By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Felon. Bigot. Addict.
'That was me,' said Robby Shadburn of Temple.
But those words are no longer accurate.
'He's a new man,' said coworker Mike Huisinger of Temple. 'Doing good is the only thing Robby's about now.'
God is the only explanation, said Johner Martin of the J.A.I.L. Ministries.
'That's right,' Shadburn said. 'It's as true as the chair I'm sitting in.' The past
Pain is his earliest memory.
'I saw a lot of things a young person should never have to see,' Shadburn said. 'Bad things. My parents divorced when I was 6, and early on, I had to start making choices.'
Drugs and gang activity were common in his childhood town of Decater.
'It was there,' Shadburn said. 'So by the time I was 15, I was one of them. I made the choice to go down that road.'
It led to drugs and alcohol.
'I made more bad decisions,' Shadburn said. 'I was doing drugs, selling drugs and making it to sell.'
And there was the illegal activity of his gang.
'So there were cops,' Shadburn said. 'And there was trouble, more of it than I can remember.'
He steadily broke the law for eight or nine years, serving various sentences in county jails until he earned a four-year stay at the Lamesa state prison in 1996.
'And that was that,' Shadburn said. 'I was a confirmed gang offender, so I spent all of that time in segregation.'
By the time he got out, it was the year 2000, and he was a felon.
'I wasn't sure what I was going to do,' Shadburn said. 'But I knew I wasn't going to let other people's negative perceptions of me become my reality.'
So he held his head high and he snagged a job at Garlyn Shelton Nissan in Temple.
'Robby had a fantastic, outgoing personality,' said Huisinger, the man who interviewed him. 'Nobody had to teach him how to sell cars. He sold cars by selling himself. People loved him.' But for Shadburn, success was no blessing.
'I was doing good, and earning a lot of money. So what did I do? For the four years I was free, I bought booze, I bought drugs and I used,' Shadburn said.
His coworkers noticed.
'I knew it,' Huisinger said. 'Despite all the charm he brought to work, he had a roughness about him and did illegal things. He wasn't someone I cared to associate with outside of work.'
Then Shadburn met and married his wife, Lana.
'We had two babies,' Shadburn said. 'And then I taught my wife how to use drugs and live the life I was leading.' And that introduced the couple to Bell County's Child Protective Services.
'They took the babies,' Shadburn said.
And by 2005, he was in the Bell County Jail, waiting to serve a year's sentence at Bartlett State Jail.
'Things had spiraled so far out of control,' Shadburn said.
He was depressed and alone, sitting in a jail cell.
'My babies were in the world without me, and my wife was on the outside using drugs and having relationships with the men who gave her the drugs. Living the life I had taught her.'
And then Shadburn heard someone reading a Bible and talking about it.
'It was a volunteer for J.A.I.L. Ministries,' Shadburn said. 'I can't remember his name, but I remember his face. He was passing out Bibles and what he had to say put me on a search for God.'
He read the Bible and the Koran. He fasted and prayed.
'I was searching,' he said.
And then he came across a passage in the Old Testament.
'It was the story of Moses and the burning push,' Shadburn said. 'It was my first epiphany, the first scripture God had caused to stick out to me.'
The story showed him God had teachings and rules that He meant to be followed.
'And that made sense to me,' Shadburn said. 'When you're in a gang, there are rules to live by. I understood that. So I wanted to be in God's gang. I wanted to know His rules and live by them.'
That revelation brought a vision.
'It hit me that things couldn't get worse, so I cried to the Lord for help, and from the wall there came a bright light,' Shadburn said. 'It was Jesus holding a cross. I heard one word: Forgiven. And that was it. My life changed at that moment.'
He swears that when God's hand touched him, He touched his wife as well.
'We were both healed and changed together,' Shadburn said.
His wife says that's true, and that it happened almost overnight.
The J.A.I.L. Ministry was there to escort Shadburn along his new path of faith.
'They fed me spiritually,' he said. 'They gave me the counseling and readings I needed to grow.'
And then Shadburn met Johner Martin.
'I thought it was a cruel joke from God,' Shadburn said. 'The first guy He sends to help me is a black man, and in my gang, I was a hater, a man of prejudice.'
He didn't want to listen to Martin.
'It took effort,' Shadburn said. 'But the hate was my way, and this was God telling me to start doing things His way.'
And as Shadburn listened to Marin, he discovered they have a great deal in common.
'His words were what I needed to hear,' Shadburn said. 'He was encouraging, he was real and had experience I could relate to. Now I wouldn't trade him for anything. We're brothers.'
That's a sentiment the Rev. Martin shares.
'Robby's a great man of strength,' Martin said. 'His story's powerful, and it's a testament to what God can do. I'm grateful to know him.'
The true test of Shadburn's change in character took place about a month after his meeting with Martin. It involved a letter.
'All I had to do was put a stamp on it,' Shadburn said. 'It was an execution order for the man who had been having an affair with my wife. I wanted to send to someone in my gang.'
But then he said God spoke to him.
'If you love me, keep My commands,' Shadburn said. 'It was like a bolt of lightning, and I and he tore up the letter.'
He said that was the let his anger fuel an act of evil.
So he sought help from Martin and others from J.A.I.L. Ministry to gain the courage to leave his gang. And in a few months, his connections with that group were severed.
Today Shadburn's the sales manager of the pre-owned vehicle department at Garlyn Shelton Nissan.
He attends Christ the King Catholic Church in Belton and enjoys reading biographies of the patron saints.
'I'm interested in planting a church and starting a transitional home for ex-cons who need help getting back on their feet,' Shadburn said.
He's also writing his memoirs, hoping someone can learn from his mistakes.
He's been sober since 2006, the year he got out of the Bartlett jail.
'The roughness was gone the day he came back to work,' Huisinger said. 'He says its because of the religious experience he had, and I wouldn't believe it if it wasn't for the profound difference I see in him today.'
Shadburn was no longer using foul language, Huisinger said, and his hatred for others seemed to be gone.
'I started going to his house,' Huisinger said. 'It was a happy environment, with a happy wife and two happy, beautiful little girls... And he's become the best salesman I've ever seen in my life.'
Seconded by supervisors Ed Will and Garlyn Shelton, Huisinger said Shadburn is an assent to the company.
'He's highly dependable and loyal,' Huisinger said. 'He doesn't call in sick, and sometimes he'll see a guy on the street who's down on his luck, and Robby will bring him in and buy him a bottled water.'
Shadburn likes to visit with the strangers until he knows what kind of help they need.
'They'll talk a bit about God,' Huisinger said. 'And then Robby ends up taking the guy to a shelter for food and rest.'
Shadburn's grateful for his second chance at life.
'I thank God for it everyday,' he said. 'And I thank Him for the blessing that is J.A.I.L. Ministry. I'm glad that ministry is around. There is a need for it. It's got to be there those of us who are aren't looking for God, those of us who aren't looking but need to find Him.'