‘For me to recover I’ve had to give’: From prison to fatal fire to helping others


Keokuk, IOWA (NEWS3) — “I can remember on about three different occasions when I broke down and cried, and I would tell my mom that I just wanted to go back to prison,” Jacob Glen Russelll, resident of Keokuk, Iowa, said. ”I felt like when I was incarcerated I had a purpose, or like it was very defined what I needed to do with myself, and when I got out, I just didn’t know.”

Russell is now focused on recovery and giving back to the community after 20 years of drug arrests and spending time in and out of prison and jail.

“I started drinking when I was about 14, somewhere in there. Started smoking pot, using drugs, when I was about 15,” Russell said. “By the time I was in high school I was selling drugs. The first time I was incarcerated I got caught with a pound of weed about a month after I graduated high school.” 

Russell was sentenced to 30 years for manufacturing methamphetamines in 2010 with a four and a half year mandatory minimum. While in prison Russell shared that he was miserable, and that there were limited resources. He spent a lot of time working out and reading to pass the time. 

After being released, he had trouble rejoining society. 

“I was in the best physical condition I had ever been in in my life, but mentally I was still broken and lost,” Russell said. “My lifestyle was back to where it was when I left, and they always say you’ll pick up right back where you left off, if not worse, and it definitely went from bad to worse quickly.”

About a year after being released from prison in January 2016, Russell suffered severe burns in a mobile home fire in Montrose, Iowa. He had reconnected with a friend from high school during this time, and he was staying with her in her trailer with her two kids. His friend and both of her children died in the fire and Rusell was airlifted to the burn unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. The children had recently returned from school and Russell was asleep in a back bedroom, with two walls between him and where the fire started, according to Russell

“They think she probably lit a cigarette in the living room, and it ignited the gas leak that was coming from the furnace in the middle of the trailer,” Russell said. “You can’t figure out why you lived. … Why would somebody like me live and why would children die, and that was tough I couldn’t deal with it.”

Area media outlets reported on the initial fire from Quincy, Illinois, to Des Moines, Iowa, with several updates as the story unfolded. Initially it was reported as a mobile home fire and the cause of the fire was under investigation. However, with Russell’s previous drug convictions, Russell said coverage soon changed.

“… So they reported it as a meth fire that I had started, made me out to be a monster and they retracted it a couple weeks later or whatever, and the sheriff’s department had a news conference, but ya know that really hurt me too because it was -. I basically felt like I was already being convicted without committing a crime,” Russell said. “Then I just, I kinda went off the deep end. … They were giving me a lot of dilaudid … I was using them as prescribed for the most part, but I was also doing meth. I just basically was trying to kill myself on a daily basis. … I got caught ten or eleven months after that.” 

Russell spent more time in prison and was released this time in 2018. He admitted that there was a period of time where he had relapsed back to his old ways, but after seeing someone he used to drink with be indicted and receive a 25-year federal sentence he thought it was time to make a change. He shared that it really came down to mindset to start the path to recovery. 

“I was never able to be content in my life. It was always just about more, I just needed more. It didn’t matter what it was, I just wanted more. I always wanted these things and I wanted these possessions and once I got these I’d be happy, but I’d get these things and I’d never be happy,” Russell said. “[Now] I devote a lot of my time to other people because that’s what it took for me because I was so self-centered, y’a know, arrogant. It was all about me, and for me to recover I’ve had to give.” 

Russell volunteers his time at a free will donation store in Keokuk, and he donates his time and his artistic abilities to help paint murals in the area with the Keokuk Walldogs. Russell is also on the board of a project in Southeast Iowa that is working to collect area resources for those in need and for recovery options to better offer assistance to those in need in the community.

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