August 12, 2004
by lyle e
“It was humanity at
its most depraved,”
said Pastor David “Chappie” Walden, of his first visit to Tijuana’s notorious La
Mesa Prison. “A modern day
There were drug deals going down right in the open, inmates slamming heroin into
their arms, people running around nude, sexual acts going on right in front of
you as well as other inmates, women and children . . . the air was redolent with
the smell of marijuana . . . it was the closest thing to a human cesspool I had
ever seen. And then I learned that there are Americans in
filthy jails and prisons, all in a near hopeless situation; and there was no one
to minister to them.”
It was 1995 and Pastor
David Walden had come to La Mesa Prison via a rather circuitous route. He and
his wife, Sandy,
had gone to Tijuana at the invitation of a Mexican attorney who had been
ministering to the La Mesa Prison inmates for the past 10 years. When his host
brought him into La Mesa Walden was shocked to see 7000 men, women and children
massed together in a prison designed to hold 1500. Today, Walden says the
population has doubled.
The prison has its own
food market, restaurants and even areas for prostitution and drug dealing. “It
is a microcosm of human misery,” says Walden. As he was leaving the prison he
asked a fateful question. “Are there Americans in here?”
“Yes,” he was told, “but
they are hiding.” The Americans did not blend with the regular population as
they would be quickly subjected to extortion, rape, beatings . . . for it is
known that if you are Anglo, if you are an American, you have, or can get,
When he learned that the
Americans did not have a minister he said . . . “I heard a call from God. This
was to become my mission.” Against the strong advice of his wife, Sandy, Walden
After all, he was a
full-time pastor at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church, was studying
for a master’s degree at a pastoral seminary. He didn’t have much time.
He made time.
He returned the following
week and, not having a pass, stood outside the gate for two hours. And he
prayed. “Then the guard tapped me on the shoulder and invited me in to the
He found one prisoner to
counsel. After six weeks he had 15 inmates attending Bible study. After three
months the Prison Commander offered Dave official entry to the prison as
Minister to the Americans, gave him a room to hold meetings, and housing for
The miracle had begun.
More was to follow . . .
In time, he was soon to
see another pathetic sight - 81 year old George Paul Murl, handcuffed and
shackled and shuffling along at the insistence of his guards. “Chappy Dave,” as
he is called by everyone who knows him, arranged to meet the inmate and find out
Mr. Murl, who lived in
suffering from prostate cancer, emphysema, arthritis, diverticulitis, and
limited motion of his right arm. He had gone to a Tijuana pharmacy with a
legitimate prescription from an American doctor for Valium, which he was taking
for pain relief from his prostate cancer. On May 24, 2001, he bought 600
tablets as he had planned on moving to Ohio and wanted a large supply at the
lower Mexican prices.
police officer asked to see his prescription. It was a prescription signed by
an American doctor, not a Mexican one, said Walden. Murl was arrested, taken to
La Ocho (the 8th Street Jail) where he was stripped, put into a 10’ x 12’ room
with 25 other men, and no restroom facilities. People just went to the bathroom
on the floor.
He was then transferred
to La Mesa Prison where, by chance, Walden was at the entrance when he saw Murl
shuffling into the prison. He arranged a meeting and found that Murl had
obained the 600 Valium tablets that he needed to help overcome the pain of his
prostate cancer. “Chappy” resolved to take on Murl’s case as a mission to get
him released as soon as possible. He ministered to Murl and helped, daily, to
do all that he could to get Murl released. On
June 13th, 2001, 21 days
after his arrest, 81 year old George Murl was released from La Mesa Prison by a
Mexican federal judge, into the custody of Pastor “Chappy Dave” Walden and was
allowed to cross the border. He was home! Back in the United States of
He was 32 lbs. lighter as
he had gone on a hunger strike to protest the inhumane conditions that he and
his fellow inmates had suffered.
Even though Murl had been
found guilty of drug trafficking, he had been released due to ‘special
circumstances,’ presumably his age and illness (and in no small part due to the
efforts of Pastor “Chappy Dave” Walden, who had alerted the San Diego media
which resulted in all of San Diego’s television stations and print media
knocking on the doors of both La Mesa’s prison as well as its administrators and
political power brokers.
