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God Remembered Him in Prison

In an issue of CT magazine, Gene McGuire tells the story of how God found him serving a life sentence in prison and gave him new life in Christ.

I’d always looked up to my out-of-town cousin, Bobby. I was thrilled when he invited me to come along that night to a bar. After a few games of pool and several drinks, Bobby told us he was going to rob the place. While surprised at his sudden intentions, the alcohol seemed to dull any impulse for protest. Sid and I would leave—as locals, we’d be recognized—and Bobby would commit the robbery alone.

We waited outside. After several minutes, we poked our heads in the door—Bobby had brutally murdered the bar owner. He shouted, “Don’t just stand there! Help me find the money!”

On the run, McGuire followed Bobby to New York City, but he couldn’t escape the reality of what they had done and went to the police. Bobby told him, “Gene, tell the truth. It was all me.” McGuire told the detectives everything but because he was present when the crime was committed, he was charged with murder. A day before his 18th birthday the judge sentenced him: “For the rest of your natural life,” without the possibility of parole.

In prison McGuire met Larry when he visited as part of a nationwide outreach event organized by Prison Fellowship. A preacher shared a gospel message and ended with an invitation saying, “Real men make commitments.” But McGuire held still.

McGuire returned the next day. Again, the preacher ended with those words, “Real men make commitments.” He watched as others made the commitment. He really wanted to—but he couldn’t. Then a volunteer approached him. “Hi, my name is Larry.” McGuire asked, “How long have you been a Christian?” “Since I was 4-years-old,” Larry replied. McGuire thought, “Was he putting me on? If a 4-year-old could sort out this Jesus stu­ff, why couldn’t I? What was I doing at 26 without a clue?”

The next day—the final service—I went back, and again it ended with the familiar “Real men make commitments.” A war raged within me—Go! No, don’t go! Get up! No, don’t move! I held on to the chapel pew with a white-knuckled death grip.

Suddenly, it just happened. I was on my feet, putting one in front of the other until I was at the altar. I remember praying, “Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me. Please forgive all my sins. I want to be saved. Jesus, come into my heart today. Amen.” It sounds cliché, but I felt as if a ton of weight rolled right o­ff my back, as if chains fell away and I was free. Life in prison remained life in prison, but from the moment I believed in Jesus, the newness of life was extraordinary.

The Lord continued to use Larry in my life; for the next 25 years he mentored and discipled me, never letting me lose sight of opportunities to love God and serve others.

Meanwhile, I was actively petitioning the governor to commute my life sentence. Yet another attempt—after 32 years in prison—ended in rejection. Then, in June 2010, I received a notice from an attorney out of the blue. It informed me of a new Supreme Court ruling that could o­ffer juveniles given life sentences the opportunity to return to court and possibly receive a lighter sentence.

On April 3, 2012, I finally got my release. As a 17-year-old looking squarely at a lifetime behind bars, I never would have imagined this outcome. But God’s love is so great that nothing can separate us from it; his mercy and grace so powerful that no shackles can confine us. I’m living proof. I received a life sentence and, along the way, I found life—and freedom.

Editor’s Note: Gene McGuire is the author of Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption . He lives in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, where he serves as pastor for a Christian family-owned restaurant company.

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