The last game of chess Earl Smith played was with a man who was about to die.
For 23 years, Smith was a chaplain at San Quentin State Prison in California, often ministering to men sentenced to die. Smith recounts his experience in a new memoir, aptly titled Death Row Chaplain.
Smith’s path to chaplaincy was not a straight one: He had a tense relationship with his mother and became a drug dealer in his teens. His calling—to be a prison chaplain, and specifically a prison chaplain at San Quentin—came to him after he was shot six times and left for dead, in a hit organized by a guy who owed him drug money.