Though Murl had visited
Mexico for 55
years he vowed never to go back. He doesn’t want to risk the same thing
happening to him again.
This was not the first
experience that “Chappy Dave” had with Mexican ‘justice’ and the conditions at
La Mesa Prison.
Earlier, in 1997, a
respected insurance underwriter for Mass Mutual, Dave Bush, came to
San Diego from Milwaukee,
Wisconsin, for an annual business meeting, just as he had done for years
before. Part of his routine was to buy cheaper prescription medicine from
Mexican pharmacies before heading home to Wisconsin.
The practice was so
common that San Diego Magazine even had a list of pharmacies in
that welcomed Americans.
Two of the 14 drugs on
his list were Valium and Fen-Phen, the now-outlawed diet drug combination.
That’s what got Bush
arrested and put in
La Mesa, without clothes,
food or money.
Walden helped him contact
the American consulate in
Mexico and eventually
engineered his release and exoneration, but not until he had spent 6 months and
16 days in the La Mesa Prison.
“My job really isn’t
to solve prisoner’s physical problems,” said Walden. “I’m really just there to
minister to American prisoners; but, I see things and my passion for humanity
requires that I get involved and try to help. I’m very concerned about the
large number of senior citizens who are still in
because of the prescription issue. Presently, there are eight Americans, age 60
or over, who are in prison for buying prescription drugs in Mexico
without a Mexican prescription. While several of them are ill, none have
life-threatening illnesses such as George Murl did.”
Still, Chappy Davis is
doing all he can to help them get out and back home. Part of the problem,
however, is that “drug trafficking,” the crime many are charged with, carries up
to a five year sentence in
Chappy Dave is anxious to
point out that American prisoners in
are not all senior citizens. Far from it. “The majority of American
prisoners there are 18-30 years of age and the bulk of them come from SDSU.
I get so frustrated at
these kids! They’re 22, maybe a junior in college, and they decide to come to
and do what they please and not observe Mexican laws. I sit down with them and
look ‘em in the eye and say . . .”Dude! You did a dumb thing! You’ve gotta
take responsibility for your actions and, for sure, you’d better respect the
laws down here!”
I’ll help them, of
course, but I make sure I chew them out pretty well before I move on to notify
their parents, the consulate, all the things that have to be done. It is not
something where mommy and daddy can bail you out overnight and you’re back home
It can take months, even years.
I often speak at high
schools and colleges and I’m anxious to speak to even more. When I speak at
assemblies like that I tell them the straight skinny . . . in language they can
“I tell them that
there are murderers, rapists, and thieves, men and women together . . .and not
locked down either . . . everybody roams around and it is so crowded. It is an
old prison that was build for 1500 inmates . . . now over 7000 inmates are
there. Most inmates sleep outside . . . on roofs. Which is really fun when it
rains. There are very large bugs . . . the sewer system is old and plugged up
most of the time . . . and the sewer system is pretty ripe . . . all the time.”
I tell them, “I don’t
want to make a phone call to your parents to let them know you’re an inmate in
La Mesa . . . we can try to get you transferred to an American prison but that
may take months, and then you have to serve out your term in the American prison
. . . we’ll call the consulate for you . . . and I’ll come see you . . . and
we’ll visit. But then I go home. You don’t. You stay there. In
Prison. I don’t want to see that.”
Chappy Dave goes on to
“You will need money.
$4000 to $5000 just for starters. That’s just the downpayment on legal
representation with a Mexican attorney. $15,000 to $25,000 is more realistic.
You’ll have to pay
$100 a month for a “bunk” in a cell with 16 people. If you want a bungalow,
shared with up to 25 people, it’ll cost you from $250 to $1500 per month.
You’ll pay for food (normal rations supplied by the prison, twice a day, is a
tortilla and a small bowl of soup). You’ll pay for medical treatment, clothes,
water, “reasonable toilet facilities,” shower, none of these are furnished.
You also need to know
that people at La Mesa
will do vicious things to survive. And, if you’re an Anglo, a ‘Norteamericano,’
that means you have money . . . or you can get money, so you’ll likely be
extorted, threatened, you may well be beaten . . or raped (whether you’re male
or female,) . . . it’s not a nice place.
