The Journey to Redemption

The outline in my hand almost caused me to sneer. The well-dressed, soft-spoken gentleman that handed it to me wanted someone to “ghostwrite” his life story. Mark Twain’s theory “the best person to write your story is you” has always been my motto. As President of our local Writer’s League, I gathered my politeness and smiled. “I’ll look at this later,” I told him, fully intending to stuff it in a corner somewhere and check it out in the next couple of weeks. “I was a Drug Kingpin, and had an ad on Craigslist for a writer about two years ago. About 1,400 people responded to the ad, but I couldn’t find the right person. I want someone local.” He looked me in the eye. He wasn’t joking, and I almost swallowed my tongue. “Former Drug Kingpin wants author to write his life story.” I vividly remembered that ad. I ran across it while trying to find a writing job that year. Unfortunately, my husband wasn’t sympathetic about me contacting a Drug Kingpin, “former” or not, and flat told me no. Here we were 2 years later and the guy was sitting beside me conversing with me like a normal person. No tattoos, no long scraggly hair or anything. A sense of destiny flooded my thoughts, so I folded the outline and took it home to read. Two sentences into the outline the tingling of the Holy Spirit gripped me. This man’s name was extremely familiar. Bobby Wilhelm had been a big time drug dealer, and a wild, out of control kid. I worked at the Coeur d’Alene Police Department for over 31 years, and knew not only his criminal record, but many of the police officers that chased him. I grew up in the same town, had many of the same teachers, and went to school with some of his cousins. God literally dumped me in the middle of a Divine Appointment.
The next morning I dropped him an email and told him that I wanted the job. The adventure of it lured me like a trout to a worm so we made an appointment and I dragged my husband with me to a smoky bar for the meeting. I wasn’t just about to miss out on a God moment. But would the man accept me as his writer? After all, he waded through a thousand people before me. I didn’t care about any money; all I cared about was a God-given destiny. There was a purpose, I was sure of it. When we arrived at “Bob’s 21 Club” in Post Falls, my brain was reeling. The bar at one time had the worst reputation in town. It had been a violent drug bar. But as we entered, aside from the smoke, there was nothing but a “Cheers” type atmosphere in it. My husband shook his head and our eyes met…he was shocked. No big burly bikers, no cocaine covered bar, no naked women. Bobby ordered a Pepsi for us and proceeded to convey part of his life story. My “test” for writing was an incident in his young life when he managed to con a police officer into chasing him through a local junkyard…a junkyard that happened to contain two large dogs, Cesar and Brutus. We howled and snorted through the story as he recounted it. How am I going to capture this guy’s sense of humor? I wondered. My husband was charmed by this former bad guy, and gave his blessing for me to continue with the project.
Bobby accepted my feeble attempt at writing the test story and we were off and running. After a few months of tussle over the actual writing, we settled on the idea that he should write it in his own words, and I could be his “adult supervision.” I set up interviews with the drug agents from his past (yes, the easy ones first). We met at Starbucks, drank our lattes, and laughed over the antics and challenges the guy threw in the path of the police. It was obvious that though they did not like him, they secretly admired his cunning. Interviews of the people from the criminal side were both challenging and heart rending. One day, my new friend asked me to interview a former “enforcer” for drug collections. Bobby advised me that he was exceedingly dangerous and I should watch what I say to him. He had been kicked out of a violent biker gang for being “too violent.” Right up my alley. I love “grizzly bears,” the people that God wants to love but they’re too crusty for normal people to handle. That’s right, I’m not “normal.”
The day came for the interview and I drove up the windy mountain road to the man’s home. I picked my way down the rocky trail to the porch where a tall lanky stranger stood waiting for me…on crutches. He was injured, and the threat level vanished. That was God. The man revealed a strong admiration for Bobby during the conversation; particularly that he was maintaining a clean and responsible lifestyle outside the walls of prison. When we finished, I gently asked if I could pray for him. Tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes as he nodded. I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed quietly for a couple of minutes, then took my leave. Like many of the people from Bobby’s past, he had a broken spirit. Bobby came to grips with his evil deeds while serving time in the Idaho State Prison. Grim reminders of those who were addicted or died because of his drugs haunted his dreams at night. One day, he remembered his grandmother’s admonition to ask Jesus for help. In one quiet moment of prayer, this once high level drug kingpin gave his heart to the Lord, promised never to return to a life of crime, and to be a good father to his son. “A deal’s a deal,” as he puts it. With the help of a friend, the parole board recanted their 2 previous “no” votes and let him out. His prayer was answered literally. Shortly thereafter, Jesus also granted him a job that has led to his current manager’s position. Over the months he has regaled me with stories of Colombian and Cuban cartels, “made” Mafioso, infamous criminals, illegal gambling, sex and violence. His language is often rough, but beneath it is a good man whose new faith is growing. Our conversations are always open and honest, and his friendship something that I value immensely. His life has God’s purpose and redemption written all over it. His drug trafficking career caused the loss of his family, his material possessions, and ultimately his heart. Sixteen years in Federal and State Prisons took a huge toll. Nearly 7 years of freedom later, God continues to win the battle for him. The journey to metamorphosis in his life is chronicled in the book Bobby Convict, School of Hard Knocks to be released in November. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Psalm 34:18 NLT