Crime, punishment … and a better story
How Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry impacted one inmate — and then a lot more.
Jim Killam
January 4, 2023

In fall 2015, Rickey Claybron and two other men violently robbed three Rockford retail stores and attempted to rob another. They pointed guns at store clerks and customers while stealing cigarettes and cash. Two store employees were struck with the guns and one was shot in the back while trying to run away.

Claybron was the last of the three to be sentenced. On Sept. 12 of last year, U.S. District Judge Iain D. Johnston handed him 41 years in federal prison for conspiracy, robbery and gun charges, and ordered him to pay $10,280.75 in restitution.

There’s another, better chapter to this story, and it occurred during Claybron’s time in the Winnebago County Jail. It involves one of First Free’s Reach Rockford partners, Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry.

We’ll let you read Rickey Claybron’s story in his own words. This is the full letter he gave to the judge at his sentencing. It has been edited only for spelling and punctuation.

Rickey Claybron’s letter

Good afternoon, Your Honor, (and Assistant U.S. Attorney) Mrs. Maveus.

I would like to address the court and start off by saying I apologize for the delay. And I appreciate you all for being so patient with me and my case. And I want to apologize to all the victims in this case. And just let them know that I am very sympathetic about all the injuries and trauma they sustained, that I heard and saw in my discovery and during trial. I want to most importantly say I’m sorry to my kids, my family, for not being the son, brother and dad that I knew I could have been, but didn’t take the time to be it. My family couldn’t be here today due to heavy work schedules and school. But I know they’re here with me in spirit.

Your honor, it’s true I have a past. And coming up I had a horrible childhood. I am not using it as an excuse, but just wanted to explain how it played a major role in my life and how it led me to where I am today. I began running away at a very young age, searching for my biological mother, who left me on the front porch of my grandparents’ house and rang the doorbell and just drove away and didn’t look back. So my craving for my real mother took a big toll on me. I ran away at will, all to never finding what I was looking for. My dad played a role in my life but with his work schedule he never had time for me. So acting out (for) me was cool. I was strictly doing it for attention. But me doing all this attention-seeking only landed me in DCFS. Because (to) let my parents tell it, either I go or they would take all of us.

So here I (was) living from group home to group home, and in my times of being in these group homes I was physically, emotionally and mentally abused. And my behavior had gotten out of control. I wasn’t allowed on any home passes. (Their exact words were, You’re not allowed into our home until I got my act straight!) So craving for my dad’s attention, I got back on track. My grades were fair and the unnecessary acting out had stopped. The group home sent positive reports to my parents, but I guess that wasn’t enough. So I go to court one day only to find out that my father had handed over his rights, and made me a ward of the state!

After that, my life took a major turn for the worse. I figured since I can’t earn acceptance honestly I’ll just continue on my road of destruction, because when I was on that road I got all the attention I needed. So negative was my life and positive was out! So it’s safe to say that my background and lengthy criminal history that I’m suffering for today came from seeking attention and wanting to be accepted in all the wrong ways.

Now I would like to fast-forward to my current situation at hand, the matter that brought us here today. I have been incarcerated at the Winnebago County Jail for 6 years and 9 months. And I’m not gonna lie — I’m grateful for every day I’ve spent in jail. Because when I first came, I was broken and full of resentment. I had a lot of hatred on my heart for my father and biological mother. I carried around this heavy burden until it almost killed me. But I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in June of 2017. Looking at my discovery and the injuries these innocent people endured and thinking about the trauma that they had been through, I knew I wanted to change my life and be a better person. So I could change the lives of others not only to prevent them from what I’m going through, but most importantly to protect the community and prevent others from going through traumatic and similar incidents as the victims in this case!

So as I read the Bible and attended my DNA classes, I started taking change and my faith more and more seriously. So today I stand in front of you a new creation and all old past things have gone away. My heart is so different. I know how to help people in need, give positive advice, I know how it finally feels to live positive and not negative, I know how not to let things bother me, and the most important thing I learned is how to love, care and put other people before myself!

I’ve led more than 15 young men to Christ, all ages 18 to 22. I feel like that’s my calling from God to lead the youth! I have a DNA class that I lead, which by the way stands for Discipleship, Nourishment, Accountability. Everybody that’s involved in the class has been involved with me first. I have inspired and touched the lives of other men in the jail just off my testimony and past history and messed-up childhood! So what was once a curse to me is now a gift to others. I have attended 8 Spiritual Impact Weekends. In fact, I have one on the 15th of this month. And through these weekends I learned all about forgiveness. God said I must forgive in order to be forgiven. So with that being said, that burden I was carrying and all the hatred and resentment towards my parent is now buried and forgotten forever. And to this day I don’t know anything about my mother, but I pray God (will) let her know that I forgave her and I love her. Me and my father, on the other hand, we’ve become so close. He supports me 100 percent since I’ve been in here! And it’s all because of God.

So being a follower of Christ Jesus, negative energy is something I don’t have room for. I don’t even attract it. I have come from the darkness and into the light and I will never return, ever. I never felt so good about anything until I became a follower of Christ. It’s my destiny!

So, your honor, can’t you find it in your heart not to sentence me to 40-something years in the federal system? I believe that’s not my fate. But whatever it is you sentence me to, I’ll accept it because I know it’s the Lord’s will. But I know I could do some real helping in our communities!

God bless and thank you for listening.

Rickey Claybron

Real corrections

Four times a year, Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry holds the Spiritual Impact Weekends that Rickey mentioned. At the most recent weekend, in December, 11 outside volunteers joined about 30 inmates in an empty section of the jail for concentrated Bible studies and testimonies. Jail chaplains then hold follow-up discipleship meetings several times a week. These have been averaging 90 to 95 men, and the classes are led mostly by inmates.

One of the regular volunteers for Spiritual Impact Weekends is Gary Lundberg, who taught a session in December about making better choices through the power of God.

“We are really seeing lives being changed from lives of violence and drug addiction to deliverance by the atonement through Jesus Christ,” Gary says. “This may be one of the few times when the Illinois Department of Corrections actually sees souls being corrected. The powerful results we witness are apparently why the local jail administration is so welcoming for our retreat and the work of God through the full-time chaplains.

“One of the amazing works of the Holy Spirit was the gratitude expressed by a number of the men for the grace of God and forgiveness from sin. In the testimony times, some were so happy for what God has done in their soul that they cried tears of joy over the good news. It blessed my soul to see and hear such a love for Jesus from gang members and those who never knew before that they could be saved and live in God’s forever family.”

At the December retreat, the inmates were asked why they were attending. To Gary’s recollection, at least six said, “I’m here because of Ricky Claybron.” 

More information

  • Here’s more about Rockford Reachout Jail Ministry, including how to volunteer. Volunteer numbers have declined a little in recent months, so there is opportunity for more men to take part in the Spiritual Impact Weekends. The next one is March 16-19, with the first prep meeting scheduled Jan. 21. 
  • Press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office about Rickey Claybron’s sentencing last September.
Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


  1. Avatar

    PRAISE GOD for the power of the Cross! He is mighty to save!! Thanks for sharing this fantastic story of transformation; it’s clear Mr. Claybron is a new creature and gives all glory to God. His face and expression bear witness that he has been set free.

  2. Jim Killam

    Agreed! I thought the same thing about his photo. Sometimes you can see the presence of God in a person’s face.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get the latest stories from First Free Rockford in your inbox.

Sorry, No posts.
Send this to a friend