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While Mark and Donnie Wahlberg Were Soaring to Stardom, Their Brother Was Off to Jail - That's Where He Met Jesus

10-28-2021

His brothers were making music and movies while he was posing for mug shots. 

In the mid-80s, Donnie and Mark Wahlberg took the music world by storm, topping the charts with "New Kids on the Block" and "Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch".

Around the same time, their brother Jim was moving in a different direction. Behind bars. But it was when he was locked up that his soul finally became free when one of the most admired women in the world paid him a visit.

"I lived a rough and tumble life. I was always a hustler, was always manipulative, just to get what I wanted, and I did whatever I had to to get it," says Jim.

It was on the rough streets of a Boston neighborhood where Jim Wahlberg learned the art of the hustle. Jim was the middle of nine kids of hardworking parents trying to give their children a better life.

"We had nothing; our neighbors had nothing. And we were happy," he says.

Then they moved into a middle-class neighborhood when Jim was eight, and he realized just how poor his family was.

"Right away I felt different. I felt less than," says Jim. "So, I started taking things that didn't belong to me, so that I could try to live up to the way they got to live." 

Hustling, stealing, and running from police soon became a way of life. Jim was only 10 the first time he was arrested. He would spend his teen years in and out of juvie while slowly becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol.

"I would drink to try to get rid of the shame and those feelings of self-loathing. It's all rooted in fear. Fear of what you think of me. Fear of not being good enough," says Jim.

Then at 17, Jim found himself in prison where he'd serve five years for armed robbery. The time behind bars had changed nothing.

"I start drinking alcohol under the pretense of I'm celebrating, right? But I wasn't celebrating. I was medicating myself," says Jim. "I was trying to soothe that fear, that uncomfortability. I was the most dangerous I had ever been. I was the most afraid I had ever been. I was in the worst mental condition I had ever been in my entire life," says Jim.

The next six months would be a substance-induced blur for Jim, causing him to have blackouts. One morning, he 'came to' in a jail cell covered in his own blood. He had broken into a police officer's house and was now charged with home invasion, which carried a life sentence.

"I felt completely defeated and broken and I felt resigned to the fact that this was the way my life was gonna be forever," says Jim. "My heart was... was a stone."

Jim would only receive 6-9 years, after the officer whose home he had invaded advocated for a lighter sentence. Back in prison, he began attending self-help groups with the sole purpose of reducing his time.

"It was part of that hustle. Just trying to create the illusion that I was getting better in prison," says Jim. "And always thinking when I get out, I'll use again."

Jim's 'act' was so convincing, he was leading 12-step programs and self-help groups within a year. It was then Jim started working as the chapel custodian, where the prison's Catholic Priest—Father Fratus, started striking up conversations with him.

"He had one goal in mind—to evangelize, right? To bring me home to God. And so, he was hustling me," says Jim.

After asking Jim several times to attend Mass, Father Fratus tried a different tactic.

"He says, 'Listen, I need you to clean the chapel after the Vigil Mass. So why don't you just come to the Vigil Mass?'" says Jim. "He says, 'We have a special visitor coming in two weeks.' And I'm like, 'Yeah? Who's that?'" says Jim. "He says, 'Mother Teresa is coming to this prison.' And I was like, 'Wow, that's fantastic. Who is Mother Teresa?'" 

He would soon find out. On June 4, 1988, Mother Teresa spoke to the prisoners at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Concord.

"She said, 'You're more than the crimes that you've committed to be here. You're more than your prison ID number. You are a child of God,'" says Jim.

Many were inspired by her message of a loving God. Inmate 44563 was one of them.

"'God, help me to be the person that you want me to be. I can't continue to be this person. Help me to be free of this life.' I felt the presence of God in my heart," says Jim.

Now that he was truly depending on God, Jim studied the Bible, was later Confirmed and was able to curb his addictions. In 1990, after serving only three years, Jim was released for good behavior.

"I was weak in my relationship with God, and I was just a weak human being. And God got further and further away," says Jim. "I said, 'Thank you, I'll take it from here.'"

Over the next two decades, Jim got married, had three kids, and became the executive director of the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation for inner-city kids. Despite his success, Jim was still unfulfilled and drifting further from God.

"When you feel His presence and you walk away from it, there's guilt, there's shame, but there's also sort of a sense that it'll never happen for you again," says Jim. My daughter, Kyra, who was 12 at the time, came to me and said, 'Daddy, I want you to be happy. I want you to know Jesus.'"

At the urging of his family and daughter, Jim agreed to go to a Christian men's retreat.

"God started to reveal Himself to me again. And He started to melt away the ice that was my heart," says Jim. "I mean, I started crying and I couldn't stop. Right? I was just so overwhelmed. And I just felt so at peace."

That re-ignited Jim's faith and passion to serve Christ and others. Now he has a successful podcast and studio working to bring awareness to the far-reaching effects of addiction. And now his 'hustle' is to lead others to Christ.

"I'm trying to talk people into this life that is second to none. This life of feeling Christ's presence in your life. When you open your heart man, God's presence will just jump right in there," says Jim.

"Jim Wahlberg continues to serve as the Executive Director for the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation and strives to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. His recent short film, 'What About the Kids' speaks on the importance of faith and sobriety. Click the links to see Jim’s work or to read more of his story in his book, ‘The Big Hustle.'

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