FEATURE STORIES

Someone Cares and the McClures


by Jeffrey Hillard
March 2008

 

Before I sit down in Don and Yvonne McClure’s living room, Don moves a small pile of clothes from the couch to a Don McClure of Someone Cares Ft. Wayne, Indiana  2-16-08 corner.

“You didn’t see that, friend.” Don uses the word “friend” liberally. You can tell he is about friendship, because his life now depends completely on it. As a wild young boy he had many enemies.

On a chair are a few letters from prison inmates and from the McClure’s far-reaching contingent of letter writers to inmates. Back on the kitchen table are no less than seventy-five letters. Most of them came just today. Three stacks of books sit to the side of a beautiful picture window that will eventually allow one to gaze at Don’s sprawling spring garden. He’s anxious for the colors to light up this side of his street.

“Want a book?” he says, nodding at the stacks. “Take one. As many as you want.  I’ll never begin to read them all.”

If you know his life, you know Don McClure should probably not be here to expect such beauty. He certainly thought the last thing he would ever do with his wife is establish likely the largest, inmate-directed, pen friend organization in the world.

Someone Cares, Inc. (www.someonecares.org), Don and Yvonne’s organization, is the central hub – the brain trust, lungs, and limbs – of “Paper Sunshine,” as it’s called, a correspondence empire in which a vast number of prison inmates in all prisons in the U.S. can receive and write letters to pen friends that Don and Yvonne pair them with.   

When you realize what Don had to overcome, you could imagine that there’s a degree of probability he might still be in prison, the recipient of one of these letters. But God had other plans for him, as he’s quick to emphasize.

One day, 30-plus years ago, Don heard God distinctly tell him at his high-paying job in California to quit and go to prison. Visit prisoners. Work in this area. When he told Yvonne, a pastor’s daughter, why he quit his job that day, it took a while for this new prospective phase of work to register.

“Yvonne was dumbfounded,” he says. “It was a very strange thing to do, but I knew and I moved quickly.” And he thanks God every day for every phase of prison ministry he’s been lead to, for every letter he and Yvonne can write, for every letter writer they can attract, and for every inmate getting a letter.

The moment you meet Don McClure, you sense you’re meeting a generous person. “I’ll get to these letters later today,” he says, nodding to several neat stacks on the kitchen table.

That’s precisely why he can’t read all the stacked books. His priorities are the letters. Letters are the McClure’s life. They have been for over thirty years.

Today, though, something else is on his mind. Don’s neighbor is dying, and he expresses concern. “I’d like to go over a little later,” he says. “I want to pray.” There is generosity in his voice, the words of only a person consumed with friendship.


The Accident

On November 22, 2006, Don and Yvonne could have nearly written their last letter. Returning home after eating at a Mexican restaurant and making final plans for a trip west to speak about Someone Cares, their car was T-boned at an intersection, the other car smashing into Yvonne’s passenger side.

They could have been killed. Yvonne’s right arm was broken in three places, crushed, and the possibility of her right hand ever healing was doubtful. Don’s shoulder was injured and, looking back, it appears to him that the real damage was done when, in his effort to help Yvonne, he literally yanked loose his seatbelt and tore his shoulder’s rotator cuff.

Miracles occur, however, and in 2007 – their healing year – after numerous doctor visits and many healing prayers later, Don’s shoulder never required surgery and now works painlessly. In fact, when Don turns 75 in June, he plans to play golf, hit tennis balls, and go bowling.

“You can really tell the growth of a ministry,” Don says. “After the accident, in addition to prayer groups forming in churches themselves, our pen friends wrote inmates they were corresponding with, telling them about the accident. This prompted inmates to create groups that focused on praying for Yvonne and me. How great is that?”

Yvonne underwent several surgeries in 2007. The arm and hand injuries also paralyzed her renowned organ and piano playing. In prisons, Yvonne has played piano in chapel services. It’s another gift. Playing music is as natural to her as breathing. Although last year she experienced more therapy than organ playing, she did become able to play, even with a titanium plate securing her arm to her hand. “I call her The Platinum Kid,” Don says.

Someone Cares continued. The accident did not derail the communication for long. Don wrote letters, even though Yvonne could not. “God kept it going,” Yvonne often says. “There was no way he was going to let it stop.”


