Hello Jim, please tell us a little about yourself.I was a successful businessman for many years before committing to full-time Christian Ministry in 1992. My businesses were diverse and included the popular Carlos McGee’s restaurant chain. My involvement and close connections with members of the Chicago Mafia brought my name and businesses up before a special “Organized Crime Task Force” (OCTF). I became a target of the OCTF, and in 1982 was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison. It was there that my life changed.
After my release, I owned a marketing and sales consulting business when Bruce Wilkinson, the founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, persuaded me to work with his organization. For fifteen years I served in their Seminar Division and when I left, I was Vice President of Seminars and Training, as well as Interim Vice President of Publishing. I currently am a marketing and business consultant and a popular speaker in both Christian and non-Christian settings. I am active with my church and I lead two large monthly Bible studies in Atlanta. I live in the Atlanta suburbs with my wife Judy and am within driving distance of our three daughters and eight grandchildren.
What genre(s) do you write, and why? My original book is a memoir. I am currently writing a suspense adventure fiction book that includes the mafia and the biggest art theft in America’s history.
What is your book about? Connected: From Godfather to God-the-Father begins with Jim “Bobo” Hall facing a federal judge. It ends with his salvation and the miracles he experienced while in prison. I am this Bobo, and the book is my memoir.
My book never would have been interesting, or my life so strange, if it had continued down the ordinary path of the first six years of my childhood–but it didn’t. At the age of seven, the FBI’s search for an escaped convict, and former member of John Dillinger’s gang, brings them to my house looking for my father. When my dad eludes capture, my family and I join him in a lifestyle some describe as outlaw.
From the Italian gangs of Chicago, to my boarding school experiences at a Catholic Seminary, my pre-adult life is marked by so many unusual adventures that it might have been a remarkable read if I had ended it before I started my adult journey. However, as some say, “That’s just the beginning of my story.”
After college I found I had a knack for business, especially dirty business. My chronical follows my days as a wealthy businessman, and how I became involved with the Mafia leadership in Chicago. My story tries to highlight the drama, adventure, and sadness of my life. I include vignettes about various mafia chiefs, Frank Sinatra, skimming Las Vegas casinos, murder, the mob’s possible role in John F. Kennedy’s death, and my time in Federal Prison.
Ultimately, what’s most important, it’s a remarkable story of how only God can bring peace to a life of chaos.
What inspired you to write this book? In 1993 I left the business world to join Walk Thru the Bible Ministries. I had shared my testimony many times before then, but this opened up an entirely new set of audiences. Most everywhere I shared my story someone would say, “You’ve got to write a book.” I’d smile and shrug it off. It was many years before I seriously took on the project. Two events set my writing into motion.
First, as many others experienced during the recent great recession, I found myself without a job. With plenty of time available, I began writing. Once started, memories returned and words flowed. As the page numbers grew, the excitement intensified.
The second important moment came when I joined up with a group of writers that gave me the guidance needed to move from being a speaker to being a writer. The group called themselves the Seedwriters because they believed they were formed to “write seeds of God's word into their books,” and to support each other. Maybe they just felt sorry for the lone male in their consortium, but soon they enveloped me with their collective wings. They prodded and encouraged me when I needed it most.
Most importantly, they lovingly explained the difference in being a public speaker with a story, and a writer hoping to bring the tale to life. Without their mentoring, I’m not sure I’d ever be published.
What is the writing process like for you? “How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flown. How did it get so late so soon?” Dr. Seuss.
For me, finding the time to write is my biggest challenge. When I do, I generally alternate writing my draft one time and edit the next.
How does it feel to be a published author? While I have a greater empathy with writers now, I don’t feel any different now.
Any advice for struggling writers? "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." - Anton Chekhov
Where do you see book publishing headed to? While there will continue to be less paper, people will continue to read.
If your book were made into a movie, who would be the hero and heroine? Since this is a memoir, it might seem to be presumptuous to project some “hunk” playing me. However, Christian Bale might play me well. A blonde Amy Adams would be perfect for my wife.
"All rise!” the bailiff commanded.
Frank A. Kaufman, the federal district chief judge, entered the courtroom.
I placed my hands on the desk and forced my quaking legs to stand. Sweat, like a block of ice in a sauna, rained down my pants. Could that grandfatherly man in the flowing black robe really be the man the Chicago mafia and I had plotted murdering? Did he know how close we came to being successful?
The FBI’s search for an escaped convict, a former member of John Dillinger’s gang, brought them to little Bobo’s house as they attempted to unearth his father. Bobo’s dad eluded capture, and the seven-year old joined his father, embarking on life as a fugitive. Searching for happiness through his Catholic boarding school years and success as a businessman, Jim Hall became entrenched in the mafia. With riveting tales of Frank Sinatra, Las Vegas casinos, and a possible connection to JFK’s death, this is the miraculous true story of a boy connected to the godfather who finds his way to peace with God the Father.
