This is a picture of Bobo at his 70th birthday party.
I took him to Wegmans a few days after he had gotten out of prison. He had to sit down after he walked through the chip aisle. “There are so many different kinds it makes my head spin,” he said. He was stuck in the men’s room trying to figure out how to turn on a faucet that had no handles until he saw another man stick his hands underneath and the water magically appeared.
It took forever to find him an apartment. No one wanted an ex-con in their building. Finding a job was even harder. He interviews fine, my friend said, he just looks bad on paper. I guess thirty years behind bars for felony murder is a tough hurdle for most employers.
But the Bobo who went into prison was different than the man who came out. The man who came out had changed the lives of more than ten thousand kids. This was not the scared straight program, this was Bobo’s program.
It started because he decided to attend Bible study. The scripture worked on him like rain on a rock. He began to feel a call. He didn’t want others like him to end up in prison.
He got sponsors like Xerox and other corporations to pay to bring kids from inner-city Rochester to Attica. Bobo said, he would sit them down and start telling his story, how he robbed banks and how he got caught and how someone lost their life because of his robbery. I didn’t shoot him but my actions caused him to get shot. He told the kids.
The corporate sponsor would provide a bag lunch for the kids. Bobo would grab a sandwich out of one kid’s hand and start eating it. He would give his prison meal to the kid. It was effective.
I had Bobo talk to our Summer of Opportunities high school youth. The boys were riveted. Bobo talked about how difficult prison is and how there is no freedom. He did not volunteer any details about his bank robberies but he did tell the youth that they could ask him any question they wanted. They were more curious about prison.
Bobo was one of the most authentic people I ever met. He was open about his life, he was incredibly sorry about the pain he caused others, and even though he was granted his freedom, his life didn’t get easier. His only daughter died from a drug overdose. Bobo’s kidneys failed and although he got a transplant, the kidneys didn’t last long.
I went to see him in the hospital when he was dying. He was so gracious and in awe that I had taken the time to visit. He had no real inclination of how he had transformed me.
It doesn’t matter who we are or what we may have done in our lives, once we say yes to God, God will open up a way to minister to others.