Crime-fighting prison inmate finally free

Target 8

GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Jim Hicks has been out of prison for two weeks and is still learning how to use a cellphone.

“Sometimes I get so overwhelmed just trying to dial a number,” he told friends who gathered Thursday at a Grandville law office to celebrate his release.

There were no cellphones when Hicks went to prison in 1986. Now that he’s out, he’s learning what, in many ways, is a new world to him.

“Suckin’ in all this freedom right now,” he said. “Just suckin’ in all this freedom.”

Hicks had been trying to get out of prison since 2005, when he made his first application for a shortened sentence. He tried three more times before former Gov. Rick Snyder “decided this is a guy who has not only paid his debt to society but … has also helped, going way beyond” and commuted Hicks’ sentence, said former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka, who has been helping Hicks for seven years.

Hicks receieved a long sentence for his role in an armed robbery in Muskegon that left a man dead. But almost as soon as the prison gates clanked shut behind him, he decided to help the law rather than break it. He helped bust several crooked prison employees, including a deputy warden. He’s credited with helping convict people in two murders, break up a car theft ring and dismantle a credit card scam being run from inside by inmates.

“I done it because it was the right thing to do,” Hicks said.

All that got Hicks beaten, poisoned and stabbed while behind bars. But it also got him support from top federal and local law enforcement people who think his good deeds should have long since earned him a shortened sentence.  

It took more than a decade. A Target 8 investigation in 2017 brought public attention to Hicks’ attempts to get his sentence commuted. 

Hicks said that after he was released from an Ionia prison two weeks ago, he saw his 97-year-old father for the first time in years.

“He would just hug me,” Hicks recalled. “He wouldn’t let me go because this moment was precious to him.”  

Hicks is living with family members, eating as much of his favorite seafood as he can and trying to get a driver’s license and a Social Security card so he can get a job.   

He says he hasn’t forgotten his life inside.

“I have been around people in prison I know are innocent,” he said. “If I can lend my support to them to help them, it would be my honor to do so.

“And all my supporters, I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I really do.” 

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