E.C. Burnett III has lived in Spartanburg most of his life. For 59 years, he has been married to his college sweetheart, Jami. They have three children and three grandchildren and are praying for great-grandchildren to come along soon.
He served as a soldier in Vietnam, in the South Carolina State House, and as a probate, family, circuit, and SC supreme court judge. His faithfulness to his family, the community, and Christ is well-known and admired.
During his 30-plus years of public service as a judge, he made judgments in all kinds of cases, from divorce court to death row appeals. With the last 12 years of his career spent as an SC supreme court judge, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who could examine the evidence as logically and thoroughly as E.C. Burnett.
After he retired from the bench in 2007, he began considering where he could make a difference in the community. Most would consider it unlikely that a retired SC supreme court judge would decide to volunteer in prison ministry. Not only did he begin serving prisoners, but for the past 15 years, he has generously given time, energy, and money into providing transformational opportunities for men and women served by JUMPSTART.
He has led small group bible studies, shared with JUMPSTART classes, and recently spearheaded efforts to build a chapel at Tyger River Correctional.
Why would a retired SC supreme court judge serve prisoners?
In his words, “During my time as a judge, I encountered many men and women who did not understand that there was a purpose for their life. That God had given them life for a reason. Many ended up in prison because they committed crimes trying to fill a void only Christ can fill.” He went on to say, “I also saw many of the same women and men over and over during my time as a circuit court judge.” When he asked them why they had committed a crime again or violated parole many shared similar struggles. He shared, “It became clear to me that they must have a heart change while incarcerated, and then they must have real help upon their release.”
When asked to elaborate, he shared, “An individual may come to know Christ while incarcerated and be very serious in their commitment to follow Him, but if they get out and go back to an unhealthy home environment or if they cannot get a job, or do not have transportation, it is almost impossible for them to reacclimate into society in a way that allows them to make it. So, they return to how they lived before incarceration. They had to learn to follow Christ while incarcerated, and they have to be helped to learn to follow Christ in the face of all the challenges life throws at them after incarceration.”
He shared, “the church where I worship, Mt. Calvary Presbyterian Church, has been involved with JUMPSTART since it began. One of our members, Mark, who also volunteers regularly on our media and technology team, has been a member for over a dozen years. He is just one of over 3,500 men and women who’ve completed JUMPSTART and haven’t returned to prison.” JUMPSTART helps men and women not only not go back to prison, they also help them get employed, reunite with their families, and integrate back into the community as productive citizens.
When asked if he had any final thoughts he wanted to share with the community, he said, “In my eighty years on this earth, I have had the opportunity to experience many things. I’ve witnessed society try many things to reduce crime and recidivism, and not much that excludes Christ in proposed solutions has worked. However, all of the undeniable and verifiable evidence points to the fact that God is using JUMPSTART to change lives, and I hope our community will step up to help JUMPSTART serve more people.”