From inmate to Red Cross 'Hero'
In early June, Hastings native Jeff Wynne will stand before countless people to accept the 2013 American Red Cross Hero Award at Target Field in Minneapolis.
It's likely that Wynne will be the only person honored who has spent a significant portion of his life in jail.
Wynne, 46, ended up in jail after struggles with drugs and alcohol. He finally got out in 2008.
In jail, though, he began to turn his life around. Now that he's out, he's taken that a step further. Wynne has started Stewardship Ways, a program that helps inmates in jail and again once they get out of jail.
Wynne has arranged to have Easter baskets and Christmas gifts delivered to the children whose fathers were in the Dakota County jail. Others have received trips home from the jail, bus passes, help finding a job and food.
"When these guys are leaving the jail, they think they still have it all together," he said. "When they leave and they figure out they don't (want to commit crimes anymore), they call me. I have someone pick them up and I'll find a place for them to go.
"Everything about me right now is about building hope in guys that people have given up on."
Loren Hanson of the sheriff's office has worked with Wynne for five years.
"Jeff is a very worthy candidate for this award," he said. "He is tireless in his conviction to give back. In the four years since he left the Dakota County jail, I don't believe I have ever seen him without a smile on his face."
Wynne is hard at work on his latest idea -- creating a working farm that will give jobs and housing to inmates leaving the jail.
"Jeff has a dream of starting a working farm in Dakota County so that he can provide guidance and treatment to those who struggle with addictions and want to find a better way," Hanson said.
Wynne said that when he left jail in 2008, he told staff he'd be coming back to do good.
"I had a vision," he said. "I wanted to make a difference. When I left, I told them I would come back and make a difference. They were shocked when I came back to do that. They told me that nobody comes back without handcuffs."
Wynne began coming back to the jail and sharing his story. That led him to start the non-profit so that he can "help the guys who fall through the cracks," he said.
He brings in speakers to address the group, ranging from Minnesota fishing greats Al and Ron Lindner to an Olympic athlete. The speaking service was prompted by a speech he heard while he was an inmate.
"When I was there, one lady showed up and told a story," he said. "That impacted me and other inmates there. I wanted to come back and create the best speaker program we could ever create.
"I knew if I brought celebrities in there, it would make an impact on those inmates. They've had struggles, turned them around and become productive citizens. The impact of that has been astronomical."
Wynne has also volunteered with Fishing for Life and Sharing and Caring Hands.
With Fishing for Life, he runs the trout pond at Rivertown Days.
"When I was drinking and doing drugs and being that guy growing up, I hurt a lot of people," he said. "This is a way I can make right to Hastings."
Wynne is especially appreciative of the staff at the Dakota County jail.
"Dakota County is the one that deserves the credit -- not me," he said. "I can't say enough good about the Dakota County Sheriff's Office and what they are trying to create. They saved my life, and I believe they saved a lot of others, too."
Donors have funded his venture, and he's sincerely thankful for their help, he said.
Anyone wanting to assist Wynne or donate to his cause can reach him at 651-278-0418 or visit the non-profit's website at www.stewardshipways.org.
Staff at the jail nominated Wynne for the award, which Wynne said he was humbled to learn about.
"I don't think I deserve an award," he said. "I'm just doing something for people that someone did for me once. They gave me hope. You can't buy hope.
"I'm totally humbled by the award. I'm totally honored to have anything like that come into my life. We're going to give that award back to the jail. Hopefully it will inspire people at the jail."
Wynne will be honored at the fifth annual American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, June 6, at the Legends Club at Target Field in Minneapolis. The public is invited to attend. Tickets and table sponsorships are available online at redcross.org/mn/minneapolis or by calling 612-872-3207.