Phoenix-area miracle man using his second chance to help others shunned by society

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Jeff Taylor is an extraordinary man with a remarkable story of miracles and second chances. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Jeff Taylor is an extraordinary man with a remarkable story of miracles and second chances. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
he's been on a mission to share his message with community leaders and lawmakers from our state Capitol to the nation's Capitol. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) he's been on a mission to share his message with community leaders and lawmakers from our state Capitol to the nation's Capitol. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

Jeff Taylor is an extraordinary man with a remarkable story of miracles and second chances.

He's an addict, who managed to pass half-a-dozen field sobriety tests.

He's an HIV patient, who somehow, suddenly tested, completely clean. 

And he's an athlete who competed in a world cycling competition with two broken ribs and won.

"I have had so many miracles occur in my life, I just wish I would’ve written them all down," Taylor said.

It's almost too hard to believe all he's accomplished and overcome. 

"I actually did six roadside sobriety tests and passed them all," he said. 

"I remember one story where I'd just drank enough to get sick, and I get pulled over right then, so that’s a tough one to get out of. I remember, boy, you got to think fast on this one. So I said, 'I’m never going out on a blind date again. I took her out for this big dinner, and look, she threw it up all over the inside of my truck!' I got out of it," Taylor said.

Taylor is a man of a million stories and one remarkable redemption.

“I’m blessed to be the person that I am today,” he said. 

From all state athlete, playing college football and golf to skilled academic, he was such a quick success in securities trading, he retired at 29. 

“By all the things that gauge us as a success, I had it," Taylor said.

The beach house.

"Built a house in Mexico that overlooked the Pacific," he said. 
 
The fancy car. 

"It was a Porsche 930 Turbo. They used to call it the 'widow maker,'" Taylor said. 

Fast forward four years and Taylor was living in the heart of downtown Phoenix, under a bush, on Van Buren Street, homeless.

"And I like to say, 'You know, don’t give me that look, you know it was a nice bush,'" he laughed. 

The man who thought he was invincible, became invisible.

"And that was the worst part of being homeless. I was invisible. I didn’t exist," he said. 

"I developed a very well financed and very severe addiction to cocaine," Taylor said.

"My biggest fear was being found out. It started just on the weekends, and then pretty much every day was the weekend," Taylor said. 

He was in and out of jail.

He likes to tell former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who bragged about tough conditions at his jails as a deterrent, "Your jail was so tough, I only went back six times!"

Then Taylor found himself in the Coconino County jail, looking at four to six years. 

And that's when he got sick, really sick.

"I didn’t eat for 30 days. I had zero appetite. I'm literally dying in this jail," he remembered. 

They ran tests, and he says no one could believe the diagnosis. 

"There were two people from the health department, a psychiatrist, the sheriff, the jail commander and jail chaplain. And I thought, this isn't looking very good," he said. 

They told him he was HIV positive. 

"And this was in 1994. That was about a two- to three-year death sentence," Taylor said.

Because they couldn't risk exposure to other inmates, they put him in solitary confinement.

"They put me in an isolation cell, and you'd think that’s a pretty horrible end to the story, but really, it was just the beginning," he said.

Three to four days in the dark, and he saw the light.

"It was just me and God," Taylor said. "And then miracles started to occur."

When Taylor got out 30 days later, he says he had a clear head and a clean bill of health.

"They ran some more tests. No HIV!" he said. 

Specialists at the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS say tests look for antibodies and antigens, not the actual virus. So it's possible Taylor had another illness. But no one can disagree, it's miraculous to be spared what was such a damning diagnosis at the time. 

Then, instead of prison, the judge sent Taylor to a six-month drug treatment program with the Salvation Army.

"And then a horrible tragedy occurred. A mother had given up her infant child to temporary care so she could get clean. And then that temporary foster parent, beat her child to death while she was in treatment. And she stayed clean," he said. 

That inspired him and changed him.

"So they sent me back to school," he said. 

He partnered with the Salvation Army to try and keep parents and children from being split up again.

"I got a 4.0 and became the headteacher of a nursery for children of homeless and drug-addicted parents," Taylor said.

Then this numbers man used his insider insight to invest in something far more valuable than he'd ever wagered on before: second chances. 

"I started noticing that we were funding the wreckage of addiction," Taylor said.

In 27 years, "our population in Arizona doubled. And during that same time frame, prison population should go up 100 percent also. But it went up over 1,000 percent," he said. 

So how do you stop the cycle if you have a system that's not even addressing the problem?

You change the system. 

And Taylor found a way to get the governor and lawmakers to take action.

Fed up seeing cells full of catch-and-release addicts just like him, he got clean, then he got mad. 

"I was released with the same drug addiction I was arrested with," he said.

He couldn't help but notice how until that drug treatment diversion, everything in the system had been purely punitive. 