"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
Bad choices are sometimes birthed before we make them. Like all babies, I came into the world free, made in the image of God. However, I lived much of my life as a prisoner of my selfishness and greed...and eventually of the federal penitentiary system. My incarceration, birthed in fear and overflowing with wrong decisions, began on a summer morning I refer to as that day. I was seven.
The rooster screamed for my eyes to open. I’d never seen this bird or even knew who owned it, but always welcomed its voice on weekends. I ran to the window to confirm what I already knew. Sunshine. Warmth. And lots of both. I tossed on my clothes and bolted to the kitchen. It was Saturday, after all. Dad would have a great breakfast waiting. Maybe even his famous chocolate-chip pancakes. Famous to me, anyway. We’d eat together, and then I’d be free.
Mom’s trained voice sang a Doris Day tune as I grabbed my usual chair at the table. I flopped on a seat and rolled up the flapjack. “Use your fork and make sure to chew each bite at least thirty times.”
"But mom, they’re pancakes.” Who counted chews, anyway?
From the stove Dad smiled, “If you don’t chew your food, your poots will smell.”
"Daaaaad!” Thank heaven there were no cute girls around. Parents could be so embarrassing.
It was just like any Saturday in the small Michigan town where we’d moved two years before. With Dad gone all week at his job as a Chicago pastry chef, weekends were special. But nothing could keep a young boy in the house on such a beautiful day. I gobbled up the last of my food and gulped my OJ. I was so out of there.
Dad rinsed the plates, and Mom tucked a carton of juice in my pack as I blew through the kitchen in search of my shoes.
"Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad!” I called to the open window as I threw one leg over my bicycle seat and turned in the direction of anywhere.
That day, my ride took me up a super high hill—challenging for a boy whose feet barely touched the pedals. At the top, I stopped to rest and sip from a carton of orange juice. I peered down the hill I’d just climbed.
My gaze stretched to the right beyond the rows of houses that dotted the ground directly below.
"Wait a sec.” I searched for the streetlamp that stood on the corner of my road and then counted five houses over. I peered closer at what I was sure was my driveway. Four squad cars. What on earth were four cruisers doing in front of my house? That could mean nothing but trouble.
My juice sprayed across my shin as I dropped it to the ground. I sailed down the hill I’d just powered my way up and then pumped my short legs as hard as I could to keep my momentum. What I’d give that moment for a bike with gears.
I maneuvered my bike past one brown and three black squad cars that sat on the street...waiting. Biking slowly up the driveway, I passed a dark, unmarked vehicle with a small blue bubble thing on the roof above the driver’s door.
I hoisted my leg over and jumped from my still moving bike which rode on rider-less, and then dumped on the grass. I ran hard, right into the arms of a huge cowboy.
"Whoa, where you think you going?” The man was massive. His brown uniform, beige cowboy hat, and holstered gun reminded me of an unmasked Lone Ranger.
"You belong here young man?”
I stared up at his huge head, certain he could swallow me whole if he chose. No words came.
"Is this your house?”
I think I nodded.
"What’s your name?”
"Okay, Bobo,” I sensed the smile in his voice though none appeared on his face. “Why don’t you wait here with me until everyone’s finished inside?” The man knelt on one knee. Even bent over, he seemed colossal. His immense fingers softly squeezed my shoulder. I had never seen anything like it. His thumb was bigger than my whole hand.
"Is that your bike?”
Would he get mad if I didn’t talk? But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the words to leave my mouth.
"It’s sure a pretty one.” He seemed like a nice man, but I stayed frozen in place. Giants can be very tricky.
The front door flew open and two policemen darted out. Shouting something I couldn’t understand, they sprinted around to the back of my house. Why were they holding guns? Something bad happened in my house.
My muscles strained toward the front door. I had to get in there. I had to know. But once I knew, there’d be no going back. Maybe not knowing was better.
The hulk beside me rose and joined the other officers in a huddle like they do at football games. In less than a minute, they all, expect the big one, rushed to their cars and sped off with sirens shrieking and blue lights flashing.
The beast offered me an open hand.
I froze. I couldn’t touch that guy> What if he was bad?
He nodded. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Something told me he was telling the truth, so I reached for his hand, grateful for the contact. How could such thick fingers be so gentle? We headed to the door where my mother stood.
"Thank you, Sheriff.” She peeled my hand from his, my grip tighter than I’d realized.
"That’s all right, Billie, I’m sure it’ll all work out.” He offered a sympathetic smile.
He strode to his car and opened the door, but stopped. He lumbered to my bike and lifted it off the ground like it was a feather. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped my bicycle clean, then wheeled it into the garage just like my dad would have done.
Where was Dad?
