“God loves me just as much as He loves Billy Graham,” Bobby McGee likes to say. That’s a bold claim for a man who also admits that he’s a “seven-time loser” who first went down at the age of 16. But Bobby’s also been out for over a decade now. Something is working. Bobby believes that “something” is God’s love transforming his life.
Bobby was raised in rural North Carolina, and he has the hill-country twang to match. He describes his family as “dysfunctional.” His father was a veteran of the Korean War who used alcohol to cope with the pain leftover from his wartime experiences.
“He turned violent”
“We’d drive around in the car and sing Gospel music,” remembers Bobby, “but when he was drunk enough, he turned violent against my mom, my sisters, and me.”
Bobby went to school with bruises, but none of his teachers ever asked what was going on at home.
By the time Bobby turned nine, his dad was out of the picture completely. His mother worked to support the family, and his older siblings looked after him. When they started experimenting with drugs, Bobby did, too.
“It made me feel wanted and needed,” he says. It was the start of a lifetime of addiction.
At 16, Bobby was convicted of a crime and sentenced to seven years. But it didn’t make him stop and think. Instead, he wore his criminal past like a badge of honor, and he went deeper and deeper into drug use.
Time for a Change
In his 30s, Bobby realized that he had eaten more prison food than street food. He decided it was time for a change. When he was released in 1989, he was determined to stay out for good. He thought good intentions and will power would be enough. But within nine months, he was rearrested for armed robbery.
Bobby made bail. Determined not to go back to prison, he decided to save up a little money and make a run for it. Everything was going according to plan, until one day while driving he saw a sign on the side of the road. It was close to Christmas, and the sign advertised a nativity scene built by the Good News Baptist Church.
For no motive he could ever clearly describe, Bobby pulled his car up to the church and went to look at the nativity scene. Two men and a woman were standing there, as if they were waiting for him.
The church members started talking to Bobby about their Christian faith. Finally, the pastor asked him, “Are you saved?”
“I felt an anger rising up in my chest,” Bobby recalls. He didn’t want anyone telling him how to live his life. He laughed in the pastor’s face and drove away.
“Just maybe He Could Use Me”
When he was 20 minutes down the road, however, he felt an inexplicable urge to turn around and go back.
“Nothing has ever made my flesh tremble like God calling me back to that church,” says Bobby.
The church members were still waiting for him. They told him how he could turn his life over to God. Bobby couldn’t understand what a perfect God would want with a tattooed, career criminal like him, but the pastor explained how the Bible is full of characters, like King David and Paul the Apostle, who had major sins in their lives.
“I figured if God could use those men,” says Bobby, “just maybe He could use me.”
Bobby turned his life over to God that day, and he knew that he couldn’t run away from the consequences of his most recent crime. He went back to prison, but this time, he had a new friend and ally: Jesus Christ.
A God after Sinners
This time, Bobby’s prison sentence had a purpose and a hope. He used his time to get to know God better and prepare for a productive life on the outside. While he was incarcerated, he also read Inside Journal.
“I read Inside Journal for hope and answers,” he says. “There was nothing like Inside Journal. I felt that Prison Fellowship interviewed people who had truly changed…I used to look at their smiles [in photographs], wondering what they had, and realize they had a peace they couldn’t fake.”
In 1995, after spending nearly two decades of his life behind bars, Bobby finished his seventh sentence. As he worked on building a law-abiding life as a free man, he felt God calling him to use his talent for music to go back into prisons—this time to bring the Good News that Christ could change the lives of other inmates just like him.
Along with his wife Nancy, Bobby founded ChristSong Ministry to bring songs and words of hope to men and women behind bars all over the country. Last year, they quit their jobs so they could do it full-time. With them, they bring cardboard boxes full of Inside Journal to pass out to inmates.
So how does it feel to be on the cover of the prison newspaper he used to read? Bobby gives all the credit back to God: “I just thank God that He’s a God who’s after sinners, and He found me.”