Leavenworth, Kan. — For 31-year-old Jermaine Wilson of Leavenworth, Kansas, going back to his childhood is a bad trip.
"I used to sell a lot of drugs out here, right there in apartment 4," he said.
He started using at age 11 and was in juvenile detention by 15. By 21, he was in the maximum-security wing at Lansing Correctional, a state prison in Kansas.
It was there that the convicted drug-dealer came to the most important realization of his life.
"If I don't change, it's either going to be two things that are going to happen: I'm either going to spend the rest of my life in prison or dead in a casket," Jermaine said.
But he never could have imagined the third option. Jermaine is now mayor of Leavenworth.
It's a transformation he credits to God, education and volunteer work. After prison, he became a community activist and got his felony record expunged, paving the way for a political run.
"There's this quote that I always go by: 'You'll never know what you are until you've encountered what you are not,'" he said. "I experienced being someone that I wasn't created to be. And when I tried the opposite, I succeeded."
Today, Jermaine couldn't be more opposite. The school district that once had him expelled now welcomes him back with open arms. He also works for a non-profit that helps ex-cons find and keep good jobs.
Of course, he has his duties as the mayor. It's all made possible, he said, by the gift of incarceration.
"That's why I'm here, because if that wouldn't have happened, I would have never had the time to think. I would have never had an opportunity to build a relationship with God," Jermaine said. "I don't suggest prison. But one thing I tell you, we all go through a time in our life when we hit rock bottom. When you're at rock bottom there's only one other place to go, and that's up."