Tears streamed down the sheriff’s face. What did that mean? Giants weren’t supposed to cry.
I glanced at Mom. Dark circles had appeared under her bloodshot eyes and her uncombed hair looked kind of crazy.
I had to know. “Where’s Dad?”
“Later…we have to talk.”
Maybe I could find him myself. I marched to the kitchen where a medley of coffee cups and ashtrays littered the table and the window ledge. One lay shattered on the floor. I collected the chunks of white porcelain of Dad’s last Father’s Day gift. The spilled coffee blended with the caramel linoleum floor.
I placed the broken fragments on the table and headed to the living room.
I heard voices outside. Was that shouting? Had Dad come back? I peeked through the heavy drapes. The cars that had sped off minutes before were back.
“Mommy, where’s Daddy, and why are the police here?”
She was in the living room on the phone. “Could you please keep the kids tonight, maybe tomorrow too? No, Bobo will stay with me. Thanks, I’ll explain everything tomorrow.” She hung up the phone and tapped on the red plastic and chrome kitchen chair. Obediently, I sat down. She took a seat across me and pulled a long, shaky draw from her cigarette. “Bobo, let’s talk.”
That’s the second time she said this. It seemed strange because only adults “talked.” Her fingers massaged her temples so hard I thought her eyes might pop out. “I don’t know how to explain this to you, to anyone…even to myself.”
"Bobo, the police say your dad is someone else, not who we think.” She tried to use the sleeves of her light blue robe to wipe her tears, but it was no use, there were too many.
"But, how can Daddy not be Daddy?”
"No, he’s your dad. It’s just that…” She took another puff and continued, “I just don’t know...” Her sobs took over. I put my arms around her and held her. Our tears mingled as she clung to me. But why was I crying?
Nothing made sense.
She left the room and returned with a roll of toilet paper, took a handful for herself, and handed the rest to me.
"He’s your father, but they say he’s someone different than we think. While you were out the sheriff arrived with some of his men and two FBI agents. They wanted to talk with your dad. I yelled for him. He came out of the kitchen carrying the baby.”
She dropped her cigarette into a coffee cup to swim with the other butts, and shook another from the pack. Trembling hands worked at the lighter until she managed to light her next smoke. “The FBI said they had some reason to believe your dad was an escaped prisoner from the Missouri State Prison. They asked him to get dressed and come down to the local police station. About that time, a couple other police cars pulled up.”
A sort of buzzing filled my brain.
Her whole body trembled. She used both hands to get the cigarette to her lips and then sucked on it like it was oxygen.
"Bob, the sheriff, who both your dad and I know, said this had to be some kind of mistake. He said the County gets a mistaken identity from the FBI pretty often. I offered to make some more coffee and your dad went into the bedroom to put some clothes on.” Mom walked to the refrigerator, grabbed the orange juice and drank directly from the carton. She always told us to never do that, but when she handed it to me I took a long gulp. Some rules didn’t matter when a dad goes to jail.
“About the time Madge left with your brother and sister, and one of the FBI agents asked me to tell your dad that he needed to get a move on. I went to the bedroom, but when I opened the door it was empty, and the window was open. Your dad was gone.”
"Gone? Gone where?”
"Your father ran away through the cornfields. He escaped!”
Escaped? Where? Why? I looked at the floor to make sure it was still there. The room spun.
"Bobo, you’ve got to be brave.” Mom clutched my hand.
I wanted to be strong like John Wayne and Gary Cooper in the movies, but fear begins with the unknown. I stared into her eyes. Surely she’d pull me into her arms and tell me it would be okay. She’d tell me that she’d take care of me...of us.
Mom palmed her pack of smokes and stumbled to her bedroom. The door closed with a loud thud.
I paced the room. What had he done? When had he escaped? How did they find out? I clutched at my hair. Why hadn’t he told us? Why had he run? The questions...too much.
I ran to the bedroom door and knocked softly so it wouldn’t startle her.
"Leave me alone! No more questions.” Her wail sounded far away. Under a pillow maybe.
I stumbled away from the door. I’d leave her alone, but I was the one truly left alone.
The day passed in a blur as I waited for something to happen. For the police to come back with news. For Dad to come back through the window and tell me it was okay. Or take me with him. For me to wake up and discover it had all been a dream.
Night fell, and I needed escape. I crawled into bed begging my body to sleep.
Maybe it was time to pray for real. Not the little-kid prayers I’d been saying since I was born, but the kid of prayers grown-ups prayed in church.
"God, please keep my daddy safe. Please bring him home. And please make my mom come to my room and kiss me goodnight.” Her arms around me would help me get through the night.
The dark silence droned on and on. If God was real, then He wasn’t listening to me. Mom never came.
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This book sounds remarkable. I will certainly buy a copy. Thank you so much Jim for this interesting interview. All the best with Connected: From Godfather to God-the-Father.