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Jimmy’s earliest years were spent in one foster home after another. He was born in North Carolina and his father abandoned the family when Jimmy was just a toddler. Jimmy’s life took a decidedly downward turn when he was 9; his mother re-married and brought an abusive stepfather into their lives. This caused Jimmy to face abuse.
His stepfather would take the food stamps and sell them to buy drugs. “All my sister and I had to eat was our free lunch at school,” he says. One day Jimmy smelled bacon cooking at a neighbor’s house. He was so hungry that he went into the empty kitchen, put every bit of the food into his shirt, ran out, and ate it behind the house.
When he was 12, his mother was in prison and Jimmy was living with his grandfather. Jimmy took on many odd jobs to earn money – for example, picking blackberries and digging golf balls out of the bushes. The incarceration of his mom was an especially difficult period for Jimmy; it also was the period when he started writing as a means of therapy.
One violent episode occurred when Jimmy was 13. His stepfather tried to resolve a quarrel with Jimmy’s brother by shooting in the house. After forcing Jimmy into the car, he drove off, and when stopped, he began punching Jimmy in the face. Jimmy barely missed being shot in the face when he knocked his stepfather’s arm away just as he pulled the trigger.
Jimmy was placed in a series of group and detention homes. At 15 his life changed when he was placed in a detention center for fleeing a group home. It was here that he cried out to the Lord, “God, if You’re real, why am I going through this?”
His prayer was answered when Russell and Beatrice Costner entered his life. The Costners invited Jimmy to move into a vacant room in their home. Their only conditions were that he cut his hair and go to church with them each week. “I believe with all my heart that God was working through them,” Jimmy says. During the six years they had together before the Costners passed away -- first Russell, then Beatrice -- Jimmy’s world turned inside out and light spilled into spaces once shrouded by darkness. Beatrice encouraged his musical aspirations. “Beatrice went to every single show I sang at,” he says. “She was very supportive.”
The Right Path
Jimmy began to take music seriously. In 12th grade, he was greatly influenced when a former inmate came to his school as part of the “Think Smart” program. Jimmy was impressed at how the audience responded to him. Inspired, he bought a $30 guitar at a yard sale and started teaching himself how to play. Poems and melodies came into his head. He knew he wanted to share his stories in country music.
Later, on a visit to that same inmate, the prison supervisor took Jimmy aside and told him if he ever needed a job, he’d have one for him. After earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice, Jimmy worked for four years as a guard at the Gaston Correctional Facility.
But his heart was in Nashville. Two days after quitting his job, he left North Carolina for Music City.
Unlike most, Jimmy didn’t rush into networking and playing everywhere because he didn’t feel he was ready. He wanted to be sure that everything – his singing, guitar-playing, writing – was up to par before he tried to get a record deal. Through a connection with Mike Whelan, director of creative services for Acuff-Rose, Jimmy was invited into the publishing house where he worked alongside established writers. He earned co-writing credit for Tracy Byrd’s Top 10 hit “Put Your Hand in Mine.” After some brief auditions, Jimmy was signed to a record deal.
His debut album, Jimmy Wayne, includes songs that tell stories from his past. He captures a child’s yearning for love in “Paper Angels” and an encounter with a foster brother who’d become an inmate in the prison where Jimmy worked on “Blue and Brown.”
Asked how he’s managed to come so far, Jimmy says it takes only one person to make a difference. Bea Costner made that difference for him. Jimmy remembers the hard times and foster homes and wants to give back. For many foster and troubled kids today, he is a mouthpiece for them.
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