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Unshackled From a Hopeless Life Sentence

Author and speaker Gene McGuire shares about receiving a life sentence without parole for a crime he didn't commit, and how he was released after 35 years. Read Transcript

For 35 years, Gene McGuire didn't have a name.

But he had a number, AK4192.

He had spent most of his life behind bars, guilty

only of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

NARRATOR: In 1977, Gene McGuire, a 17-year-old star athlete,

went into a bar with his 24-year-old cousin, Bobby.

He had no idea Bobby was about to rob the place.

Bobby ended up stabbing the bartender to death.

Gene was found guilty of second-degree murder

and was sentenced to life in prison.

After serving 35 years, he was released.

But Gene isn't angry with his cousin or the court system.

He forgave them years ago.

In his book, "Unshackled," he shares

what helped him become free, even while he was still

behind bars.

Gene McGuire joins us now for the rest of this story.

Welcome to "The 700 Club."

It's good to have you here.

Oh, I'm-- it's a pleasure to be here, Terry.

Let's go back to the beginning of this story, if we can.

You're 17 years old.

You-- a cousin that you admire that's older than you comes

to visit, and y'all go out drinking.

You're underage, but you know a place you can go,

and they're going to serve you.

And so you're all pretty loaded with alcohol--

GENE: We are.

Yeah, drinking and--

TERRY: --that night.

GENE: Yep.

You thought you were just out for a fun night.

But your cousin had a different intent.

What happened that night?

Well, somewhere in the process of drinking and playing pool,

he turned, said, I'm going to rob the place.

And I knew I wasn't going to do that.

And I had his step brother with us.

We weren't going to do that.

But that was his idea, and it was planned.

So we decided to leave.

And we parked the car down the road little bit,

stood in the parking lot.

When he walked back in, he was going to rob the place

and come out.

And he didn't come out right away.

What he did was, when he walked in, he ended up stabbing

and stabbed the owner to death and robbed the place.

You eventually went back in to see--


--what was taking him so long and what the problem was.

And I mean, here you are, a 17-year-old kid.

Did you recognize, or were you too inebriated at the time

to realize the ramifications of what had just happened there?

Well, definitely, it soaked in later the next day.

But when I walked up to the--

he was behind the counter, and I yelled to him to stop.

And-- and then we waited for him.

And then-- so--


But the next day was, uh, a real sobering moment

to realize that the murder had really taken place.

And then, you know, Sid, your--


Step brother.

Your step brother had left the scene.

And he kind of knew about this before you all

wen-- he knew that this was going to be at least a robbery.

That was-- well, that was--

When you left, right?

Yeah, that was-- yeah, he knew there would be a robbery.

But you didn't.

You're kind of the kid in this deal that just gets dragged

along through the whole thing.

So now you're on the lam with this--


--with this cousin of yours.

And you're kind of led into a really dark world that is--


--as much as you might not have been happy with your life

before, this was really not what you'd had planned.


Were you scared?

What did you think during this time?

Very intimidated, I think.

Very lost.


Uh, just following-- really, I was following a cousin who

thought he had a plan, and he didn't.

And we found ourselves up in shooting galleries

and drug-infested apartments up in New York

until I turned myself in.

You finally come back.

You turn yourself in.

And it-- it's--

I think you came back thinking that you were going

to just tell your story, explain what happened,

be exonerated, go home with your mom.

Kind of.

In my mindset, yes.

But in fact--


You know, you're arrested, you're shackled,

you're taken away.


And in the-- the court case process, your lawyer,

court-appointed lawyer tells you you need to-- to plead guilty.

Plead guilty.


And otherwise, you're going--


For life.


What do you expect would happen?

Well, he-- the opportunity was to plead guilty and testify

against my cousin.

My cousin was agreeable to that, too.

And do what you can to save yourself.

And so I testified, hoping that I would receive something


even manslaughter.

