KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A man who enrolled in college more than 30 years ago is finally getting his diploma next week. Graduating from college is something Darryl Burton truly never believed would happen- and it almost didn't.
"Don't give up five minutes before the miracle happens because it's just around the corner," Burton said.
Burton said he heard that phrase in prison, and it came to mind during the multitude of times thought about quitting. He was 22 years old, and enrolled in community college in 1984 when he was wrongfully convicted of murder.
Burton was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary for a crime he didn't commit.
"It was a place that I just describe as hell on Earth because it was an evil experience," Burton said.
Burton says the prison was full of the sounds of men screaming in pain, being raped or assaulted.
"There was a huge banner that said ‘welcome to Missouri State Penitentiary. Leave all your hopes, families, dreams behind,’” he recalled.
In the nearly 25 years he spent in his hopeless home, Burton thought about giving up, but just couldn't. He wrote in a letter to Jesus that he'd serve him if he got out of prison. Eventually he got the help he needed to be released and declared innocent.
"I saw evil up close and personal. I knew there had to be an opposite to this,” he said.
The opposite he says is the side he works for now - as a pastor for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, and finally, he will get his diploma from the St. Paul School of Theology.
"This is incredible and I say man I'm giving myself a party. I'm so happy," Burton gushed.
In many ways he says his life has come full circle, and he's thankful he kept waiting on the miracle that was around the corner... more than 30 years later.
Pastor Burton says he still has to go through the ordination process, but receiving that diploma will be a very proud moment for him.
He says through all of this that the hardest lesson he's learned is forgiveness, but he believes the ability to forgive was the key to truly setting him free.