Roy Ratcliff,
Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer's Story of Faith
(Leafwood, 2006)

Wisconsin minister Roy Ratcliff, through a series of unexpected developments and coincidences, was offered the opportunity to spiritually counsel serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer while Dahmer was serving 15 life sentences.

Dahmer, of course, made headlines in the early 1990s for his cannibalism, necrophilia and dismemberment of 17 male victims. Ratcliff's story, however, is slim on true-crime details and rich in spiritual reflections on his relationship with one of America's most notorious serial killers.

Ratcliff baptized Dahmer in the Church of Christ at Wisconsin's Columbia Correction Institution. Dahmer had completed church workbooks and study guides prior to his request for baptisim. Ratcliff's book describes his relationship with a man who was shunned not only by America as a whole, but by its Christian population.

Ratcliff describes a strong friendship from which both men grew and developed spiritually. Ratcliff was subject to harsh criticism for counseling a man that most believed was unfit for Heaven. His story, however, is not that of a jailbird conversion, but of a friendship with a deeply troubled man who long knew that his urges were demented but was unable to control them.

Dahmer was murdered in prison in 1994, but Ratcliff continues to minister to prisoners to this day (he had never visited a prisoner prior to Dahmer's request for religious contact in prison).

This book is a slim volume that is rich on reflections about religion, friendship, God, spirituality and society's concept of forgiveness. It is (thankfully) short on true-crime details. Admittedly, the dialogue does read as amateurish, and Ratcliff appears to paint himself in an overly angelic light, but this is still a worthwhile read about religion, friendship and a crime that is imprinted in America's collective psyche.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

1 August 2009

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