That was-- that was a conversation

between the attorney and I. Possibly 10 years.

But when they gave me life without parole, I heard it.

But the reality was-- didn't set in

till I got to the state correctional institution.

I'm not sure something like that would set in--


--until you're walking it out.

Until you start hearing from other men serving life--


--in Pennsylvania, in there.

Said, young buck, you will die in this place,

you will not get out.


How did you handle that mentally?

What did that do to you?

Well, I just--

I kind of gave up, in a sense of, OK, this is my life.

I'm here, yeah.

And I just started doing my sentence.

And I got involved in, you know, education and some college

work and some programs, and trying to figure out why--

How to make it matter, yeah.

--how a 17-year-old ends up in prison for life.


There were things that you had to battle

in there that are the things that everybody fears, I think.


First of all, solitary confinement a number of times.



Just rape--


--from other guys that are in there.

Being beaten--


--by other guys that are in there.

Just the whole nine yards of it.

How in the world did you get to Jesus

in the middle of all of that?

Well, I had plenty of people praying for me.

A mother who prayed for me.

But I had some--

That'll do it.

Yeah, that will do it.

Yeah, she said, go get him, Lord.

And [INAUDIBLE] I had other inmates in the prison system

praying, too.

And they were witnessing to me.

And I write about a guy named Warner, Big Moses in the book.


He was a faithful witness and a testimony to me.

But it was encouragement to come to a three-day weekend

revival, where I went Friday night, exciting.

Saturday, I went.

I met Larry Titus, the pastor who

stuck with me all those years.

And he shared that he got saved at four

and knew God's call in his life at five.

And it just made me very envious to know Jesus--


--that a five-year-old could have a plan.

And so the next day, I came back on a Sunday morning.

And around 10:30 in the morning, went up front

and got on my knees in front the prison chapel,

in front of all the other inmates,

and just said, Jesus, set me free.

I want to live for You.

And chains--


--broke off, so.

You know, to be in the scenario

you were in, there had to be so much bitterness, so much anger.

In coming to Christ, the chains broke off.

And you were able to forgive others--


--and receive forgiveness yourself.

What's God doing in your life now?

I mean, so here, you're in there.

First of all, let back up a minute.


But you're in there 30-some years.


And then you get notice that your case is going up

for review.


And you get free.

I mean, they let--

it's an amazing story.

It is.

It is.

Could you even grasp that?

I mean--


It was-- it was sort of like my mindset was running

to be-- you know, one day, I could drive a car one day,

I could eat at a restaurant one day.


I get to live again.

--be at family for Christmas.

And then I would think, ah, no, that's too much.

Let me come back to my everyday Christian life in the prison,

where, you know--

Afraid to leave.


And it was just a struggle.

I'd pray, and then I would--

I'd be like, eh.

But my life was right there in the prison.

I was living--

Yeah, wow.

--for the Lord in the prison system.


It's an amazing story.


And today, you walk freely.

Your life has--


--been restored to you.

You have an amazing job.

Yes, love the job.

You get to tell other people about the Jesus who

set you free.

I mean, it's quite a miraculous story.

Your book, "Unshackled," what do you want

people to take away from this?

There's no prison, whether it's

with bars and chains or a broken marriage or a failed business,

financial crisis, Jesus can set you free.

And you don't realize how much of a bondage

those things are when you get angry

over the situation, circumstances.

If you can give that to the Lord,

God will forgive you and help you to forgive, and then

set you free.

And you watch what he does.


Gene is walking proof.

We've only scratched the surface of his story.

I'd love for you to know more about it.

It's pretty incredible.

So get his book.

It's called "Unshackled."

It's available nationwide.

And it's full of the grace and the mercy

and the freedom that comes from knowing Christ.

Thank you so much.

Thank you, Terry.

What a story.

Ah, love you guys.

God bless you.

Thank you so much.

Yeah, not enough time to get into all of it,

but get the book.

Get the book.



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