Twice Convicted

The Story of Mike Adams, Atheist Criminologist

Mike Adams hopped off a bus in front of a small prison on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador. A visiting professorship in South America had brought him here this damp morning to interview prisoners and guards as part of a ­human rights mission. It was just after 9:00 a.m. on March 7, 1996. At this point in his life, the 31-year-old tenured professor of criminology was a radical, hardened, and very angry atheist. Three hours later, he would walk out a different man.

A young prisoner named Pedro met him at the main gate and served as his guide. Pedro had been in for four years, ever since being arrested for forging a passport. He'd been acquitted, but his family was still raising the required fee to "process" his release.

Once inside the inner gates, Mike nearly keeled over when he took his next breath. Human waste, unwashed bodies, and pools of coagulated filth that stuck to your shoes after you walked through them made for an insufferable stench. When he and Pedro approached the kitchen, the smell of rotten food aggravated the assault on his senses, but what he saw outside the kitchen assaulted his psyche even more.

A teenage boy—he was at most 18—was getting a severe beating. What offense he'd committed, Mike didn't know, but it almost sounded as if his bones were breaking as his assailants struck him mercilessly. "Tenemos visitas, pare!" someone shouted. "Stop, we have visitors!" and the club dropped. The helpless youth, shaking as he was being carried out, lifted his eyes, as if to say, "Gracias señor, for coming through when you did." At that point the professor's composure started to unravel.

He spoke for quite some time with another prisoner. This man had a Bible in his bunk, along with several pictures of Jesus. Pictures of Jesus look different in South American prisons, Mike noted. You can see pain, the crown of thorns, and blood. This prisoner was the father of two small children, one of whom he'd yet to meet, and even though he'd been waiting for two years for his trial (if convicted, his sentence would have been about two months), he said he had faith that everything would be okay. Mike saw peace. The prisoner shook his hand warmly when Mike left his cell and thanked him for coming to visit.

Mike walked out of the prison in emotional shock. A guard with a machine gun slammed the gate behind him as he stood out front, paralyzed. The smell ­lingering about him was hideous. He thought of the prisoner he'd spoken with, whose name he didn't even know. He's happier than I am, Mike thought. He looked up at a statue of the Virgin Mary perched on a nearby hilltop. It was huge—kind of dingy and not very well taken care of, and Mike continued to stare at it without moving.

"I was wrong," he finally said out loud.

A Born Rebel

The son of a Christian mother and an atheist father, young Mike had been something of a rebel all his life. Baptized at age 10, he grew up in a Texas Baptist church, but he preferred girls and soccer over God and school. He flunked high-school English for four years straight, graduating with a GPA of 1.8. Underwhelming academics notwithstanding, he enrolled in college and started to study psychology.

Before long, after delving into Freud and Skinner, he simply announced one day that he was an agnostic; nine years later, as a graduate student, he told a friend, again rather abruptly, that he was an atheist. The blunt profession surprised him almost as much as it did his friend, but by this time his life had become such a mad mix of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll that anything was possible. Somehow, though, even in that haze, while supporting himself financially by playing the guitar and juicing himself physically by popping amphetamines, he managed to earn his doctorate in criminology and get hired by the University of North ­Carolina–Wilmington (UNCW) to teach criminal justice.

Upended & Turned About

In hindsight, he calls the four years following that prison visit, where his atheism, along with any delusions of moral relativism, had died in the span of about three hours, his "floating period." The Christianity of his youth still lay beneath the ruins, but returning to church was another matter altogether. His heart felt shame over his past life, while his head (he'd been a very outspoken atheist) imagined people snickering, "What is Mike Adams doing here at church?" It took another prison visit to propel him out of the water and onto solid ground.

On December 30, 1999, he spent three hours on death row with John Paul Penry, a convicted rapist and murderer who was scheduled to be executed in two weeks. Penry was mentally retarded, and Mike had been teaching his case for several years. Just before they parted, Penry quoted a Bible verse to him. He misquoted it, actually, but he got enough of it right that Mike recognized it as John 3:16. Penry had learned to read in prison, and he said he'd read the whole Bible. Mike reflected on the fact that this man, with an IQ somewhere in the 50s, had read the entire Bible—could even quote from it. I haven't read it,he thought to himself. But this retarded guy has.