So Taylor took his firsthand knowledge to lobby for change. 

He wrote SB1291, the legislation for the drug treatment prison transition program, giving qualifying non-violent inmates 90 days early release to get help. 

Then, as fate would have it, he wound up on the receiving end of his own advocacy when he relapsed in 2008.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Opioid crisis in Arizona]

Banned from driving as a provision of his release, Taylor started biking everywhere out of necessity, then it became a passion. 

He was training for the Sea Otter Classic, one of the biggest cycling races in the world when he got hit by a car and broke several bones. 

He was afraid to take pain meds, so he toughed it out and biked to the competition in California, then blew everyone away.

"I raced in the race with broken ribs," he said.

He won but wound up doing even more damage.

"I just used prescribed medications, and the relapse happened almost the same day," he remembered.

After 21 months in prison, Taylor expanded his lobbying from jails to prisons and eventually got hired as a consultant by Gov. Doug Ducey. 

Taylor also worked with the Phoenix Rescue Mission to open the Changing Lives Center for women and children, giving women in the criminal justice system a path to faith and sobriety so they could deliver their babies in a safe environment, surrounded by mentors like him who knew what they were going through. 

And since then, he's been on a mission to share his message with community leaders and lawmakers from our state Capitol to the nation's Capitol. 

These days, he keeps grounded twice a week, being a touchstone of faith and grace for others who need it  

"Every Tuesday and Friday morning, I am the first contact for people coming out of our prison system," he said. 

Taylor also works with Sage Counseling, coordinating the orientation for inmates going through the transition program he created. 

He's very frank and encouraging as he starts by asking everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves with their name, what facility they're coming from, and how long they were in. 

But he doesn't ask their crime. 

Taylor says people tend to live up to your expectations and hope has healing power. 

So if you call someone a criminal and treat them like one, they respond in kind. 

Likewise, if you tell someone you believe in them, they don't want to let you down. If you give them trust, they cling to it to protect that potential.

"Most of the people, if not all I've met in this program," he told the room of 10 men and two women, "are really good people. They just had a bad problem, and when you remove that bad problem, then you're left with a really good person."

"What's your biggest fear right now?" he asked. 

Nearly in unison, almost all responded, "Going back."

"Well, we are here to help you," he said. 

"The only reason this program exists is to help you not go back to prison. That's the only reason," he said.

"So, we have non-violent people in here, and we spent," he said, punching numbers into his cellphone calculator, "around $800,000 just to incarcerate this room. Does that bother anybody?" he asked. 

They talked about ways that money could have been spent to prevent petty drug-motivated crimes and why investing in their lives now to stay clean is paying off. 

They talked about Gov. Ducey's executive order last November to "ban the box" so inmates who've done their time aren't judged by their past.

[READ MORE: New hiring policy by Arizona agencies could curb recidivism]

Now, no one has to disclose any felony convictions when filling out a state job application.

Taylor said the Department of Administration was just out talking with a group of inmates he was working with the other day and hired two women on the spot. 

[RELATED: Arizona bans the box requiring a criminal history]

He says he's seeing more hope, and support from even staunch conservatives who seem to understand the undeniable cause-effect correlation of drugs and crime and poverty and our overburdened foster care system.

"Just by walking in this door today, you are 53 percent less likely to commit another crime," he told the group.

And those are numbers he'd bet on any day.

"We are restoring lives," he said.

Because of Taylor, 15,000 Arizona inmates have been released 90 days early into drug treatment programs. 

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Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

Click to learn more about Nicole.

Nicole Crites

The two- time Emmy award winner has been telling stories about Valley newsmakers and trends for more than a decade. Before joining 3TV's "Good Evening Arizona" team, she was the morning news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix.

Nicole loves meeting new people every day and finding ways to bring context to news unfolding in our community and our world.

A wife and mother of two little ones, Nicole is always exploring Arizona to uncover exciting adventures to share. She grew up in a big family, one of six kids in Tucson.

She graduated from the University of Arizona. Work and early internships took her from Manhattan to Spokane, WA, back to Arizona, where she and her high school sweetheart settled to start a family.

Nicole loves to read and keep busy with community service and crafts, like quilting baby blankets, something her mom taught her in elementary school.  

Nicole's passion for storytelling and helping others is why she got into journalism.

She won an Emmy for her field anchoring of the deadly Tucson shooting and assassination attempt of then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and another for her KPHO "Keeping the Promise" series on military struggles and success profiles.

She is an active board member for the nonprofit, Military Assistance Mission, supporting our Arizona military, their families and wounded warriors.

She believes everyone has a story and says the most interesting people she has interviewed weren't the actors or politicians who've been guests on the show over the years, but the "ordinary" people you'd never guess have overcome extreme odds and are doing extraordinary things every day

If you have a story you’d like to share with Nicole, click here to email her.

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