Eddie McLoughlin grew up in Long Island, New York, when times were simpler. He and his brothers spent summers along the Atlantic Ocean—swimming, fishing, and boating. They played touch football in the street, rode their bicycles, and knew to return home before the streetlights came on.
As young children, they had a financially stable home in what Eddie describes as “a typical Irish Catholic family.” They seemed picture-perfect but had deep flaws.
THE LURE OF THE STREETS
By the time his family moved to Arizona, 12-year-old Eddie had experienced physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. His father had become an alcoholic, and Eddie even ran away from home several times. Eddie hoped he would find purpose and meaning as he embraced the drug culture of the '70s, but that lifestyle led to his downward spiral.
In Arizona and California, law enforcement officers arrested Eddie for minor violations. Court-ordered programs and mental health professionals helped. But still, Eddie yielded to the lure of the streets. His poor choices culminated in his arrest in Scottsdale, Arizona. The charges: first-degree murder and armed robbery. Eddie was only 20 years old.
When he needed legal representation, Eddie had the best: a famous trial attorney, John Flynn, who had argued the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona. Despite Eddie’s lawyer’s prowess, a jury found Eddie guilty, and two years after his arrest, the presiding judge sentenced Eddie to die in the gas chamber.
Eddie had deep-seated problems, and his lawyer noticed. Flynn reminded Eddie that he had taken a man’s life. He urged Eddie to search his heart and find out why that happened, but Eddie had been hardened by the streets and his home life.
What Eddie needed was a life transformation—one that could only be found by nurturing a relationship with Christ.
Though Eddie knew about God and could speak intelligently about some of the Catholic Church’s liturgical practices, he says, “I wasn’t saved.” He admits: “I was a handful in the jails.”
John Nelson, a Vietnam veteran and evangelist who frequented the jail where Eddie was held, also wanted to see Eddie change. Twice a week, Nelson walked the cellblock with his Bible in hand. When he stopped at Eddie’s cell, Eddie often refused to acknowledge his presence. Yet Nelson never gave up on him.
Eddie eventually listened. Kneeling in his jail cell, Eddie sobbed and surrendered his life to Jesus. Even the jail personnel were amazed.
'I was able to go to my family and tell my family that I was guilty of what I did.'
Though Eddie was growing in his relationship with Christ, he still grappled with insecurities and shame. He craved encouragement.
That encouragement came from Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship®. Chuck visited the Arizona State Prison complex where Eddie was housed and spoke during an outdoor evangelistic event. That day, the warden allowed Chuck to visit with Eddie in his cell on death row. The two men talked and prayed. Afterward, they corresponded through the mail for several years.
Chuck helped Eddie to recognize the role of justice in incarceration. Through his interaction with Chuck, Eddie learned to accept greater responsibility for his actions and said, “Probably for the first time in my life, I was able to look at my crime from the perspective of the victim. It was really weighing heavy on my heart.”
Chuck had a profound influence on Eddie. So when Eddie’s convictions were overturned he said, “I was able to go to my family and tell my family that I was guilty of what I did, and that I needed to accept responsibility, and that I was going to go into the courts and plead guilty to my crimes.”
Eddie’s mother wanted him to have a new trial and come home, reminding him that he had already been away for five years. But on March 17, 1983, true to his word, Eddie went into the judge’s chambers, pled guilty, and listened to the judge sentence him to 25 years to life.
He returned to the Arizona State Prison system, but this time Eddie was the influencer. He helped other men to know Christ. He would lead the prison church there for 25 years before his release.
THE GRACIOUSNESS OF GOD
After serving his time, Eddie had nowhere to go. He went to his parents' home for a week but couldn’t justify staying longer. He knew the situation was unhealthy for him.
Eddie moved into a discipleship training center. Without technical skills and an education, he stood curbside and waited to be picked up for day labor—a task he considered humbling and difficult. At one point, he held three minimum-wage jobs simultaneously.
Eddie met Paula when he was 50 years old and working for a Christian ministry. Her father taught a Bible study in the ministry Eddie worked for. Eddie and Paula began dating, and five months later, they married. They’ve been together for 17 years and have two children. Eddie says, “God’s blessed me with a family. … I thought maybe those dreams had been forfeited, but yet, God’s been very, very merciful to me, very gracious to me.”
Today, God’s grace is still evident in Eddie’s life through his ministry efforts. Eddie was first able to return to prison with Prison Fellowship as a Hope Event® volunteer. Hope Events introduce prisoners to the hope of Jesus Christ through yard events featuring inspirational speakers, musicians, and other attractions.
In December 2018, Eddie served as one of the featured speakers. He shared his testimony, presented the Gospel, and baptized some of the participants.
“When the men started singing a capella, and I’m in there worshiping God, my heart just broke. I just started weeping,” Eddie says. “There’s nothing that compares to prison church.”
Eddie longed to receive more training in the Bible and theology to share with the people he serves. So, he enrolled in Gateway Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. However, Eddie’s zeal for ministry was greater than his financial resources for seminary.
Though Eddie hasn’t completed his seminary coursework, he isn’t waiting for a degree to share the love of Christ. He leads the men’s ministry at his church, teaches Sunday school, and takes his children with him when he serves on local mission fields. He’s proud of the godly legacy he’s leaving his family.
Before COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in 2020, Eddie was going into 13 prisons and ministering to about 300 men a week. Eddie was locked up in one of those prisons 19 years ago.
'There’s nothing that compares to prison church.'
THE SECOND CHANCES
Eddie is passionate about the work and people God has entrusted to him—especially the work he does in his current role as Prison Fellowship Academy® manager for the North Dakota State Prison in Bismarck.
The Academy employs targeted curriculum, a team of compassionate coaches, and restorative community. Together, the program components help replace participants’ criminal thinking and behaviors with renewed purpose and biblically based life principles.
Looking back, Eddie is delighted in and humbled by what God is doing in his life. Eddie’s incarceration, Chuck’s influence, an evangelist’s witness, and the transformative power of God’s Word all worked together in a beautiful example of how God gives second chances in life, love, and liberty. Now, through the Academy, Eddie helps others recognize their own blessings and the freedom available to them as they nurture a relationship with Christ.
Eddie says, “I would’ve never imagined, at my age, that this would be possible. Usually at my age they’re looking to replace people with younger guys. Yet God’s provided an amazing opportunity for me to go back into prison and minister to the hearts of men and women.”
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28 (NIV)