Vincent Bugliosi, author of the Charles Manson true-crime book “Helter Skelter,” called Dennis Rice one of the Manson family's most hard-core members.
Rice became a Christian in prison and has been ministering to offenders for the past 25 years. On Friday, Rice spoke to offenders at the Byrd Unit and will be speaking to offenders at the Wynne Unit today. Rice will speak at Univeristy Heights Baptist Church at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Rice became involved with the Manson family after the Tate-Labianca murders. After he visited Manson in prison, he moved with his four children to the family ranch.
He attempted to break into an Army surplus store to steal enough guns to break Manson out of prison and ended up serving five years for the robbery and another two for violating the terms of his parole by resuming contact with other “family” members.
Before he spoke to adult offenders at the Byrd Unit Friday night, Rice said he had spoken with juvenile offenders on Friday afternoon. He said if his words made a difference to one offender, then his time will have been worthwhile.
“Believe it or not, they listened to me. They accepted what I had to say,” he said. “I wound up praying with four of them to receive Jesus as their personal savior. If even one of those follows through and lives for God after this, it's all been worth it. Just one. If one doesn't come back to prison again, the potential victims of that person will never have to suffer.”
As for why he became involved with Manson, Rice told offenders Friday night that he believed Manson was Jesus.
“I said whatever I did was out of love for my brothers and sisters and you can't go wrong in love, but they sent me to San Quentin with all the maniacs and killers. Why they stuck me there I don't know, because I was such a nice guy,” he joked. “For some reason, they thought I was dangerous.”
Rice said things changed gradually for him – from having a cellmate who was a Christian to having former “family” members convert to Christianaity. While in San Quentin, Rice said there was a lock-down event where offenders were forced to do their laundry in their cell sinks.
“One day I'm washing my socks out in the sink,” he said. “I'm scrubbing, scrubbing until my fingers are gonna bleed and (my cellmate) says, you can scrub all day long but it's not going to wash away your sins and I thought this guy has got to GO.”
Over time, Rice said he began to see things differently. Some of his old “family” members had become Christians. His cellmate was a Christian and in all these people, he could see a common thread.
“My Jesus was in prison,” he said. “Their Jesus was changing their lives.”
Rice said his children also came to know Christ through him. All four of his children who were with him at the Manson family ranch are now born-again Christians doing work in ministry. He said they told him they knew God was real when they saw God change their father.
“I knew if I wanted to stay free and stay saved, I knew to surround myself with people who wouldn't bring me back to prison. Is there any hope for you?” he asked offenders. “It ain't over till it's over. This isn't about fun and games. This if life and death. It's time to get out and stay out. It's time to do it his way.”
Rice asked if anyone had a parole date or knew they only had a short time left. He told them he was on his way out too, if his doctors were right. In May, Rice said he was diagnosed with liver cancer and his doctor gave him six to nine months, and at most, a year to live.
“You know what? That's OK, because I know where I'm going. I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “This may be the last time I ever see you unless you make the same decisions I made on the floor of that prison cell on May 14, 1978. We may see each other again, if you make that decision.”
Rice said he wants to be remembered as doing something good.
“You have a choice, you can leave behind a legacy,” he said. “It's going to be a blessing or a curse. Years from now, they'll remember you. Which way will it be? This is your opportunity. This is your day.”
Kent Lucas with Great Adventure Weekends brought Rice to Huntsville. Lucas and his prayer team, as well as Rice, took time to minister to offenders individually after the program.