DETROIT – A Detroit man who endured endless beatings behind bars for snitching to expose prison corruption is now free.
The former inmate was sentenced to 50-250 years in prison for taking part in a deadly robbery in 1986. He was released early, though, for his extraordinary efforts to fight crime from behind bars.
Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz sat down with "Jimmy the Snitch," who is trying to get used to a world that's very different from the one he was locked up in more than three decades ago.
Jimmy calls himself a crime fighter for God. He thought he would be locked up for life, but instead of complaining, he started compiling evidence against corrupt prison guards.
His work led to major cases and dozens of convictions.
Thousands of prisoners beg for mercy by asking for an early release, but Jimmy is one of the few who has approved.
"It was the most happy, joyful moment in my life," he said.
Jimmy was rewarded for years of exposing corrupt prison guards in the Michigan prison system. For his safety, he asked not to have his face shown on camera.
His work as an informant put him in constant danger behind bars, but he said he thanks God for keeping him alive.
"I could've easily lost faith, but hwy, he said he would protect me and he would shield me," Jimmy said. "Even though I was stabbed, I was beaten, I was hurt -- guess what? I still rose."
Now, after 35 years of imprisonment, Jimmy, the son of a Detroit preacher, is a free man.
He said his first stop was to see his father.
"He embraced me and, like, it was for five or six minutes," Jimmy said. "I literally had to tell pops, 'OK, you can let me go, pops.' He just refused to let me go, and he's 97 years of age and he had such a grip on me that held me so tight to him that, you know, it was just a warm welcome. My first destination."
Jimmy said the world is a much different place than when he went behind bars in the mid-1980s.
"The world is moving fast, but I've got to take it as slow as possible because it will slide from right up under you and I've got to take it day by day," Jimmy said.
For the first time in decades, the 66-year-old can decide when to wake up, when to sleep and when to eat. He said the outside world can be overwhelming.
"They say you can get on FaceTime and people over in China can see you," Jimmy said. "I said, 'What?' They said, 'People in China can talk to you.'"
He said cars are faster and smarter.
"It beeped and the first thing it tells me is to put on that seat belt," Jimmy said. "This lady was telling him how to get back to where he was going and navigating him straight to the front door."
Jimmy said he's smarter, too. He went to jail for robbing an after-hours gambling joint. His co-defendant shot and killed a man, and it cost Jimmy 35 years of his life.
"I can live a million years and never entertain the thought of doing something that would take my freedom from me," Jimmy said. "That's how much it means to me."
He said he'll speak to children about making smart choices.
"If I can continue to do something to lift up or save just one child, if I could just reach one child, I think that's what God would want me to do," Jimmy said.
He said he'll find ways to keep helping inmates protect themselves from corrupt guards -- this time from the outside.
"I took a stand in prison and that was the unpopular place to do it, but I did it, and through the grace of God, he brought me out, and now he got me to do even more work that he has planned to do," Jimmy said.
He said his first meal was an all-you-can-eat shrimp and lobster fest. Three hours later, he was in the hospital sick to his stomach. He said he was fine the next day.
Prison food reform is on his list of prison problems he plans to continue working on from the outside.
Jimmy also has a lawsuit against the prison system. Plymouth attorney Kisha Cheny is handling the case, which claims the prison system failed to protect Jimmy, one of it's key informants, when he was attacked multiple times behind bars.
Jimmy said he wants to make it safer for other inmates to come forward when they witness corruption.