Bill Davis took the scenic route to find God.
It might seem unusual to hear an overtly religious person say something like: “You ain’t never experienced nothing until you’ve taken acid with Charles Manson in jail,” but Davis has done it, and he talks about it openly. In fact, that’s his job.
Davis, a minister from Tampa, Fla., travels around the world giving speeches about the strange events that made up the first 25 years of his life and subsequent conversion to Christianity. Davis said he has told the story more than 10,000 times.
“It’s not pushy, it’s not the type of speech that would arm-twist somebody into what I believe,” Davis said.
On Wednesday evening, Davis gave his speech to a crowd of students in the confines of a small room stored away somewhere on the third floor of Coffman Union, heartily laughing intermittently as he revealed the unusual details of his life.
The event was sponsored by Prepare Ministries, a nondenominational Christian student group.
Tom Croke, Prepare Ministries campus staff member, said the group chose to bring in Davis because of his unique approach to religion.
“There’s a lot of people that think like ‘nobody can be worse than me,’ ” Croke said. “I like to bring him on campus because, literally, no one can be worse than Bill.”
From cracking safes, armed robbery and heroin binges to fraud and getting a tattoo from Charles Manson in jail – all the time being haunted by a Bible scripture – Davis’ story has been quite the odyssey.
Over the course of a seven-year crime-and-drug-filled journey, Davis was arrested four times and convicted of six different felonies.
In one instance, Davis faced 920 years in prison as a result of a laundry list of charges, including check fraud, only to be “miraculously” sentenced to a mere two, he said.
According to a promotional flier, Davis was to talk about his experience sharing a cell with Charles Manson.
Manson, leader of a California-based cult known as “The Family,” was convicted of murder in 1971, pertaining to a string of murders carried out by the cult.
Contrary to the bold red and blue heading atop the event’s promotional fliers, the topic of Manson was only a small part of Davis’ speech.
Davis admitted the brief portion of his story that included Manson is usually what people find most interesting, and is often used as the “hook” to draw people into attending his speeches.
Davis’ story resolved with him on his knees, finding faith in Christianity on a dark St. Patrick’s Day evening while on his way to commit suicide after being diagnosed with a potentially fatal bleeding ulcer.
Croke said Prepare Ministries hired Davis to speak at colleges around the state more than 10 times in the past few years.
Twenty-eight people attended the speech on Wednesday, many of them University students.
Davis’ story was received a variety of different ways by the audience.
Sarah Darnall, first-year student, said although she enjoyed Davis’s speech, it wasn’t exactly what she expected.
“I thought it would be a lot more about Charles Manson and what they experienced together,” Darnall said.
Although the content was something of a surprise, Darnall said Davis’ speech still held her interest.
Reesha Geppert, an English senior and Prepare Ministries group member, said she thought Davis’ speech was effective because it was all personal testimony.
“Someone can argue against Christianity, but no one can argue against a person’s testimony,” she said.
Brandon Springer, a global studies junior and “staunch atheist,” said he wasn’t fazed by the religious message of the story and enjoyed hearing about Davis’ life.