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From the penitentiary to the pulpit

Yusef Franklin's parents don't give very detailed information about their son's formative years now that he is a grown man with a family. I guess it's sort of like enjoying the thrill of victory while trying to minimize the struggle it took to win.

Franklin was an incorrigible teen, which led to his being imprisoned, which led to his rebirth as an ordained minister. In other words, he was both a parent's nightmare and a parent's dream.

"I always prayed for him," said Franklin's mother, Nuoka Leach of Childersburg, Ala. "I would get mad when someone said Yusef wouldn't amount to nothing. I said you don't know that boy. I know him and I know his heart.

"Now he is a whole different person, living up to the potential like I knew he could," she said.

Franklin has chronicled his journey from street-loving teenager to God-loving adult in his new book, From the Penitentiary to the Pulpit.

It is a journey that began in Marion, Ohio, where he was born and where his parents divorced. His mother then moved to her hometown and his father, Norman Franklin, to his in Lexington.

Yusef Franklin said he took the separation as well as a young child could. It was when his lack of interest in school caused him to fail eighth grade that he began to rebel.

At 15, Franklin shot himself while playing with a gun. At a party that same year he was stabbed four times. At 16, without a driver's license, he took his mother's car out for a spin, slightly injured a pedestrian and then fled the scene. When he was caught, he spent six weeks in juvenile detention.

At 17, in 1992, he moved to Lexington to be with his father.

Yusef enrolled at Henry Clay High School, going two or three times a week and then leaving at lunch. School, he said, conflicted with what he wanted to do — working and using illegal drugs.

"At that point, nothing could have stopped me," he said. "I loved what I was doing so much I didn't care what anybody said."

The job he had kept money in his pocket and drugs in his system.

Finally in March 1993, he walked away from Henry Clay for good. He visited Alabama for spring break and, high on drugs, set a fire in a building near a favorite hangout.

A couple of weeks after returning to Lexington, police arrived at his door armed with an arrest warrant charging him with arson. It was a Class B felony.

He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years.

"I tell people prison saved me," Franklin said. "There were individuals who said you won't live to see 20," he recalled. "But I am 34. That prophesy didn't come true."

Looking back, he said there were so many warnings for him to change the path he had chosen. Some of those came in the form of dreams his family members had.

His mother dreamed he was playing a piano with his hands on fire. Franklin now believes that meant he would be on fire for Jesus.

During his seventh year in prison, his sister dreamed he would be killed in prison. She told him she saw him in a glass coffin filled with water and blood.

Franklin asked an inmate he knew was a Christian what that dream meant. The inmate said his sister's interpretation was incorrect, that Franklin would be getting out of prison soon.

Sure enough, a couple of months later, in June 2001 as he was entering his eighth year in prison, he was paroled.

Yusef came back to Lexington to live with his father, who encouraged him to enroll in the Ex-Offender Construction Training Project at the Lexington Fayette County Urban League, where he serves as vice president; and his father insisted Yusef attend church services.

"It wasn't an easy seven years," Norman Franklin said, "knowing what I know about the prison system. And unless there is a strong family foundation to support them when they come out, a majority will go back."

By then, mandatory church attendance was not a hard sell for Yusef Franklin.

He attributes that partly to a visit he had with his mother before he went to prison, while he was still in jail.

"She looked at me with the saddest eyes," Yusef said. "She said, 'When are you going to get tired of this?'

"That question haunted me for seven years, but I couldn't answer it until I got out of prison," he said. "I said, 'Mama, I'm tired of this.'"

While attending church services with his father, Yusef said he realized he had to give his life to Christ. In July 2001, he did just that and his life changed.

He was the only one of 12 ex-offenders to graduate from the construction project, earning a certificate in masonry.

Now married, a father, and an ordained minister serving as associate minister at First Baptist Church in Nicholasville, he understands his sister's dream.

"It was the death of the old self," he said. "It was being buried and resurrected through the cleansing blood of Christ. The water was the baptismal."

Since being laid off as a construction worker, he attends Asbury College with plans to become a social worker.

Franklin wants to talk with young men who are determined to head down the same path he took. He wants to be one of the warning signs that might turn them around.

"My best witness is the life I live now," Yusef Franklin said. "In the book I say some people think you should bend but not break. I don't agree with that. You have to be broken."

You can contact him at mryusef@roadrunner.com to set up a meeting or to get a copy of his book, which can also be purchased at www.publishamerica.com.

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