Paul’s Journey-Part II: A Major Turning Point at the Diboll Correctional Center

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Paul McAfee and his wife Sharon take a stroll at their home in Tyler, Texas.

Just a year and half ago, Paul was locked up inside the Diboll Correctional Center.

“I’ve been to prison ten trips, ten trips to TDC[J], different trips. I’ve got a bunch of felony convictions—all drugs.”

Paul sat down with us to share his story of struggle and triumph after being incarcerated for more than 25 years of his life.

“Being on drugs—it’s a miserable life. It’s a miserable life. And I just thank God that I’m out of that cycle.”

If you missed the first part of Paul’s story, click on the link at the bottom of this article.

The truth is, after reoffending ten times, Paul says he had little hope he would ever change.

“If you was to see my rap sheet, you would say, God. People can’t believe it right now that I’m still out.”

Life changed for Paul after being transferred to MTC’s Diboll facility. Paul recalls his first day at Diboll.

“Welcome to Diboll. You go down the sidewalk to the chow hall, you get a culture shock because everything is real clean. Everything is laid out. The rec yard is immaculate; no trash nowhere, so I’m like something ain’t right about this situation.”

He says he had never experienced such a well-kept prison. And he remembers one of the first things Warden David Driskell told him.

“He said I’m very accessible. I walk up and down this sidewalk daily. And you don’t hear that from a warden that much. And I really observed him. And then I started meeting the other officers. They speak to you. Good morning, good morning, good morning Paul, good morning Mr. McAfee. And that carried a lot of weight.”

And it gave him the confidence and desire to begin making real changes in his life. Paul says offenders have to have a desire to turn their lives around.

“If you allow yourself to change, allow people to help you, accept the help that’s available, and find your higher power.”

For the two years, Paul immersed himself in programs. Everything from a speaker’s club called Toastmasters to faith-based programs to financial preparedness.

“If you take advantage of every class there. And I took anger management, and I knew I had anger problems. I implement it daily. If you don’t want to change for yourself, think about the people that’s behind you. When you go to prison, you affect the whole family, whether it’s your kids, mom, distant relatives, or somebody in the neighborhood, the little kids that look up to you.”

Paul and his wife Sharon are happily married.

“I’m proud of him,” Sharon says with great joy. “I’m really proud of him. He’s come a long way.”

They have 17 grandchildren. And Paul says his family brings him the greatest joy in life.

“In my helping them, it helps me to stay sober, clean, and free from incarceration. Because it gives me something to live for. I can see myself in them.”

Sharon adds, “Diboll taught my husband how to be a man, how to provide, how to respect, you know, how to trust.”

MTC’s Issa Arnita poses this question to Paul, “How do you feel knowing that your life is changed because of what you experienced there [Diboll]?”

“You know, I feel tremendous. And I give God the grace because if I can do it, I’m going to be able to help somebody else. Whoever sees this, sees me, they’re going to say, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can do it.’”

In most cases, ex-offenders want nothing to do with the prisons where they served time—but for Paul, it’s just the opposite.

“I had always called back to the prison to tell them thank you; call to different locations in the prison to say thank you, I really appreciate it. Because I’m really grateful for the opportunity. From the chaplain, from the warden, from the volunteers, from all the staff. It really, it was like a culture shock to me.”

Paul spoke so highly of his time at Diboll, we arranged for him to visit for the first time since he was released in December 2015.

It didn’t take long for Paul to run into familiar staff and offenders.

Paul shakes the hand of one staff member. “Didn’t I tell you I’d be back? Not on the other side. Not on the other side.”

He runs into an old friend, “Well looky here. What’s up brother? How are you doing? Good to see you. Nice to see you.”

It was time to meet up with the warden.

“I never thought I’d come through this door,” Paul says as he enters Diboll’s administration building.

“Hey, how are you doing?” Paul says as he embraces Warden Driskell. “Alright. Everything’s good. Nice to see you. This is my wife, Sharon.”

Nice to meet you,” says the warden with a big smile on his face. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Paul says the visit was like a family reunion. He runs into another staff member he was close with.

“Hey, Miss Ross, how are you doing?” says Paul. “Nice to see.”

A staff member shakes his hand and with a big smile responds, “I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you,” says Paul. “That’s my wife Sharon.”

Paul tells the warden, “Coming from where I come from and being through what I’ve been through, there’s hope for anybody. If I can make it—there’s hope for anybody.”

The two enter the housing unit where Paul spent nearly two years of his life.

“So this was you’re old home,” asks Warden Driskell.

“Yea. This was my old home, my old cell.”

The warden was touched to see Paul again and especially to know he was making the right choices on the other side.

“It’s good to hear the success stories from him. It’s kind of the fruits of our labor, what we do. That’s why we do what we do: to help them be successful, put tools in their toolbox, so when they get out of prison, they’re able to be successful. He’s obviously an example of that, of what MTC represents. And he took advantage of the programs while he was here, and it’s certainly paying off for him.”

Sharon was overjoyed as she toured the facility and reflected on how far Paul has come, “I’m just glad that it made you a better person. And I thank God that he sent you here.”

“We have an opportunity to affect people every day that we come to work,” says Warden Driskell. To see what we do is actually making a difference in society—it’s worth every day!”

After returning to his home, we asked Paul how he felt about the staff at Diboll.

“Do you think the people there really care about the inmates and really care about them wanting to change their lives, Paul?”

“I know they care about the inmates and want to see them change their lives. People try to motivate even the worst inmates to do better.”

And while it’s not easy to make lasting changes, Paul says he’s living proof that it’s well worth the effort.

“You talked about some inmates don’t want to change, but you wanted to change. And isn’t one life worth it?”

“Yeah, I feel like it’s worth a million. I wouldn’t trade it in for nothing in the world. You know, I’m sober. I’m clean. I’ve got a nice family, nice place to live. If I want to get on some horses and take off, I take off. If I want to go to a restaurant and eat, that’s what I do. Ain’t nothing better than that.”

If you missed Part I of Paul’s Journey, click here to see how Paul ended up in prison so many times and what significant changes he’s had to make in his life to succeed.