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From Ruin to Redemption

Sentenced to life in prison at age 17 for a murder he didn’t commit and released 35 years later, Gene McGuire shares his journey. Read Transcript


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 is with us today.

Welcome.

It's good to have you with us on interactive.

It's a pleasure to be here.

Thank you, Terry.

You know, Gene, I think of where I was at at 17 years old

and how young and immature and spontaneous

I was in decision making.

You went out for a night of fun with an older cousin

that you admired and looked up to.

Very much.

Part of the excitement of the evening was you were underage.

You were getting into a place that you knew would serve you.

And you also have a step brother with you, Sid.

And so the three of you were out that night.

You thought you were just going to have a fun night out.

Shooting some pool and drinking, yes.

Yeah, didn't work out that way.

No, some moments into that-- about 20 minutes into that--

my cousin just said, hey, I'm going to rob this place.

It was an opportunity.

Whether he thought about it before or happened

at that moment, all I know is he said

I'm going to rob the place.

I knew we weren't going to do it.

And it wasn't something we would've done.

So we agreed to leave and let him come back.

You and Sid.

Sid, yes.

Your half brother.

Sid drove us there.

And so we decided to get in his car, drove down the street

a little bit.

My cousin went back into the bar and instead

of coming out with the money, he ended up killing the owner

and then robbed the place.

And I stuck around and followed with him

and went to New York City for a few days

until I turned myself in.

Turning yourself in was certainly the right thing

to do but a challenging thing to do.

At that point in the story, you really

thought that you'd come back, kind of tell them your story,

say well, I wasn't really involved in the murder at all.

And that you'd go home with your mom

and get a good night's sleep, finally.

Didn't work out that way.

No, I was arrested and charged with homicide

and placed in a juvenile center.

And then nine months later, I was through counsel

of a public defender.

With his counsel, plead guilty to murder.

And he had told me that I could be out in 10 years.

And the bottom line was that I was

sentenced the day before my 18th birthday

to life without parole.

And it was a rude awakening when I got to the State Correctional

Institution in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

And I met other life sentence inmates saying, young buck,

you're going to die in here.

You're not getting out 10 years.

And so that was a rude awakening.

What went through your mind at that point?

I mean now, OK, you're 18.

That's still pretty young.

And most people are still pretty immature.

And here you are when others are graduating from high school

and heading off to college, you're facing a life sentence.

What was in your mind and heart at that time?

It was embarrassing-- well, one,

I had to deal with the shame and the guilt of that.

And that kind of consumed me.

I just felt, how come I didn't say no and run?

TERRY MEEUWSEN: What was I thinking?

Yeah, what was I thinking?

And of course, you know, alcohol dethrones the alert mind.

So you try to figure it out.

It took me some years and sitting down with some people

before I grasped that I just did not have the judgment.

I did not have the moral compass.

I was responsible for every decision.

But I didn't have the moral compass to do anything other

than what I did.

What were those first years in prison like?

There's a difference between the nine months sitting in jail

and then going off to the real deal.

Yes, from juvenile center were 15, to state prison,

where there's 2,500.

And it's violent.

And it's--

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Hardcore.

Yeah it is.

And there's a lot of gang activity.

There was a lot of fighting.

And you have to fight your way through there

and kind of establish yourself.

Prove you're metal.

Yes.

It's me or you.

Yeah.

So in the middle of all of this,

you went through a number of years and in times

where you would feel angry or frustrated

and express that, you're put in solitary.

I mean it's just such a hopeless scenario.

How did you find Jesus in the middle of that?

I had some people who prayed for me,

a mother who prayed for me, friends in the prison.

There was a few individuals.

I write about Moses.

Warner, who's in the book.

And he was a faithful Christian, told me about Jesus.

And I was encouraged to go to a three-day revival that

was going on in the prison system

where a hundred men from the outside community came in

and witnessed to us.

And they had revival services that night with the music.

And the pastor kept saying, Jesus died and rose again.

And in him there's eternal life.

And real men make commitments.

And when I heard that, I knew the challenge

was on because I never made a commitment to the Lord before.

And then on Sunday, I met pastor Larry Titus on Saturday

as a volunteer.

And he latched on to me.

And he gave me his card and says,

if you need anything, a Bible, you

need shoes, money, whatever, just get a hold of me.

Well the next day, not even thinking,

I went up front and got on my knees

and asked Jesus to be my Savior.

And chains broke off me.

And I knew I was completely different.

I started reading the Bible every day.

And it wasn't like you made this commitment

to Christ thinking, well, Jesus is going to get me off the hook

here.

I'm going to get out of this life sentence.

That was actually a surprise to you, wasn't it?

Oh my goodness, yeah.

I never would have, no idea.

So for next 25 years, just served the Lord in the prison

system.

I was discipled by Larry.

And whatever he taught me I would teach others.

And my life was in prison.

I mean I lived God's will in the prison system.

And one day in 2010, I was back into court.

It was a miracle, obviously.

And without any money, without any resources,

without any legal background, without any access to court,

I'm back into court.

And the judge vacated my sentence, said it was illegal.

And they re-sentenced me to time served and released.

Wow.

You know, when you found Christ, not only were you unshackled

from your past, but really from the resentment,

the unforgiveness, any bitterness that you had.

And yet when you get out 25 years later,

you have spent more of your life in prison than out of prison.

What did you feel at that moment?

Could you be totally free?

Or did you have any resentment looking back?

Well early on, everybody gets offended.

I knew God forgave me.

And that was one of the hardcore principles

that Jesus forgave me, my debt.

Who am I not to forgive anyone else?

And so I learned how to do that.

It's just something that if you do

that, you'll be free and free from anger, free from stress,

all those things.

And so I actually met with my cousin

briefly before my release.

And he apologized to me, saying I'm

sorry for ruining your life.

He wanted to.

And I apologized too.

I knew there was, obviously, a person lost her life.

And I told him, I said, you didn't ruin my life

because it wasn't wasted.

And so I know.

I gave my life to Christ.

And he made something of it.

Yeah, the one the sun sets free is free indeed.

Free indeed.

What are you doing now?

Well, I pastor for a restaurant,

a family business-owned, Christian-owned restaurant

called Babes' Chicken Dinner House in the Dallas-Fort Worth

area.

And we have some 1400 employees.

And the owners are Christians who see their business

as a ministry.

And they brought me in.

And I pastor within that setting of the restaurants

and within the managers.

How wonderful.

We have 900 young people working for us.

And we just get to speak into their life

and be a resource to them.

Well you get to speak into the lives of that group of people

and others.

Yes.

You're speaking in many, many different places.

Unshackled, From Ruin to Redemption.

What do you want people to take away from this?

That no matter what the circumstances are,

God forgives.

And God has a plan, even for the pain and the suffering

or whatever it is.

God has a plan for that.

He wants to redeem it.

And then you can start telling other people

about what he's done for you.

And you'll see other people set free.

The book is relational.

It's discipleship.

And I just encourage people to read it.

He's earned the right to tell you about it.

He's walking in freedom.

Well the new book, called Unshackled, From Ruin

to Redemption.

It's available wherever books are sold.

It's an amazing story.

Jesus said he came to set the captain free.

And Gene McGuire has experienced that.

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