North San Diego County

Cover Story
Daily Chuckle
.....Special Feature
Local News
Social Butterfly
Professional Advice
.....The Vet Is In
.....Your Body Can
..... Heal Itself!
.....Real Estate
.....Reverse Mortgages
The Paper Directory
Where to find
The Paper
Marketing/Media Kit
Contact Us











Cover Story August 12, 2004



by lyle e davis


“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 Sodom and Gomorrah.  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 Mexico’s 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, money. 


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 committed himself.


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 prison.”


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 American inmates.


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 his story.


Mr. Murl, who lived in Oxnard, was 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.


A Tijuana 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 America.


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 Tijuana 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 La Mesa 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 Mexico.


Chappy Dave is anxious to point out that American prisoners in La Mesa 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 Mexico 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 in America.  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 understand: 


“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 La Mesa Prison.  I don’t want to see that.”


Chappy Dave goes on to tell them: 


“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 orphans.”


“Usually, 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 Tijuana, drinking and partying, and using very poor judgment.  I don’t enjoy seeing our young people in La Mesa.”


Over the years, Chappy Dave has learned additional lessons about the inmates of La Mesa


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 incarcerated in 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?


In 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 case heard.


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 Santa Barbara and corresponds regularly. 


Chappy Dave asks . . . “where are the disclaimers on all the advertisers from Tijuana 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 Mexico.  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 jail.


Profile of Rx Clients


There used to be 120 pharmacies in 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 Mexican advertisers.


It is strongly recommended that if you must go to Tijuana that:


• 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 are going.

•  Be on the alert for overcharging and scams.



How “Chappy Dave” Got Involved


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 San Diego county community, and on the La Mesa Prison population, both American and Mexican.


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 Baptist Church 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 gang territory.


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 scripture.”


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 Tower,” 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, Sandy, 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 the prison. 


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 Pomerado 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 Poway:


•   Midland Elementary in          Poway

•   Valley Elementary School

•   Garden 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.  Strong Tower 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 Integrity

You Can Count on Me . .

I will do a little each day

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 Integrity,

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:


MOTE:  858.748.4237


Pomerado Hospital:  858.613.4848


or via email at:


You may wish to visit his website at:














 Volunteer Alice Whitecloud, several inmates, and Chappy Dave
at La Mesa Prison






Pastor “Chappy Dave” Walden . . . preaching to one of his many flocks.






Chappy Dave conducting an After School HomeWork Club at
Midland Elementary School in Poway.