Rickie Smith took one of the bars from his prison cell and filed it into a point. During an altercation, he stabbed a guard so hard, the point almost came out his back — gore you only expect to see on a Netflix series or an R-rated movie.
But this was real life, and Rickie somehow went from a low-level, drug criminal to somebody one documentarian called the “most violent inmate in Texas,” convicted of three attempted murders. Only by the grace of God did he bypass death row because all three victims lived.
Rosser McDonald met Rickie while producing a documentary on prison ministries. Rickie lived in super segregation — individual cells without windows, reserved for the most dangerous inmates — and it took awhile for Rickie to earn enough good behavior merit to talk to Rosser.
Over time, the two men built a rapport, and Rickie told Rosser his story.
“We just became friends and corresponded back and forth,” Rosser said.
Rickie’s story takes big leaps. He goes from good kid to mischievous teenager to low-level drug criminal. Then he jumps to a three-time-attempted murderer. Then, once again, he made the big leap to born-again Christian.
Thankfully, only that last transition took.
The Most Violent Man in Texas Prisons
Your mind wants to create a reason for Rickie’s dramatic violence. You want an explanation, some way of rationalizing how a boy with a relatively calm childhood tried killing three people. But there isn’t a lot to base that on.
Rickie was adopted, and his father taught him to defend himself. Once, he came home crying after a schoolyard fight, and his father threatened to “whup” him if he ever refused to stand up for himself again, Rosser wrote in his book, “Real Prison, Real Freedom.”
When Rickie was 15, he got in some legal trouble with a teenage girl. The prosecutor said he would let Rickie off easier if he married the girl — even though she wasn’t pregnant — and moved to a different county. Rickie did, finding himself married before he was even old enough to drive.
“There was just a long series of those kinds of things during his life that all contributed to (his violence),” Rosser said.
A few years later, Rickie was back in court on a drug offense and sentenced to 10 years in prison. With good behavior, he might have been out in three or four, but that didn’t happen. He tried killing three people, claiming he wanted to be on death row because it would be more comfortable.
It had to be divine intervention that kept any of Rickie’s victims from dying. One planned attack had two backup plans to carry out a slaying, and all three attempts fell through. Rickie set a prison mattress on fire and stabbed someone else with a 4-foot-long metal shank.
“His goal was to kill them, but none of them died,” Rosser said. “… We consider that to be the hand of the Lord.”
The attempted murders added 300 years to his sentence, ensuring he will never walk physically free again.
It was the court system who named him the most violent man in Texas prisons, and the reputation stuck — until his life drastically changed.
Jesus Through the Walls
One night in 1990, a group of inmates planned to escape their cells to kill another man as well as any prison guard who got in their way. The plan fell apart, making Rickie question who was really in charge of his life.
“It must be God,” Rickie thought. “Apparently God is the one who is making my plans not work. … Why would He care anything about me? I’ve cussed Him. I’ve made fun of His Bible.”
A letter from a chaplain added to Rickie’s interest in faith. The letter said Jesus would give him rest, and that’s exactly what Rickie needed.
“OK, Jesus, if You really care about me, I will accept You, and I will accept Your rest,” Rickie said.
Rosser claims Rickie has an “innate sense of morality” that contributed to both his violence and his redemption. If Rickie told you he would do something — either kill you or transform his life — he stuck to it.
“All of a sudden, all these heavy weights that he was feeling all over his shoulders … were gone,” Rosser said. “He recognized the fact that something had just changed.”
Since becoming a Christian, Rickie has led several other prisoners to Christ. Although he spends most of his time in super segregation, he yells scripture verses out to anyone who wants to hear it, encouraging those around him to turn to Jesus.
Maybe it was something in his personality that made him turn violent. Maybe he hardened in the prison system. One thing is for certain: It was God who turned it all around.