“Mirror, mirror on the wall the face
you’ve shown me scares me so”
“Snowblind,” by Styx
Warrensburg – Among his last official acts as governor, Jay Nixon pardoned self-described underworld enforcer William Corum, a man arrested in Holden and convicted in 1984.
During two terms in office, Nixon, a former attorney general, granted 106 pardons, with Corum in the final group.
Corum has been a prison minister for three decades, speaks around the country and built the Johnson County Jail.
“I have ridden over 2,500 miles in handcuffs, leg irons and waist chains. … I have been in over 25 car and motorcycle wrecks – eight of those I should have died in. I have overdosed several times and had two heart attacks from doing cocaine,” Corum stated in his testimonial.
Instead, Corum said, he turned to God, wrote a book, spreads the Gospel regularly at an inner-city mission in Kansas City, and formed Prison Power Ministries to reach inmates.
“Every time I walk into one of those prisons I know that’s where I really deserve to be,” he said.
A LIFE OF CRIME
“Harmless and innocent you devil
in white, you stole my will without a fight.”
“Snowblind,” by Styx
Corum said, as a youth, law enforcers showed him the hospitality of barred cells in 10 states – he said no to one.
“I escaped from a jail … in 1962, I believe,” he said.
After that experience, Corum said, he embraced crime and skirted the law over the next two decades.
“I got out of prison in 1964 and said I’m never going back, and I lived a life of crime for 18 years … being involved with the underworld, and selling drugs, and promoting prostitution, and pornography.”
Corum said he freelanced for the underworld.
“I did enforcement. I did whatever it took to get money, to get the job done.”
Corum said he did not have direct ties to Kansas City’s major crime families in the 1980s, including the Civellas.
“I was kind of an independent contractor.”
He said he liked the lifestyle.
“If I wanted to spend $10,000 today, I did, because tomorrow I had another $10,000. I stayed in $500-a-night hotels, rode in limousines and even bought $20,000 worth of cocaine for a party,” he stated in his testimonial.
The party ended Sept. 5, 1982. Related to his enforcer role, Corum beat the hell out of a Holden man.
“He was a small-time dealer, but he was causing problems for some of the guys in Kansas City,” Corum said. “I went down there (to Holden) to stop him, basically, and I was all messed up on drugs. I’d been up for 100 hours.”
Like Styx sang about in the 1981 song, “Snowblind,” cocaine messed with his head, Corum said.
“I was definitely blind,” he said. “I went there, beat him up, got arrested, and was charged with first-degree assault with intent to kill.”
Corum said a Warrensburg attorney helped with a plea agreement to drop the charge to second-degree assault, something possible only because he had avoided being caught after his federal conviction as a juvenile. He said he learned he could not avoid a conviction, even with his connections, and turned to God.
“On April 15, 1983, I said, ‘God, if you’re real, you can change Bill Corum – at the time I was doing $500 worth of cocaine a day, I was drinking two quarts of whiskey a day, I was smoking three packs of non-filtered Camels every day, I’d kiss my wife good-bye and say ‘I’ll see you tonight’ and I wouldn’t come home for a month at a time – and after I said that prayer … I have never looked back. It’ll be 34 years this April 15.”
Corum’s prison ministry associate, Greg Voss, Olathe, Kansas, said he met people who knew Corum as an enforcer.
“They’ve seen the different man that he is,” Voss said.
Redemption is the message Corum said he speaks to inmates.
“No matter where you’re at, there’s hope for you,” Corum said. “God can redeem your life.”
“Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
Corum said he went on “The 700 Club,” twice, and received encouragement to write a book, which he rejected.
“I’ve got four kids, and my kids knew that I’d been in prison, and my kids knew I was a drug dealer, but my kids didn’t really know me, and I didn’t want anybody to,” he said.
Corum said God then directed him to write, which he did, with a printing plan for 5,000 for “The Ultimate Pardon.” He said he hoped to sell 600 books at $12 each, enough to cover printing costs. He planned to give the remaining 4,400 books to prison inmates to show how, through God, a person can be reborn.
Not knowing Corum at the time, Voss read the book.
“Frankly, it scared me half to death in the first half of (the book), because of how dark it was,” Voss said. “In the second half, I was so moved and blown away by what God had done with his life that I wanted to meet him.”
Corum said Voss called him to a meeting to discuss the book. Voss said he liked what he heard from Corum.
“It was refreshing to me, because that is all I had dealt with were high-power people who wanted to make a ton of money. He was like, ‘I don’t want to make a dime, I just want to give it away.’ And I said, let’s try 50,000 books,” Voss said.
Three years later, the books are almost gone.
“We’ve given away over 49,000 books,” Corum said. “It’s in all 50 states, it’s in over 2,000 prisons and jails.”
Voss described the book as visceral and meaningful for inmates.
“He gets about 150 to 200 letters a month himself,” Voss said. “Men and women say they did not know they could be forgiven for the things they’ve done and they’ve asked Jesus to change their lives, which is great. That’s the purpose. … You can see that God can change anybody, no matter how bad they were.”
Corum said he reads every letter.
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
Corum’s affiliation with Johnson County did not end with his arrest and conviction. He helped build a private jail, Integrity Correctional Center, later purchased by the county and now used as the Johnson County Jail.
“I’ve seen guys thank him, who had been back there in the early days. … They said that’s the only time they were treated humanely and respected,” Voss said.
Corum said the jail focused on helping inmates become better people.
“I used to tell the inmates … ‘We run this jail, but we’re going to do it in love, and we’re going to correct you in love. If you do something wrong, you’re going to get corrected,’” Corum said. “I got letters from inmates that said things like … ‘Thank you for treating me like a human being.’”
The operation, in the end, lost money. In 2010, voters agreed to buy
the jail from Corum and his partners.
Sheriff Scott Munsterman said the jail, now more than 15 years old, is no longer state of the art, and shows signs of aging.
“Other than that, the structure’s pretty sound,” he said.
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
After a life of crime, then a life of community service, Corum said he is thankful for Nixon’s pardon, which Corum began seeking in 1995, first from Gov. Mel Carnahan, then from Roger Wilson, Bob Holden and Matt Blunt.
“I know that God has forgiven me, I know that my friends have forgiven me, my family’s forgiven me, but I wanted the state to forgive me,” he said.
The pardon adds to the message Corum preaches about what can happen if inmates change their lives.
“For Governor Jay Nixon to pardon me, it’s saying, you’re forgiven, Bill,” he said. “It means an awful lot to me. … He had mercy on me like God had mercy on me.”
As much as the pardon from Nixon means, Corum said he received another with greater meaning.
“I got the ultimate pardon from God.”