More than two years ago, the guy in this photo asked me to write his memoir. I couldn’t say no. My husband and I had prayed for him for over a decade. Besides, he had an amazing story to tell. This guy, our friend Curtis Roberts, had just been released from San Quentin State Prison. As a matter of fact, this photo was taken on his first day of freedom.
Curtis had spent 29 years behind bars for stealing a total of $116. Of course, I would write his story. I sensed God calling me to do this.
I wrote his book during the months of lockdown, months filled with intense long-distance interviews, poring over court records, reading boxes of letters and journals, and coaxing deeply personal and raw stories from him. The work was grueling and emotional for both of us.
We quickly landed an agent, who had a top publisher interested but couldn’t close the deal. Then another agent. More publishers. Fast forward to today. We have exhausted all traditional publishing options. I am now embarking on self-publishing his book, My Lifetime Behind Bars: Redemption and Freedom for Prisoner E-25212. I truly believe it is still God’s plan for Curtis’ story to get out.
Curtis does not have the means to pay for this and I have already invested 2-1/2 years of my life, pro bono. I started a GoFundMe account this week, hoping that others–maybe you?–would want to contribute to make Curtis’ dreams come true. Even if you can’t donate, please click on this link and share it with others. https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-curtis-publish-his-book
Prisoners have not always been on my heart but they’re the people for whom my husband’s heart breaks. I’m more interested in college students and internationals. I went into San Quentin occasionally to understand my husband’s heart better. I’m ashamed to admit I thought all prisoners probably did something to deserve the punishment they were receiving; instead, I found that wasn’t the case for many of the humble inmates I met.
Curtis has never had an easy road. His life from childhood on is dramatic, painful, yet filled with hope and redemption. He wants his story to get out there into the world, to encourage other people and bring glory to God. Unless it’s published, that can’t happen.
Curtis’ case was so extreme, he became a “poster boy” for the eventual reform of California’s Three Strikes Law. He was interviewed by people like Ted Koppel, Bryant Gumbel, and the PBS News Hour while he was locked away in San Quentin.
His story was shared on an Ear Hustle podcast called “Left Behind,” which gained 750,000 listeners almost overnight. On that podcast, he said:
“I think the perception is that we’re these monsters in here. I am not a monster. I’m a stupid idiot that did drugs and stole money. I’m still human, though.”
Curtis was finally released from prison, but God had set him free on the inside long before that. His journey is one of redemption, faith, and unexpected grace amidst horrific events–rape, solitary confinement, and unending disappointment. Those difficulties are not the end of his story.
As Curtis likes to remind us, “But God …”