Chained in the back of a prison van in Florida, the young man had hit rock bottom from his glory days in Kentucky.
He had been born into a family of wealth, power and influence. He got a top education at Lexington’s Sayre School. His brother and he were to someday inherit their parents’ business empire that had been built on selling college textbooks on the University of Kentucky campus.
Those days were gone, and Andrew Wilkinson felt so down, so lost, so lonely in that prison van.
It was then and there, he said, that he finally realized that he couldn’t make it in life on his own. He prayed to God to forgive him and help him.
“He did and has, and that has made all the difference in my life,” said Wilkinson, the younger son of the late Kentucky Gov. Wallace Wilkinson and first lady Martha Wilkinson, who were in office with their teenage sons from 1987 to 1991.
“My father, mother and brother are all gone now, and I’m just a sinner saved by God’s grace who has been blessed with a wonderful wife and daughter. I’m a new person.”
Andrew Wilkinson, 44, has written a book about his troubled life and redemption.
It’s called “The Blessings of My Storms.” He is to launch it April 13 at a public event at the Carnegie Center in downtown Lexington. A writing instructor at the center, Stephanie Mojica, assisted him.
“My life growing up was an incredible experience,” Wilkinson said in a recent telephone interview. He now lives in Siesta Key, Fla., near Sarasota with his wife, Nadine, and their daughter, Melina, who will turn 8 next month.
Andrew was born Oct. 5, 1972, at Lexington’s Good Samaritan Hospital. His parents, Wallace and Martha, hailed from Casey County and were living well off a college bookstore on the UK campus. Andrew was their second son. Glenn had been born about 2 1/2 years earlier.
The spacious family home was in the Greenbrier estate off Winchester Road. From ages 15 to 19, Andrew lived with his family in the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort.
Andrew said the Governor’s Mansion “never was home to me. I really did not appreciate it. Everything always came so easy for me.”
After graduating from Sayre, Andrew Wilkinson had no specific plans. He attended Auburn University for a while, but “Mom and Dad made it clear to me that Glenn and I would run their business.”
The Wilkinson family’s lifestyle abruptly changed on a late afternoon in February 2001, when the former governor summoned his wife and sons for a family meeting at their Lexington home.
He told them, “I’ve got some trouble.” He said bad investments had left him more than $415 million in debt.
“He told us we needed to stick together as a family, that we were going through a storm.
“Some friends abandoned us left and right,” Wilkinson said. “Some stayed close.”
The son recalled the day a driver came to take away his father’s favorite car. “I watched Dad walk out to shake hands and introduce himself. I saw the surprise on his face at the show of Dad’s character.”
He said his father later told Glenn and him that his biggest regret was “getting mom involved” in the financial mess.
At that time in his life, Wilkinson said, he “never needed God for anything. According to my world, my life was full of all the things that make it complete.” Those things included fast cars, drinking and women.
By May 2002, 16 months after the bankruptcy, Wallace and Martha Wilkinson spent most of their time at their home in Florida.
On July 4, 2002, the former governor, best known for the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act and for bringing a state lottery to Kentucky, died of complications from cancer and circulation problems. He was 60.
Creditors later settled with Martha Wilkinson and her two sons. Each of them moved to a different city in Florida.
“Scared and confused, I began to take on the role of a victim more and more,” Wilkinson writes in his book.
In four years, he said, became a full-blown addict. Arrests, court hearings, probation violations became routine in his life. He spent a year and a day in state prison.
During that time, he had that late-night prison van ride and prayed to God for forgiveness.
After prison, Wilkinson met a German woman on a mission trip. They fell in love, got married and are raising their daughter.
“Being a Christian does not mean life is problem-free,” he said. “It means you have the resources to get through all problems.”
On May 7, 2014, Martha Wilkinson died. About six months later, on Nov. 20, 2014, brother Glenn died of an apparent heart attack at age 44. Wilkinson spoke of his love for them at their memorial services.
Fourteen months ago, he started working on his book from his home in Siesta Key. “I had been speaking at prisons and support groups, and people often told me I should write a book about my life. I did.”
In the past two years, he has worked with a group called “God Behind Bars.” He calls himself “an aspiring author and speaker.
“I’m moving forward with confidence and trust in the Lord.”
In his book, Wilkinson writes, “After I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart, I understood a profound truth — in this life there are mighty and dark storms, storms that bring destruction.
“However, in the darkest of clouds, loudest cracks of lightning, and deafening booms of thunder, God has not forsaken us, and blessings come forth, blessings of love, faith, mercy, strength, compassion, relationships, circumstances, understanding, and heavens more.”
Wilkinson dedicated his book to his father, his mother, his brother, and his wife and daughter. “How I wish words could express my love for all of you,” he wrote.
Andrew Wilkinson will launch his new book, “The Blessings of My Storms,” on April 13 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Lexington Carnegie Center, 251 West Second Street.
The event is free and open to the public. The books costs $16.99 and can be purchased on Amazon.com.
Earlier in the week, he is to speak to inmates at the Lexington Detention Center about his faith.