From The Jet Set to San Quentin’s C-Section

Don McClure started hating when he was 12-years old. It may have started earlier. His life was frequently in danger as a teenager.

After his mother moved the two of them from his native Canada to California, Don started boarding school at the age of six. He learned how to fight and he soon learned hate. When Don came home one day after taking a clothes hanger beating and his mother saw blood, she moved them into “a dumpy apartment,” he says. His trouble did not end there.

From the age of 13 on into late adolescence, Don kept running: New York, Chicago, back to California. During those runs, trouble: gang-fighting, knife-fighting, brass knuckles, drugs, extortion – he helped form a street gang at 13 in New York. He quit school in the 7th grade, and for much of his life operated as a “functional illiterate,” he says. “Each year I became better at what I did, even though I really couldn’t read or write too well. It was wrong, but I was very good at what I did,” he says. “I was very streetwise.” Which means, too, that he inflicted pain on others that he is naturally not proud to recall today.

In 1951 he came back to California, made some more serious mistakes, and was arrested. The judge gave him an ultimatum to join the armed forces, so Don joined the Air Force for four years, which took him to Okinawa. In the early 1970s, amped up on charisma, schemes, and whatever self-destructive measures he could grasp, he made about $5,000 per month.

By the time Don unexpectedly met Yvonne in Cupertino, California on June 13, 1967, he was jet-setting: had money, high-profile California, Chicago, and New York connections, and the lifestyle.

How they met was another miracle in itself: Don was sitting at a bar that adjoined a restaurant. Yvonne had reluctantly joined friends for dinner in the restaurant. As she made her way past the bar to a restroom, she heard Don’s loud bar-voice. Booming, drinking voice. She stopped and bluntly, Yvonne-style, said, “Sir, nobody belongs in a bar.” Don said, “Why?” Yvonne said, “Because Jesus wouldn’t be here.”

It stifled Don. “I wasn’t as much interested in the Jesus thing than I was in Yvonne,” he says. “I thought that was a brash thing to say. I liked brash. So we met for breakfast the next morning. She was a bit hesitant, too. But we met. That began a difficult period. It wasn’t until eight years later, in 1975, that I accepted Christ.”

Until the time when Yvonne finally urged her husband Don to see a cousin-pastor – and Don did, which changed his life – he was drinking a fifth of liquor a day.

“That gentleman, Euell, helped change my life,” Don says. “He first said, ‘Would you like a cigarette?’ That threw me. I said, ‘Well, no.’ Then he began telling me simple stories about Jesus. He quietly said, ‘Don, listen, you don’t need to give up; you need to give in’. That’s what did it for me. Until then, people were saying don’t do this, don’t do that, do’s and don’ts – frustrating me. Whereas, after three hours in his office, I was on my knees. I haven’t been the same since. Everything I’d done for 20 years was cleaned away on my way up off my knees.”

Much of Don and Yvonne’s ministry intensified after this meeting. Yet initially it didn’t involve letters. It involved clothes. In Santa Cruz, California, they established a ministry that provided clothes to incarcerated individuals being released. Even in their reaching-out to inmates at Soledad prison in 1979-1980, they were instrumental helping put the first sweat lodge in that prison.

God one day spoke to Don’s heart, saying, “Time to move.”

“But, to where?” Don asked God.

And about that time, Don threw a dart at a map of the U.S. The dart toss, revealing the place they would move to, landed on Hopkinsville, Kentucky. “We moved there in 1987,” he says. “We decided with a dart.”

From Hopkinsville and volunteer work in several Kentucky prisons, they moved to Michigan, and soon back to California, which presented the greatest challenges that strengthened their resolve to minister to especially hardcore criminals. They soon wound up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

Their work at San Quentin, though, is legendary. Considered “the God Squad” around the country and with Yvonne’s nickname, “Double Trouble,” and the fact that the McClure’s were issued the first-ever, California prison volunteer Identification badges from the state’s Department of Corrections, their diligent work with inmates reverberated throughout prisons in that state and beyond, attracting admiration from wardens, correction officers, and inmates.

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Don Mcclure

Don McClure of Someone Cares Ft. Wayne, Indiana  2-16-08