From Prison to Purpose

by Jimmy McGill

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



The author states that his life both in pictures and words is coming full circle. Five years ago he walked out of prison for his last time, and he became the first parolee to work for the state of Arkansas. The author spent so much of his time doubting and questioning God, wondering what his plan was for him and why his life was so unfair. He remembered sitting in prison with no hope. He had completely given up, didn’t even think about freedom. The only thing the author listed for was a woman and a shot of dope. Sitting in a barrack with seventy men shaking his head about his life that he had been dealt wasn’t fair, he had no idea what God had in store for him.


He had become the first felon to work for the Arkansas Department of human Services and not just any felon, but one with seventeen felony convictions, which still on parole. He had been speaking all over the state of Arkansas, at colleges, high schools, the attorney general’s drug summit and other activities, he had shared a message of hope to others. He informed me of a job that would be coming open, and he encouraged me to apply for it. I thought there was absolutely no way in the world that I would receive this job working for the state, especially as the Arkansas Peer Recovery Coordinator. What I didn’t know was that a requirement for the job was that you have personal experience with drug addiction and be a person in long-term recovery. I definitely had that part down to a tee! There were four other people who applied for the position. However, they did not have that one requirement needed. They were not recovering addicts. The position also required a degree, which I didn’t have. Yet I was currently enrolled in college. The day I interviewed for the job, I was quite intimidated. As I sat in front of a panel of people from the Arkansas Department of Human Services with questions flying from all four directions. I was reminded of my last parole hearing, I was prepared, though. I knew recovery. I was an expert on drug addiction. I went into that meeting prepared. I had developed a full launch plan and had printed it out and placed it in folders for each person on the panel. I even impressed myself.


“Later I learned that I blew the doors off of that interview and scored higher than anyone who interviewed. All I could do was hit my knees and praise God and cry. I had hope that I was about to do something that had never before been achieved in the state of Arkansas. There was a lot of blowback, a lot of rumors, and a lot of speculation on why the Arkansas Department of Human Services would hire a parolee. It was against state policy. There had never been a felon work for DHS, much less someone actively on parole.”

For the most part the support that the State of Arkansas has given me is almost unbelievable. However, when someone who is as publicly outspoken about their past as I am got a job with the state, it shook things up. I have noticed that people are either supportive of me or they aren’t there is no gray area, I’m sure half of the employees in my division are still waiting for me to steal their car keys, always watching and looking and stigmatizing me. I understand that they are just afraid of what they do not understand.


From the second that he got hired, he changed the game. He knew that he had one chance, and he was not about to waste it. He walked it like he knew that he had a lot to prove, but being doubted was nothing new to him He was used to skepticism. There was something inside of him, driving him to success. He knew from the beginning that this was bigger than he was, that this was about showing a broken system that a person’s past is not a life sentence that people can overcome anything and that people in recovery have value and need a seat at the table. He often looked at his life and turned it into a message, all for His glory. God literally pulled him out of prison and set him on a pathway to productive future. There were many roadblocks that might have stopped him from having the position and the platform that he has today. Through God gifting me with the process of recovery and new information and someone to teach me how to apply that information he has experienced transformation. This book is riveting in watching the work of the Holy Spirit unfold before the reader.

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