MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Curtis McDonald attended church Sunday for the first time since his life sentence for drug trafficking and money laundering was commuted by President Donald Trump. McDonald says he wants to use his story to make an impact on the community.
The First Baptist Church in Bartlett was full Sunday with a celebratory spirit and people in all the pews.
McDonald has been out of prison for only four days, and he’s already planning how he can give back and make an impact in the community he’s rejoining.
It was more than just a church service inside First Baptist Church in Bartlett Sunday, it was a welcoming party.
“Even though we had faith that this day is going to come, now that it’s here it’s still kind of hard to believe,” Derrick McDonald, Curtis McDonald’s brother, said.
“A dream come true,” Melody Martin, Curtis McDonald’s niece said.
McDonald was convicted in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering.
He was a co-conspirator along with Alice Marie Johnson who was granted clemency by President Donald Trump in 2018. After Johnson lobbied on his behalf, President Trump commuted McDonald’s sentence Wednesday.
“The first thing I did when I got out is I went to have a bath because I haven’t had a bath in 24 years,” McDonald said.
The congregation welcomed McDonald back with song, prayer and donations to help him get back on his feet.
He says he wants to use his newfound freedom to help young people in Memphis.
“We would tell all young men, you made a bad choice in life, but now you gotta make the right choice,” McDonald said. “When they give you a second chance in life, you got to take advantage of it, don’t come back.”
“He could be a major, major influence on our community and on young men who may make a bad choice,” Martin said.
With gratitude for the President and Alice Johnson, McDonald begins a new life.
He says Sunday’s celebration was a perfect welcome back.
“Thank God, I’m free! I’m free at last, thank God I’m free at last,” McDonald said.
“I have pictured this moment every Sunday for the last 22 years and to see him,” Martin said. “I just couldn’t stop crying.”
McDonald was described as a model inmate by the White House, mentoring younger inmates, maintaining a job and completing education courses.
McDonald’s brother says he can’t wait to take him fishing.