Most people wouldn’t look back on a prison sentence with fond memories, but for 31-year-old Jermaine Wilson of Leavenworth, Kansas, he recognizes that God used his time in prison to set him on the path he is currently on and he couldn’t be more grateful. Now with his charges expunged, he is the mayor of a town in Kansas.
Wilson’s childhood drug use started when he was only 11 years old.
“I started doing what everybody else was doing: getting into drugs, ripping and running the streets, getting in fights, kicked out of school, ran away from home, and I was incarcerated at 15,” he told KCUR.
His two-year sentence at the juvenile detention facility turned into four years after he tried to escape. Once he was finally free at 19, he picked up his drug use again and began selling drugs as well.
Even then, he recognized his unique leadership qualities, but he wasn’t using those skills to positively change the lives of others.
When he turned 21, he was arrested and charged with a felony.
It was there, in his prison cell in the maximum security wing, surrounded by other felons charged with rape, theft and murder, that he thought there were only two different options for his future: to continue down the same path and spend his life in and out of prison or ‘dead in a casket.’ Then he made a desperate plea to God.
“That’s when I cried out to God: ‘God, if you’re real, speak to my heart, change my heart,'” Wilson said. “I knew that I could never go back and change the hands of time, but I knew I could be productive and make a difference by moving forward. I wanted that. I didn’t want to hurt anybody else.”
It was then that a third option began to become possible.
Wilson began preparing himself for the day that he would be set free; He studied, worshiped God, and planned ways to make positive changes to the community he came from.
Once set free, he used his natural leadership skills to start a non-profit called Unity in the Community Movement that mentors youth and actively works to create peace within the community.
“By unifying the people in the community and bringing different organizations together for common goals,” the website for the non-profit says. “We can help promote peace, stop the violence, mentor our youth, feed the homeless, provide jobs, as well as bridging the gap between law enforcement and our residents.”
“There’s this quote that I always go by: ‘You’ll never know what you are until you’ve encountered what you are not,'” he told CBS. “I experienced being someone that I wasn’t created to be. And when I tried the opposite, I succeeded.”
His criminal record was eventually expunged in 2015.
After seeing the impact he had made on the local community, a friend encouraged Wilson to consider running for mayor one day — an idea that seemed ridiculous until his wife also encouraged the thought.
On Jan. 8, 2019, he was appointed to serve as mayor in Leavenworth, Kansas. It was a dream come true that didn’t even seem within the realm of possibility less than a decade ago.
Wilson fully recognizes that if it wasn’t for his time in prison and his relationship with God, he wouldn’t be anywhere close to where he is today.
“That’s why I’m here, because if that wouldn’t have happened, I would have never had the time to think. I would have never had an opportunity to build a relationship with God,” he said. “I don’t suggest prison. But one thing I tell you, we all go through a time in our life when we hit rock bottom. When you’re at rock bottom there’s only one other place to go, and that’s up.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.