I tell them about The
Basura People. These are people that live on the Prison Garbage Dump . . mostly
says Chappy Dave,
“after I finish with my talk, I have managed to gain their attention. I’m
hoping we can keep some young kids from going down to
drinking and partying, and using very poor judgment. I don’t enjoy seeing our
young people in La
Over the years, Chappy
Dave has learned additional lessons about the inmates of
Some are there because
they partied too much while in Mexico . . . some are there because they bought
prescription drugs without a Mexican prescription, some are there because they
committed other, more serious crimes.
Hundreds of Americans are
Mexico's Prisons in a near hopeless situation. With limited access to legal
counsel, these inmates live a life of sickness, hopelessness, and constant fear.
Inmates ages range from
16 to 85 years old. Their crimes range from minor infractions to very violent,
traffic violations and partying, innocent Rx purchases to trafficking drugs to
murder! Long term sentences are common under Napoleonic Law, where you are
guilty until you can prove yourself innocent!
The desperation inside
this prison has forced many of the inmates to turn to illegal behavior,
including drugs, extortion, and prostitution to support their basic needs.
Chappy Dave’s ministry to
La Mesa prison
helps to provide food, clothes, and a link to their families. Weekly services
and daily devotionals are provided to scores of English and Spanish speaking
inmates. There is a ministry program for children as well as there are more
than 150 children living inside the prison.
In 1995 and 1996, when
Chappy Dave first became active in this program, there were from 120 to 130
Americans there. Today?
Mexico there is no due
process of law. It follows the Napoleonic Code which means you are guilty until
you can prove your innocence. It takes at least five months to even have your
The Mexican legal system
perpetuates this charade as it is profitable for a lot of people to do so.
There are so many corrupt
attorneys in Mexico that many of them have runners stationed near the police
station, jail, and prison, all hawking the services of their attorney employers.
There are a number of
ethical attorneys and Christian attorneys that find the practice terrible but,
thus far, have not been able to overcome the large amounts of money open to less
than ethical attorneys. Many in the legal profession in
Mexico love to represent
Americans, thanks to the $4000 to $5000 downpayment they receive.
The American consulate
does provide a list of attorneys they believe to be reputable.
Medical problems within
the prison, high incidence of TB, of HIV. Only when inmates are close to death
are they move to “the clean room,” a room that is a bit cleaner, but not much;
those near death are shipped to Tijuana General Hospital.
Chappy Dave is still in
touch with George Murl; his sister lives in
and corresponds regularly.
Chappy Dave asks . . .
“where are the disclaimers on all the advertisers from
that offer to fill prescriptions cheaper? Where does it say . . .“must have
Mexican doctor’s prescription or you are subject to being imprisoned?
We need to educate the
seniors and kids about the laws of
That’s whey I speak to schools, senior groups and to the media.
For example, don’t you
dare take a gun into
Mexico. If you have so
much as an empty cartridge casing in your car . . .you’ll get five years in
Profile of Rx Clients
There used to be 120
Tijuana in 1990; today, there are over 1500.
Those crossing the border
for the farmacias (pharmacies) are usually older and on fixed incomes. They
often take taxis across; they want to buy their medications in bulk. They know
little about Mexican laws and language. They are routinely targeted by US and
It is strongly
recommended that if you must go to
• Never travel alone and
always take someone with you who speaks Spanish.
• Take your medical
records, have a US doctor’s prescription as well as a Mexican doctor’s
prescription. Use only board certified Mexican Doctors.
• Question your cab
drivers before hiring. Make certain you know what you’re buying and where you
• Be on the alert for
overcharging and scams.
How “Chappy Dave” Got
Throughout our interview
for our cover story of this week, “Chappy Dave” was insistent that the story
not focus on him but on the problems at La Mesa Prison . . . and on the support
structure that has been set up to deal with this and other community problems.
But we would be derelict
if we didn’t point out the impact that this dynamic and charismatic man of faith
and of passion has had on the
county community, and on the La Mesa Prison population, both American and
He had been born and
raised in San
Diego, was, and still is, “a surfdog.” He still surfs on a regular basis . . .
and, indirectly, that’s how he came by his name.
Walden was a highly
successful businessman in
Orange County. In
addition to putting together many real estate transactions he founded and
directed a major tax consulting business. He then branched out into being an
executive producer for Sports Films and Television. He was, and still is,
General Partner of 52 real estate and motion picture/television partnerships.
