Jeff Walker always knew he loved music—but he didn't expect that, after prison, he'd share a stage with his musical hero.
Incarcerated as a very young man, Jeff Walker went to prison with a newfound faith in Christ. He grew spiritually in Prison Fellowship® Bible studies and the Prison Fellowship Academy®. He also developed his innate musical talent into a hip-hop sound with profound lyrics about the power of Christ to redeem and restore lives.
Since his release from prison, Walker has become a regular performer at Prison Fellowship Hope Events in the state. Soon he will share the stage with Grammy Award-winning artist Lecrae during a special Good Friday Hope Event™ at a prison near Columbia where he once served time. Prison Fellowship recently caught up with Walker to hear about meeting one of his musical heroes, creating a life after incarceration, and his favorite accomplishment of all: fatherhood.
Prison Fellowship: How would you describe your sound and your musical influences?
I describe my sound as street music with a message, like hip-hop with a gospel flavor to it. That's why I think a lot of people like it, because it's something that they're kind of like, "Oh, I can listen to this and just ride through it and just vibe, but he's actually saying something."
When did you discover that you had a gift for music?
I always knew that I loved music. I grew up in a rough neighborhood. Me and my friends, we used to rap freestyle while one of us did a beat box with our mouths. It was just fun, to pass the time.
When I was in prison, someone heard me rapping, and he said, "Wait, stop. Now speak everything you just said back to me." And I said, "I can't. I don't remember." He said, "That's why you need to write. You're good enough to write." I was like, "Man, I don't know about that." And he literally sat down and took hours, showing me how to write bars and music.
Another day I was rapping some stuff I had written. By that time, I was going to a Bible study in the dorm, and the leader of the study came and sat and was listening. He said, "Oooh, man, you nice. Make one of those and bring it to Bible study."
And he just got up and walked off. He didn't wait for me to respond or anything. I was like, "Hey, hold up. How am I supposed to write a rap in Bible--? What are we talking about?" I only knew one gospel song then, that "I Know I Been Changed," or something like that. So I did that as the chorus, and I just put like some bars to it, and I took it to Bible study and people freaked out. People was like, "Oh man. That's so hard," and it just kind of expanded from there.
What are some of your favorite song lyrics you wrote in prison?
I like the end of a verse on a song I wrote called "The Way." It says,
"Send me on a journey
Yeah, that's an excursion
and He's not an employee, yeah
but I know He's working.
I know He's working. I know He's working.
Yeah, I can see it in my circumstance, is finding out what His plan is.
He never left me stranded."
You were released in 2019. How has it been making a new life for yourself?
In addition to my music, I've got a job at a company that builds HVAC units—big air handlers for schools, hospitals, and stadiums. At the end of last year, I got my own apartment and got my daughter moved in with me. She's 14. That was one of the things I talked about all the time in prison. Like, "Man, I can't wait until I get my own spot, and get my daughter living with me."
Even my first day out, all I wanted was just to go see her. Having her with me is amazing. I can't even describe it. I walk by her room and look in there just to watch her sleep. Just knowing that she's all right, that she's in the next room, it's like nothing I've ever experienced in my whole life.
The whole time I was away, I worked on my relationship with her. It’s been a whole lot of work and a whole lot of prayer. I called as much as possible. I wrote letters, even when I knew she couldn't write back. She got piles and piles of cards and letters and pictures. And when she got older, we had discussions. I would tell her, "Baby, you know I'm not gone because of you," and "If you ever need to talk to me about anything …." And we still have those talks. She knows I'll never judge her or yell at her.
What has it been like performing at Hope Events?
So far, I've done four or five events with [Prison Fellowship Field Director] James Murray. It's been crazy … surreal. The first couple of times, I was in shock. I'm used to performing. When the music comes on, I'm in my element. But performing in prison was just weird, because a year before that, I was sitting where [the prisoners] were sitting.
Every prison that I've been back to I know some of the guys. It's not like I can really interact with them. They're way off, distant, because of the virus, but they're like, "Hey, man, we love you. Keep your head up. We know we can make it if you can make it."
Do you think there will be special significance to the Good Friday Hope Event?
I think it's going to make an impact in a whole lot of ways because of the day and because of the gravity of the whole situation. Those types of days in prison, to the Christian community, are major. We love Easter. We love Christmas. Our fellowship is real close back there [in prison]. A lot of people don't know that, but in some senses, it's closer than the fellowship I've experienced out here on the street. We were in the trenches together, going through that struggle. I'm just glad that I get to celebrate Easter with my brothers.
What are your hopes for the Good Friday Hope Event?
I hope people are inspired to change—to give their lives to God, because there are too many examples that God will do what He says He's going to do. I’m an example. All the speakers and performers are examples. We are the examples of what God can do. I'm hoping that even the young guys, the hard cases—and there's a lot of them in prison, trust me—I want them to see that there's something behind that Jesus stuff.
What message do you want the attendees to come away with?
I want them to know there is hope, because in situations like that, if you've been down a long time, sometimes you forget there's life after prison. If you've done a significant amount of prison time, and you get within a year or two of being released, it starts getting kind of scary. A lot of people don't know that.
You start asking yourself, "Man, can I actually do this? Can I put into practice everything that I've learned?" You really don't know, because we hear so many horror stories about people coming out here and failing from prison. I want to break that mindset, that little tiny voice of doubt, and tell them that the answer is "yeah." With God, you definitely can make it. Like for real.
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