Just three weeks after graduating from high school, I was excited yet nervous about my new job demonstrating a juice maker at fairs and exhibitions. I was scheduled to begin in two days. The boss had me at the booth practicing and shaking in my shoes. I stumbled and fumbled through pitch after pitch, trying to get the spiel right.
Then I noticed two middle-aged men approach the booth and stop directly in front of my counter. Trying not to notice them, I continued my spiel.
Suddenly one of the men plopped an egg into the humming blender, causing sticky juice to fly everywhere. As I backed up, I saw a small group laughing hysterically at my now-drenched clothes. With my face turned pink and ears burning red, I heard a hearty voice say, “Welcome to the business, Rick. My name’s Bill Lotoski.”
Bill’s blue opalescent eyes and flashing smile instantly conveyed an air of confidence and invincibility. The crowd continued chuckling as I attempted to shake Bill’s hand, realizing I’d been the focus of a ritualistic practical joke inflicted on all the rookies.
Watching Bill as he walked away, I schemed about getting even for the humiliation. But a hand touched my shoulder and my boss said, “You’ll have to get up pretty early in the morning to get ol’ Bill. He’s been doing this since he was your age.”
Bill, a veteran cookware salesman, owned his company. He was undoubtedly the most charismatic man I’d ever met, and he seemed filled with an almost superhuman energy. I took to the pitch business like a gnat to flypaper and began to hang around Bill’s booth. He’d invite me to listen to his pitch and then give me little pointers on how to sell and close a deal. His uncanny ability to spot the ready buyers and schmooze a large check from their pockets fascinated me. He’d often wink at me as if to say, “Watch this, kid. I’m closing another deal.” I imagined selling cookware too, and doing it just like Bill.
Trying to Make It
The pitch business is one of constant hype, and a salesperson has to be excited about selling. While a few people, like Bill, have that ability naturally, most don’t; and some turn to drugs. Unfortunately, I chose drugs for motivation. As the years passed I sank deeper into addiction. I always showed up for work; but I was rarely sober.
One morning after a night of partying I sipped coffee in my booth, trying to find a speck of reality in the black liquid. I hadn’t slept for days, and I didn’t want to see anyone.
Suddenly there he was, eyes still blue but terrifyingly piercing. Bill stared at me for a moment, gazing intently at his formerly rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed protégé. Motioning for me to follow, he walked to the back of the exhibition hall. Suddenly he swung around, his face inches from mine, and spent a few minutes explaining the facts of life to a once-cocky-but-now-terrified young man. Bill hated drugs. He’d seen men become mice because of drugs. And now, seeing me throw my life and potential away made him insanely angry.
When Bill walked away, I wept. He was right; I knew he was right. He cared enough to say words that burrowed deep into my numbed mind. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I wasn’t selling much, and I was miserable.
A couple days later my boss fired me, and after some counseling I checked into a drug-rehabilitation program.
The Real Deal
It took a year or so, but when I completed rehab, Bill hired me. I worked for a class “A” company, selling with my mentor, side by side. After working with Bill for a few years, I began my own company, using the skills he’d shown me.
But my struggle with drugs didn’t die in that first rehab center. A few years later situations involving drug use landed me squarely in a cement cell wondering what went wrong.
After a miracle called “being born again,” I picked up the pieces and began to walk in the light and mercy of my Lord and Savior. Occasionally I’d get a card or letter from Bill, always bursting with life and energy. But then came a different type of letter, sent by a friend in the business, telling me of Bill’s sudden and serious illness.
How could this be? Not Bill, not the guy with the Midas touch. The letter bled with details about the cancer that abruptly changed the life of my wealthy friend. He’d been vibrant, full of life. He’d made millions and traveled around the globe enjoying everything this world had to offer. But now, sitting on his veranda in a wheelchair, he watched his life coming to an end.
The news floored me. What could I do?
I prayed, asking God to speak to Bill, to give him another chance at life, and, infinitely more important, eternal life.
Then a voice sounded in the depths of my prayer: Write to him.
I shook it off and silently continued praying. Write to him; tell him about Me, the Voice insisted.
I got up, grabbed some paper, and wrote, reminding Bill of the day he read me the riot act for using drugs, of how I looked up to and was inspired by him. Then I changed gears and wrote, “Bill, just as you did so many years ago, I’m going to tell you something of life-and-death importance.
“Jesus Christ is real, Bill. He reached down, fished around in the quagmire of lost souls, and pulled me out. He is my Savior, and He’s waiting to be yours, too. Bill, you’ve seen, had, and tasted all the world has to offer, and today you’re in a strangely enviable position most people don’t experience. You know you have only a few weeks left on this earth, so why not give your life to Jesus? What do you have to lose? You never said no to a good deal, and you’ll never find a better deal than this. Jesus died for you, and now He’s waiting for you just to believe in Him.”
After I wrote a bit more, I closed telling Bill I’d be waiting for him on the streets paved with gold. I wept while writing the letter, hoping for the miracle of Bill’s salvation.
A few weeks later a friend relayed the sad news of Bill’s passing and mentioned the letter. It had arrived the day before Bill’s death. His wife had read it to him, but because of the medication he was on, and the ravages of his disease, she wasn’t sure he understood much of it.
My heart fell—I was too late.
“But,” the voice on the line continued, “more than 200 people heard the Word when Shirley, Bill’s wife, read the letter at his funeral. There wasn’t a dry eye in church that day; they all heard the appeal of an inmate doing a life sentence 1,000 miles away.”
God’s timing is always perfect. And when we, guided by the Spirit, make an appeal, we can depend on God doing all He can to seal the deal.
Rick Fleck is an inmate in Centinela State Prison in Imperial, California. This article was published March 17, 2011.