Somewhere along the line
he heard the call and studied for the ministry, earning not only a Bachelor’s
Degree but a Masters Degree in Divinity and is currently a candidate for his
Doctor of Divinity Degree.
“I’ve always had kids
in my heart,” he says. “We were working with the Hilltop
in Chula Vista
. . . right next door to a major apartment complex that was home to a number of
members from this heavy gang area.
To get acquainted
quickly, I would take my surfboard and stroll into the gang neighborhoods. That
got the attention of the gang members. You don’t see a lot of longboards in
I’d walk right up to
them and say, “You ain’t got no guts!” That seemed to get their attention. “It
takes guts to say ‘no,’ I said. It takes no guts to say ‘yes.’
They heard me out.
I asked them . . .
‘you want to learn how to surf? I’ll teach you how to surf this Saturday. But
you gotta promise me that in exchange . . . you will listen to and discuss some
The gang member agreed
and pretty soon they were pals. In fact, it was the gang members that tagged
Pastor Dave Walden with the term “Chappy” (gang vernacular for “Chaplain”).
Through this same church
connection Chappy Dave connected with “Strong
an inner city couple that had set up a food distribution network. For 13 years
Leroy and Patti Headley had conducted a food distribution network for the poor
and homeless. Much of this food went to the same gang member families that
Chappy Dave had begun working with.
This couple also had a
connection with orphanages in
Tijuana and would deliver
food there as well, often feeding up to 1200 kids per day. Chappy Dave
volunteered to help on this project as well.
A director at one of the
orphanages invited Chappy Dave and his wife,
to his home for lunch. Marcos Gutierrez is a successful attorney in Tijuana,
his wife Carlotta is a paralegal. Twice a week they would pick up food and
deliver it to the orphanage. They had been doing this for 13 years.
On the appointed day, the
Gutierrez’s picked up the Waldens and they headed for the Gutierrez home for
dinner. Or so they thought. First, they had a ‘small detour’ to
Revolucion Avenue . . .
and then to La Mesa Prison, where Mr. Gutierrez had ministered to inmates for
the past 10 years.
Chappy Dave was allowed
in as a “guest.” Gutierrez was on a master list and was known and welcome at
And that is where we
joined Chappy Dave, on our cover story. The shock that greeted him on that
first day in La Mesa Prison has filled him with passion.
He is a charismatic
speaker, extremely dynamic. And, not surprisingly, he seeks more opportunities
to talk to groups.
But Chappy Dave’s mission
is not limited to his La Mesa Prison activities. Not by a long shot.
He is the Director of
Pastoral Care at
Pomerado Hospital. In addition to ministering to patients in the hospital, he
also trains Assistant Chaplains to serve at
Hospital, Villa Pomerado and Operation Touch.
He is the founder and CEO
of MOTE (Ministry On The Edge) that works throughout
San Diego County on a
number of projects which include:
• The After School
HomeWork Clubs in local school districts
This is a Faith and
Character based program which was started in 2000 in the Poway Unified School
System. It serves mostly kids from the neediest families and offers three to
four hours each day, five days a week. It features homework, a snack,
recreation, and a class on character values.
Currently this program is
active at schools in
Midland Elementary in
Valley Elementary School
Road Elementary School
• 10 other schools are
currently waiting for a MOTE After School HomeWork Club.
MOTE also operates
multiple ministries in the
San Diego inner city that
serve needy families, the homeless, and those with addictive behavior.
and Good Shepherd Community Projects are two of these ministries.
When he ministers to kids
of all ages he makes it a point to teach them a mantra that he expects them to
learn and be able to repeat on a moment’s notice. The kids never let him down.
And they have fun doing it.
The mantra goes:
I’m a person of
You Can Count on Me .
I will do a little
To help make the world
A little more honest.
When I make a mistake,
I’ll be honest and
accept the consequences of my choice
I’m a person of
You can Count on Me.
If you’d like more
information about Pastor “Chappy Dave” Walden, the programs he’s associated with
. . . or if you are seeking a powerful, dynamic speaker, you can reach him at:
or via email at:
You may wish to visit his
website at: www.chappydave.org