Book Review: Demetrus Coonrod's Inspiring “From Prison to Purpose"

Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - by Andrew McLaren
I just finished reading “From Prison to Purpose” by Demetrus Coonrod.  I loved her book, was moved by it and highly recommend it. 

City Councilwoman Coonrod’s early life was a nightmare.  She slept on the floor and was raped as a child and became the mother of two daughters by the age of 13.  She was neglected and kicked out of her home by her crack cocaine-addicted mother.  She witnessed her biological father brutally beat her mother while he was also addicted to crack.  Her parents eventually split and her younger siblings were repeatedly molested by her mother’s new boyfriend causing them to run away and also become wards of the state.

City Councilwoman Coonrod fell into the trappings of the street life and bounced around from group homes to foster care.  She had no love or support from anyone but her beloved grandmother who did her best to provide stability and safety.  

Her grandmother struggled to make ends meet and was not always able to protect her grandkids from the harsh unforgiving streets of inner city Chattanooga and didn’t know the extent of the abuse her grandkids had suffered.   

Demetrus was the mother of three children at age 17 and was destitute.  She managed to get a legal job, but that was short-lived as she was hanging around with the wrong crowd. 

In order to survive the trauma of her own sexual abuse and the helpless feeling of not being able to protect her younger siblings, she sometimes felt hopeless but still she prayed.   Out of desperation she resorted to the temptations of making quick money to try to reunite her family and get them out of poverty and away from their abusers.  

She was falsely convicted of conspiring to commit armed robberies. Although she did not partake in the crimes, she allowed people to use her vehicle and was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison.  While incarcerated she was repeatedly raped by a sadistic prison guard.  Councilwoman Coonrod filed a complaint against the corrupt correctional officer and he was convicted of raping several women and abusing his authority.  Her prison sentence was thus reduced as a result of her ordeal. 

Once released from federal prison she was hounded by strict probation officers who treated her like a statistic and not a human being.  She fell in love with a wonderful man who was a felon who turned his life around and was gainfully employed.  He treated her like a queen.  Sadly the love of her life was murdered and, because he was a convicted felon, instead of consoling her as she grieved, the probation officers punished her for dating another convicted felon and tried to send her back to prison.  

God had bigger plans for Demetrus and she was not sent back behind bars. She had her citizen rights restored allowing her to run for office.  She graduated college with a degree in sociology.  She volunteered for candidates campaigns and joined the action group.  She was determined to uplift her city and District 9. 

Councilwoman Coonrod became a hometown hero and was kind to her opponents.  She didn’t have money but she had heart and soul and a sincere desire to help and protect her community.  She was not going to take her second chance for granted.  She remembered the way her grandmother never gave up on her. She was doing the impossible to get back in the lives of her children, to make her family proud and be a beacon of hope for other kids suffering in a similar hell that she had endured.  

She ran a brilliant, unconventional and organic grassroots campaign.  Her slogan was “Reset, Restructure and Revitalize” and she won! Winning the election, she simultaneously became a champion for the downtrodden, disenfranchised and abandoned working class constituents as well as everyone trying to pursue happiness but hindered by a failing system that profits from destroying families via the school to prison pipeline. 

The celebration of an underdog political victory was interrupted as tragedy struck again.   Her estranged mother slowly passed away from lung cancer around the same time that her eldest daughter Shanice, who was college educated, died from lupus.  Demetrus gave birth to Shanice when she was just 12 years old and named her after her favorite singer. 

This is a story of hope, redemption, loss, triumph in the face of evil and God’s grace and love.  It is a testament to the human spirit and a diagnosis of the American dream being on life support for much of our country.  Poetry, family, faith, chess, higher learning, perseverance, pain and God helped Demetrus rise from the ashes of hell to manifest her destiny of greatness.  

The same judge named Curtis Collier who sentenced her to 84 months in federal prison swore her in as a newly elected City Councilwoman.  That is miraculous.

I know her daughter Shanice and her grandmother are very proud.

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