That did it. A few nights later, he sneaked into Barnes and Noble just before closing to buy a Bible. Over the next several months, he read it, front to back, along with a few other books he'd picked up by C. S. Lewis and Chuck Colson. By the end of this intellectual exercise, the formerly floating ex-atheist had found satisfactory answers to all the questions that had lured him into atheism, and his faith was solidified. When a friend mentioned that she'd been thinking about going back to church and asked if he'd go with her, the professor's turnabout was complete.

Fearless for a Cause

Which set him completely at odds with the prevailing campus milieu at UNCW. He really didn't set out to become a radical professor-provocateur, but Mike Adams has never been one to "go along to get along." It started when he'd get snarky over some of the absurd and utterly stupid content of campus emails. He tried to point out the hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, intellectual dishonesty, and appalling lack of balance and abuse of authority running rampant in their little corner of academia. But instead of responding to the facts he presented, the offending colleagues either ignored him or, when that didn't work, threw temper tantrums, called him names, or tried to intimidate him into silence.

So he took the message to a wider audience and started writing a column for Agape Press. When Rush Limbaugh read one of his columns on the air the following spring, Mike Adams was catapulted, almost overnight, onto the national platform he enjoys today. Currently, he writes a nationally syndicated column for and is the author of two books, Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel and Feminists Say the Darndest Things.

His adversaries definitely picked the wrong guy to try to intimidate. "There is clearly something wrong with me," he says, point-blank serious. "I should be deathly terrified with the way that I confront radical Muslim extremists. I should be concerned for my life; I should be concerned for my job. I'm not afraid of those things. But it's worse than that," he says, and here his voice drops to a whisper. "I enjoy it."

He admits to stamping his feet sometimes, and even to howling in laughter as he writes. Skewering political correctness on campus can be as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, he says, because his foes provide him with an endless supply of material. "They accuse me of making stuff up, but I can't. I'm not that sick. I'm not on drugs anymore."

He really isn't, but you still might wonder now and again when you read his extraordinarily entertaining twists of wit. For example, when UNCW's new LGBTQIA Resource Center announced its opening last spring (that "veritable alphabet soup of liberal victim-hood," as he puts it, stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexed, and ally"), he had a question for the university's chancellor: "We have an African American Center, a Women's Center, EL Centro Hispano, and now a LGBTQIA Resource Center," he pointed out. "Have you ever considered starting a Conservative Professor Resource Center? It wouldn't cost much money. You could just stick me in a cage in the middle of the campus and let the liberal professors walk by and gaze in wonder."

Driven by a Calling

But as entertaining as his columns are, with titles like, "You Aren't Bipolar, You're Just a Jerk," "Put Lipstick on a Feminist and She's Still a Prig," and "Diversity and Perversity at My Little University," don't mistake Dr. Mike Adams for a mere feisty humorist. This is a man driven by a deep sense of purpose, who takes very seriously his positioning to expose the derelictions of duty being perpetrated and passed off as higher education. This sense of purpose is what drives him daily to serve up straight-shooting truth—delightfully refreshing or devastatingly exacting, depending on which side of it you stand—for readers, yes, but more immediately for students whose very souls are at risk of getting eaten alive by wolves cleverly disguised as university administrators.

"In a time of universal deceit," wrote George Orwell, "speaking the truth is a revolutionary act." Dr. Adams says his greatest joy comes when he has effected positive change in a student's life, whether it's an atheist becoming a Christian, a Communist becoming a freedom fighter, a relativist learning to reason, or simply an internet-surfer picking up books and reading. In whatever condition they come to him, Dr. Adams gives his students and readers the truth. The power of truth to revolutionize takes it from there. •

From Salvo 14 (Autumn 2010)
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 is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #14, Fall 2010 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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