Jonathan Willis


     My Mother was a 16 year old pregnant runaway living with my father who worked construction and sold drugs on the side. I entered this world on August 26th 1982. Twenty-two days after my Mother's 17th birthday. Mom and I stayed with my father until I was two. Then, Mom decided it was time to go because, in her words, "it was no place to raise a child." We bounced around southern California for the next eight years. In the process, Mom remarried and bore my sister and my brother. Our living environment was poor. My now stepfather was an emotionally and physically abusive man. Also, during this time, I received news that my father had died. Being only 10 years old, Mom decided not to share the grizzly details. As I would later find out, my father committed "suicide by cops" after gunning down two of my aunts and my uncle. Having been shot four times, my uncle was the only one to survive. Deciding to accept help from some wonderful church friends, Mother packed up us three kids and moved in with this nice couple. We now lived in a small, beautiful, southern California tourist town. We stayed with our gracious hosts for a few months until we could find work and a place for us to live. So, when this finally happened, I remember feeling for the first time in my life, "so this is what its like to really have a place to go home to."

     We did well in our new community. Small town living was for us. From playing sports in school, to church involvement, my life looked to be all a kid could ask for. All that is... except for my Father. Mother did her best to fill this void. Through it all and to this day, I see her as one of my life's champions. She did the best she could with the raw deal she'd been dealt. Having to work so much to support three kids alone, I can only imagine how exhausted she must've been most nights. But with all that work came the need for a sitter to watch my younger siblings. Enter me. During football season, I remember picking them up after class and bringing them to practice with me. This went on until I was about fifteen years old. Then, one day, as I was looking through a file cabinet for a school project, I found a news paper clipping entitled "3 dead, 1 injured in murder-suicide." This is how I discovered the truth about how my Father met his end. I didn't realize it until right then, with tears falling as I read, that this was the first time I cried in the five years since first learning of his death. This was also when something inside of me changed. For the next nine years of my life, I would search to no avail for the only thing that could fill the bottomless pit in the center of my soul. I chased phantoms until I was twenty four. From women, to drinking, to drugs, to working a job that I loved, to traveling, to other nice things etc... Now some of these things are good in themselves. Some are bad. The bad ones won. My "all or nothing" personality aided me in a serious drug and alcohol habit. This eventually landed me in a jail cell facing life in prison for first degree murder. So there I was with nothing, only to have gained addiction, incarceration, and a generally greater resentment toward the world and its inhabitants. But this way of thinking was soon to change. 

     Ten months into my stay in county jail, I was in a  cell by myself, fresh out of solitary for the third time. One night alone in my cell, I began asking questions, like "what is the meaning of life? Why do I care if there's meaning or not? What is truth? If there is no ultimate meaning and we are all drifting along in life from on purposeless situation to the next, then why endure one more moment of this pain? Why receive one more insult from a stranger? Why not do the brave thing and kill myself to see if I really did rise from the "cosmic goo" only to return back to nothing when I've breathed my last breath?" Why.. etc.

     The questions came flooding in like a dam broke in my brain. Taken collectively, I was beginning to see that, if I was going to be honest with these thoughts and myself, I was going to have to make some choices; choices based on how I answered the first nagging question, ultimately, "Does life have meaning?" If I answered no, then I could no longer bear the cruel joke. But if I answered yes, then I couldn't escape the logic that tells me that if there is ultimate personal meaning, then this meaning must be given by an ultimate person. That night, December 10th 2006, I accepted Jesus Christ as the Lord, Savior, and Creator that He is. I discovered the script for which His character has been cast by the Author of Life.

     With new life came new responsibility. My highest goal in life is to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever," through obedience to His standard. That meant being honest no matter what. I knew I had killed a man. My attorneys wanted to press on to trial, confident that they could get me down from "life" to possibly a 20 year sentence. This process would drag on the pain of my victim's family as well as placing family and friends on the stand and destroying their character for my benefit. It's true enough that there has been much dysfunction in my family. But the bottom line of the matter was that no one forced me to get high and drunk. In the natural course of scratching the itch of my selfish desires, I did what I did. So I knew I must confess to my crime and take the justice I deserved. With no regrets, now eleven years later, I gladly tell you that I did exactly that. I plead guilty and accepted what I had coming. 

     Just like most people, if given the chance to go back in time to make better choices along the way, I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't. If for no other reason, I'd like to save the ones I hurt from the pain and suffering that I caused. But at the same time, I'm thankful for God's grace in the events and people that He was pleased to use and draw me into His family. I wish I could've been so utterly and broken and positioned to serve Him and others in a different way and by different means. But there is no going back, only forward. In that spirit I've dedicated my life to the service of my God by helping others. That's why I do what I do.


Redemption Road Fitness®  is a group 

founded by inmates in Colorado, 2017

To contact, please email

  • Facebook
  • Instagram