Chris Hoke is a jail chaplain and pastor to Mexican gangs in Washington’s Skagit Valley as well as the author of Wanted (HarperOne). Working in jails and alongside gang members has provided him with invaluable insights that he can share as a speaker to Universities, churches, and an array of organizations and conferences. His messages are relatable to all walks of life, from scholars and activists to theologians and artists. Hoke regularly speaks about his extraordinary experiences around the issues of jail, prison, and poverty engagement.
Wanted follows a restless young man from the sunny suburbs of his youth to the darker side of society in the rainy Northwest, where he finds the direct spiritual experience he’s been seeking while volunteering as a “night shift” chaplain at a men’s correctional facility. The jail becomes his portal to a mysterious world on the margins of society, where a growing network of Mexican gang members soon dub him their “pastor.” As he comes to terms with this uncomfortable title— and embraces the role of a shepherd of black sheep— his adventures truly begin.
Hoke shares comic, heartbreaking and sublime tales of sacred moments in unlikely situations: singing with an attempted-suicide in the jail’s isolation cell, dodging immigration and airport security with migrant farm workers, and fly-fishing with tattooed gangsters. Set against the misty Washington landscape, this unconventional congregation at times mirrors the Skagit Valley’s fleeting migratory swans and unseen salmon. But Hoke takes us with him into riskier terrain as he gains and loses friends to the prison system, and even faces his own despair-as well as belovedness-on the back of a motorcycle racing through Guatemalan slums. In these stories of “mystical portraiture,” like the old WANTED posters of outlaws, Hoke bears witness to an elusive Presence that is still alive and defiant of official custody. Such portraits offer a new vision of the forgotten souls who have been cast into society’s dumpsters, helping us see beneath even the hardest criminal a fragile desire to be wanted. Interweaving his own story with moving vignettes and gritty experiences in hidden places, a jail chaplain and minister to Mexican gang and migrant worker communities chronicles his spiritual journey to the margins of society and reveals a subversive God who’s on the loose beyond the walls of the church, pursuing those who are unwanted by the world.
Through his work with the organization Tierra Nueva, Hoke co-founded a coffee-roasting business, The Underground Coffee Project (undergroundcoffeeproject.com), which employs men coming out of prison and addiction while connecting them to agricultural partners in Honduras. Hoke received his B.A. from UC Berkeley and his MFA in creative nonfiction from Seattle Pacific University. His articles and personal essays have been featured in magazines including The Sun, Sojourners, and Christian Century, and he has read four of these stories on NPR’s program Snap Judgment.
Hoke currently resides in Mount Vernon, WA.
Praise for Chris Hoke:
“Chris Hoke connects with people. Listen to the Snap Judgment episode “No Contact,” in which Chris recounts stories of his prison chaplaincy. Listen to the raw honesty, the word pictures Chris paints, his sense of wonder and gratitude as he describes a sliver of hope penetrating an isolation ward. This is precisely the kind of humanizing activity needed to address justice priorities. Chris connects all of us – not just religious folk – to the humanity of those behind bars.”
—Don Richter, Director, Louisville Institute
Praise for Wanted:
“A liberating, transformative chronicle of how spirituality can foster inspiration and hope while emboldening the downtrodden through their darkest days.”
“When Chris first told a story on my show, Snap Judgment, it was so beautiful I wept. But I kept asking for more. This book proves what we believe at Snap—stories can lure you into places you’ve never imagined, and maybe even change your life.”
— Glynn Washington, Host and Creator of NPR's Snap Judgment
“Chris Hoke’s fine book Wanted widens what needs to be widened in a world where some lives seem to matter less than other lives. What he so eloquently articulates is the erasure of margins and the birth of a new inclusion-where the demonizing ceases and the disposable are no longer tossed aside. It is a book which refines one’s own heart to meet the brokenness of the other and discovery your own. Exquisite mutuality”
— Greg Boyle, S.J., Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart
“I’m not Christian but Chris has proven that all people—even the most troubled—are worth our intrusions, even as passersby, as migrants, as souls among souls. Thank you for this moving story. More people should have such courage, such character.”
— Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles and author of Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing
“A powerful and moving account of what it means to actually engage a hurting world.”
— Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy
“God has a remarkable ability to show up anywhere: in a scruffy patch of desert or a pregnant teenager’s womb; in prison cells and at supper tables. Blessed are those, like Chris Hoke, who have eyes to see, and who tell the stories so that we may come to believe. WANTED is beautiful writing and powerful testimony to God’s living presence in forgotten places.”
— Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread and City of God
“As a former jail chaplain myself, I have yet to find a book that is so well written, so honest, and so non-naïve-and yet compassionate-about the kind of world we live in! You will live in your own world with greater courage if you read this book.”
— Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation and author of Falling Upward
“Chris Hoke is what I would call a Christ-follower. He doesn’t languish safely at home just thinking about his faith; his is not a propositional faith, but a performed and embodied faith. He follows the path that Jesus walked, eyes open, hands ready to help, heart ready to break. The result is life-changing-for him, for those he serves, and for us if we have ears to hear.”
— Scott Cairns, author of Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems
“Wanted sings the gospel song that’s echoed through the centuries, from Paul and Silas’ jail cell to Fannie Lou Hamer’s. I haven’t read a book since Tattoos on the Heart that made me cry and shout “Amen!” as much as this one.”
— Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of Strangers at My Door
“Chris Hoke is a bounty hunter tracking the spoor prints of love. To find his quarry Hoke travels to the hinterlands of bad behavior, where he meets the lonely young men of his valley who are in so many ways unwanted—and he advocates for them, loves them, calls them brother, even as he himself is changed. In these beautiful, unsettling, sometimes laugh out loud funny stories, we glimpse an Esau crying to his estranged-no-more brother Jacob: I see in your face the face of God. For all their darkness, these stories have given me hope like nothing else I’ve read in recent memory.”
— Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith
“The psalmist says that God hides himself in the dark. That’s exactly where Chris goes looking for him. This search among the most maligned of us is bound to become a spiritual classic.”
— Dennis Covington, author of Salvation on Sand Mountain, National Book Award finalist