Guy Maxwell is in Lawrence on vacation, visiting his son and grandson. But whenever he takes a holiday, he says, he likes to plan something that could be "meaningful and help someone else."
So on Monday night, at an auditorium at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Maxwell talked about his past as a drug abuser and domestic violence offender and his journey to becoming a certified counselor on a range of topics.
The audience included his son, Chris Maxwell, whose mother endured the elder Maxwell's abuse about 25 years ago.
Maxwell, standing slightly taller than six feet, with a graying head of hair and mustache, spoke for more than two hours. He began by describing his fearful childhood near Atchison with a father who "didn't want anyone to be happy."
As a teenager, Maxwell compensated with alcohol, acid and sniffing gasoline and paint thinner.
"Anything that made me feel comfortable in my own skin," he said. "My dad had it ingrained into my mind that I wasn't worth the air that I was breathing."
After high school he joined the U.S. Navy in San Diego, and pursued his career as a torpedoman with ambition, until methamphetamines and a "growing rage" inside him got in the way of it and his first marriage.
He ditched the meth, but returned to it harder than before after marrying a second time. During this marriage, which saw the birth of Chris, Guy Maxwell said he became involved in making the drug and enforcing distribution territories in Kansas.
"This is where I took my violence to another level," Maxwell said.
While living in Eagle, Colo., in January 1989 Maxwell said his violent tendencies and paranoia spilled over one night. He described beating his wife and informing his young son that he would kill his mother. Maxwell's wife and Chris fled to a neighbor's house, but Maxwell said he did not "come to" and give up his pursuit of them until after he'd broken down the neighbor's door an axe.
He was charged with several felonies including attempted first-degree murder, according to Maxwell. He said he faced 78 years behind bars.
But in the year that passed until his sentencing, after resisting temptation to take his own life, Maxwell began to reverse his trajectory. He bonded out and arrived at a recovery center like a "sponge, soaking up any information about life."
He recalled the time he had to write a letter to his father as part of a group therapy exercise and read it in class.
"For the first time in my life I was able to find a way to let go of my anger and guilt," he said. "Every time I allowed myself to be uncomfortable, I always felt better when it was over."
So he attended all sorts of group therapy sessions.
"I'm finding out that I'm not all evil, and I don't want to be evil," Maxwell said. "I felt higher than I ever felt off of any drug or alcohol in my life. Any control issues, I felt I didn't need anymore. I need this feeling."
His said his commitment to getting better eventually caught the attention of prosecutors and his wife's family. A plea bargain was reached. The attempted murder charged was dropped, and he said he served 23 months in prison, followed by 18 months on parole.
After being released, Maxwell said he spent time volunteering in several states before becoming a certified counselor working with substance abusers, adjudicated sex offenders, domestic violence victims and offenders and persons with mental illnesses. He currently lives in North Carolina.
He never resumed his marriage, but regained the trust of his ex-wife enough to visit his son and stay in their home.
"Prison was by far the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life," he said. "It slowed me down enough."