From Ruin to Redemption: A Journey from Life in Prison to Restaurant Chaplain

Gene McGuire was sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn't commit — but God had other ideas.

By Nancy Flory Published on February 15, 2017

Gene McGuire was 17 years old when he was arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole — even though he didn’t know about the crime. In an amazing God-ordained turn of events, Gene was able to walk out of prison after spending 35 years behind bars. Now he’s a chaplain at a Texas restaurant chain, ministering to 1,400 employees in north Texas.

Charged With Murder

Forty years ago, he and his step-brother went to shoot pool with their cousin Bobby at a bar in their rural Pennsylvania town. They didn’t know he was on the run for murder. As they were playing, Bobby decided to rob the bar. Gene and his step-brother didn’t want anything to do with that, and left the bar to wait on Bobby.

Bobby stabbed an employee to death — and Gene became an accessory to murder while he stood outside waiting for his cousin to return. When Bobby didn’t come outside, the two boys went back inside the bar and saw his cousin stabbing a woman to death.

“I yelled to him to stop,” Gene told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I was scared and intimidated and loyal to my cousin.”

Gene’s stepbrother left with the car, so Bobby and Gene took the dead woman’s car and fled the area, ending up in New York City in a “sleazy hotel.” Bobby shot heroin while Gene drank wine. After two days, Gene decided to turn himself in and was charged with second-degree murder.

Shortly after his arrest, his court-appointed attorney advised him to plead guilty. He told Gene that he’d get only 8 to 10 years in prison if he plead guilty to murder. He was sentenced to life in prison for murder the day before his 18th birthday — meaning the rest of his natural life.

Real Men Make Commitments

Almost 10 years into his sentence, Gene attended a revival in prison, where he heard a message that “real men make commitments.” He was reluctant to make a commitment for Christ, but decided to come back the next day. At the end of the service on the third day, Gene met Christ.

“I knew as soon as I prayed I was set free,” Gene told Randy Robison in an interview on LIFE Today. Gene said he remembers thinking “What happened to me?” He was set free from anger, bitterness, drugs and pornography. “… I just had a peace in my life. Things that used to bother me and cause me to lose my temper or get frustrated [were] no longer there.”

I got real quiet, and I heard the Lord say, “I’m going to release you.” And this peace came over me, I mean this peace just flooded my life and I was like, “I’m going to be alright.” But He said, “It’s not going to be based on your efforts. Not based on who you know or what you’ve accomplished.”

A couple of years later, Gene began to apply for commutation of his sentence. Becoming a Christian did not help him get out. For thirty years he filed his petition for commutation with the governor. It was denied each time. But he continued to praise God and give thanks. “I did not say, ‘God thank you [that] you denied me,’ I said, ‘thank you that you’re faithful.'”

As he was walking back to his cell from the last denial, he heard God say, “I want you to get on your knees and thank me.” Although he struggled, Gene said he fell on his knees and thanked God for being faithful. He heard the Lord say, “I’m going to release you.”

Two months later Gene received a letter from an attorney who wanted to represent him, since laws involving juveniles sentenced to life had changed since he was sentenced.

Who Am I Not to Forgive Others?

In 2010, the Supreme Court had ruled that juveniles sentenced to life in prison are entitled to have an automatic review of their case. Gene’s case qualified. A judge released him, saying, “The defendant has served his maximum sentence and therefore is to be released from confinement, effective this date” — April 3, 2012. He was 51.

A court employee forwarded the judge’s order to Gene with a note, saying, “To most people, this would be just a piece of paper. Only you would know how powerful it is. I know the Lord has great things in store for you.”

A court employee forwarded the judge’s order to Gene with a note, saying, “To most people, this would be just a piece of paper. Only you would know how powerful it is. I know the Lord has great things in store for you.”

Following his release, he worked with Rev. Larry Titus with Titus’ mission outreach work. Over time, Gene began speaking to companies about his story. That’s where he met Paul Vinyard, owner of Babe’s Chicken Dinner House restaurants. After hearing Gene speak, Vinyard asked him to come speak to his employees. Now Gene has a job as the Chaplain for Babe’s. He ministers to 1,400 employees on subjects from teen pregnancy to marital conflict — and friends and relatives in prison.

Gene is thrilled with the response from his speaking engagements and those who’ve read his book Unshackled: From Ruin to Redemption. The most common responses are, “You’re not bitter nor angry about your past years in prison like so many. And you’ve taught me to let go of my hurts,” and “You never gave up on serving the Lord and remaining faithful in your walk over the decades. And now I too can keep serving Him.” Gene said it’s those types of responses that brings the most joy.

His life now is a “miracle,” he says. He’s forgiven his court-appointed attorney, who did not represent him well, and the judge who sentenced him. “I don’t feel bitter,” Gene said. “God forgave me for my errors. I thought, ‘Who am I not to forgive others?'”

 

 
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