Finding faith and freedom after a felony

Published: Mar. 16, 2018 at 9:49 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 3, 2018 at 7:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Someone who has spent a lot of time on submarines probably appreciates clear, sunny days more than most.

"You're submerged. You're breathing canned air. Something like this is a glorious dream," said Anthony Shook.

But there's another reason Shook might be more apt to enjoy a beautiful day.

"I spent 23 years, seven months, and 25 days in prison," he said.

In 1969, Shook was a senior in high school and had been accepted to the University of North Carolina. He was awaiting a scholarship letter confirming a full ride to serve as a member of the debate team.

"My (draft) lottery number that year — this was 1969 — was 32, so I was somewhat stressed," he said.

One night at dinner, Shook's father got a call from a friend who worked for the draft board.

"He said, 'We just pulled one through 32. Your boy's got one month,'" Shook recalled.

In order to avoid being drafted to Vietnam, he went to see a Navy recruiter and signed up for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program to work on submarines.

"When I got home, the letter was in the mail from UNC," said Shook.

After getting out of the military, Shook got a paramedic's license and a nursing degree from UNC. He then worked in the intensive care unit at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem.

One day, a patient from another hospital came to Baptist in a comatose state. Her organs began to shut down over the course of six months and doctors were pretty sure she would not make a recovery.

"We were told we couldn't share the truth with her husband. One night he came up," Shook said. "We were very liberal about letting him come up to see her, and he asked me how she was doing. I opened the chart to the last doctor's note, and I said, 'Read that.' He read it and then he threw the chart across the hallway, started screaming at me.

"I said, 'I don't want to hurt you, but I want you to be aware just how seriously ill your wife is, and you need to have a conversation with the doctor about this.' So he requested I no longer take care of his wife, so I didn't for two months."

Two months later, at the direction of hospital staff, he was caring for the patient one last time.

"About 6 in the morning, it was time to hang up some new drips," Shook said. "She had two that were supporting her blood pressure. ... I just said 'Enough is enough' and when I hung the IV bags with a label on it, I didn't put the medicine in it. She was still going when I left at about 7 o'clock, and she died about two hours later."

An investigation followed, and Shook was eventually indicted and ultimately charged with murder one year later.

"I can still remember my first night I arrived in central prison," Shook said. "It was 2 in the morning. It was sleeting. I was staring up at the walls and I remember thinking, 'This is where I belong.'"

To get out of the cell, he began going to church. The second time he went, he says his life changed forever.

"I don't know what (the minister) said, but when he gave the invocation, it was like there was this compulsion in me: 'It's now or never,'" Shook remembered. "I went forward. He asked me what my name was. I told him. He says 'What can I do for you?' and I just started crying. He hugged me, and he held me and said, 'Do you know you need a savior?' and I said, 'Yeah, I've made a wreck of my life, of my wife's life. I've destroyed other people's lives. I'm sick of it.'

"When I was released in 2011, I had never told my wife and anybody else I was guilty."

One afternoon after church, Shook began to come clean, first to his wife, then to others.

"Thankfully, she didn't kick me out of the house. I guess that's another example of God's grace," he said.

In 2016, Shook was diagnosed with PTSD.

"When I was going through equine assisted psychotherapy, the therapist asked me, 'Do you think your decision that night was a reflection of your mind not working right because of your PTSD?' and I said, 'It's possible.'"

Shook makes no excuses for what he did, and he now works to help others struggling with mental issues after serving in war.

"Regardless of my reasoning, or factors that could have been behind my reasoning, it was still a crime," he said.

Shook's felony conviction has prevented him from getting pretty much any job. Instead, he volunteers his time at the Battleship, at the United Service Organization and at his church.

On Thursday, he dropped off an application to volunteer at a prison camp.

"I want more than anything to tell people that no matter what you've done, it's not forever," Shook said. "You can make a change. So I guess my goal in life is to be a face for change, maybe, but to encourage those that are going through that process not to give up, not to fall back on their old habits, because that's a dead end."

Now, Shook makes sure to enjoy each day, all the while helping others along the way.

"I just take it a day at a time, and I'm thankful for each one," he said.

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