brothers and one sister in the living
    I walk into the house,
    Walk into the kitchen,
    Open the refrigerator,
    I find one jug of water ...
    The only thing in the refrigerator.
    My heart fell to my feet.
    I walked into my mother's room
    And asked her, "Have you and the kids ate?"
    She started to cry.
    I went and got something for them to eat.
    I hadn't been home for days.
    It was a major turnaround in my life.



The year after the break-in at our apartment, I was out one day spending time with my friend Jerry. My mother called Jerry's mother and then spoke with me, asking me to come home because I had been gone for three days. So I went home. When I opened the door, my mother said, "Boy, where you been?" Before I could respond, she said, "Get in there and get you something to eat." So I did. While I was eating, she called me. I answered and she said, "Come here."

I thought I was about to get reprimanded for being gone so long, so I stayed in the kitchen to eat a little more before facing her. Then I opened the door to her bedroom and saw my mother with her head hanging over her shoulder as she lay on her back. I ran to her. I said, "Momma, Momma," as I shook her. After I saw there was no response, I flipped out. I called my aunt (her sister), and she called the ambulance. They arrived in about fifteen minutes, took my mother's pulse, and told me she was dead.

I felt terrible because I hadn't called the ambulance sooner and hadn't obeyed her instructions. I blamed myself. That whole situation stunned me. My mother was dead at age twenty-nine. The coroner wrote "pulmonary embolism" on the death certificate. My mother was gone.

Now, at age sixteen, I was really on my own. My brother Anton was farmed out to my grandmother's brother, and Jackson went to my grandmother's sister. My sister Caroline did best. She went to be with sweet Aunt Dewbell, my grandfather's aunt.

I went with my grandmother for about three months, and then I moved into an apartment. It had only one furnished room, which included a small kitchen. I shared a bathroom with other tenants. My grandmother gave me a stereo and a TV, so that was nice, but I had to pay $20 per week for rent, and that was not so nice. I had no job and wasn't able to get one. When I would go into a place looking for a job, they would give me a form. But since I couldn't read, I could never fill it out. I was ashamed to admit I couldn't read, and the employer wouldn't have hired me knowing I couldn't read. So between my pride and my lack of skills, I had no job.

What did I do? I lived off the streets. I robbed and I stole. I dealt in prostitution, and my little apartment became a way station for runaway girls, many of whom ended up in prostitution. I didn't know how to cook and had no income. I just stole and lived mostly on the streets. That was my life for the next three years.



The red-light district of Columbus, Georgia (population 150,000 in 1970), was totally alive at night — especially through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old soon to be sixteen. My drug business worked this way: I started out selling "dummy drugs" to soldiers and young white guys who had come to the red-light district looking for action. Columbus was, and is, a soldier town because Fort Benning is about twelve miles away. The red-light district, and even beyond, had strip clubs all over.

"Dummy drugs" is just a street name for fake drugs. I went to the herb shop and bought some herb grass that looked just like real pot. Then I mixed the seeds from real pot in, so the mixture looked and smelled like real pot. I would buy a grocery bag of herb grass for one dollar and fix it all up to sell as marijuana. I also concocted some fake cocaine by using baking soda. Once I had packaged my stuff, I would go downtown.

I lived seven blocks from the red-light district. I discovered that soldiers and white college kids were the best sources for sales. Why? Because you could catch the college students and soldiers right there in the strip clubs drinking and looking for something to get high with. And they weren't too picky about what to use, especially after they'd had a couple of drinks. Almost all the women who ran the strip clubs were from Vietnam. Only the strippers were black or white.


Excerpted from Death on Hold by Burton Folsom, Anita Folsom. Copyright © 2015 Burton Folsom, Anita Folsom. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

1 This is My Story 1

2 Tragedy 10

3 Columbus, Georgia 13

4 Runaways 18

5 Drugs 22

6 Job Corps to Prison 25

7 Chain Gang to Parole 30

8 Halfway House 33

9 I Kill a Man 39

10 January 6, 1981 42

11 I Meet God 47

12 An Answered Prayer-A Lawyer 51

13 The First Trial 55

14 Holman Prison 58

15 I Meet Swamp Bear 64

16 Death Row 68

17 Learning to Read 74

18 Time Interview 78

19 New Friends-At Last! 80

20 John Louis Evans III 84

21 Getting to Know My New Friends 89

22 Another Chance 95

23 Prison Politics 97

24 1985 Sentencing Hearing 104

25 Back in Holman on Death Row 112

26 Visiting Mitch 116

27 Serengeti Plans 123

28 New Friends 127

29 One Last Try to Escape Execution 132

30 Mitch's Last Chance 135

31 The Jury's Verdict 140

32 Seg and Pop 144

33 A Prison Murder 148

34 Three Prison Vices 153

35 Ged 160

36 Mind Games 163

37 Prison Culture 167

38 College 171

39 Sickness 177

40 Sorry, Charlie 185

41 Honor Dorm 189

42 Prison Reforms 194

43 Clarence Thomas 200

44 Prison Incentives 203

45 No Rehabilitation 208

46 Leadership in the Honor Dorm 213

47 Birdman of Alcatraz 219

48 Burt's Story 222

49 I Do A Video 228

50 Speaking To At-Risk Youths 234

51 Teacher 239

52 I Save a Life 243

53 Final Chapter: What I Have Learned 245

Epilogue: Burt and Anita Folsom 247

Notes 249

About the Authors 251

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