CHARLESTON, S.C.—Before Mark Sanford walked into the local school district headquarters here to cast his ballot for Tuesday's special election, he took a moment to embrace Jason Cunningham, a 34-year-old local hip-hop artist and friend who came to show his support for the former governor.
Cunningham, a well-built man in a red tank top who goes by the stage name J-Scribbles, has been following Sanford's career since 2010 when Cunningham was released from prison after serving a 16-year sentence for second-degree murder. Sanford left office at about the same time Cunningham exited prison. Cunningham said he has met Sanford several times during the campaign, and he views Sanford's effort to resuscitate his career as a source of inspiration for anyone with a troubled past looking for a second chance.
"He has learned from this. I know he's learned from past mistakes. That's what life is—you fall, you get back up," Cunningham told Yahoo News and Slate Magazine. "Society, you know, they don't want to give you another chance to learn from it. You can't expect nobody to go through this life without falling. You fall and get back up. You know what I'm saying, so that's what it's about."
When some people mess up, Cunningham said, they disappear forever instead of working to build themselves back up. "Sanford came back!" he exclaimed.
After Sanford cast his ballot, Cunningham said goodbye and started walking home. I spotted him and offered a ride. He gladly accepted and hopped in. During our short car ride, he described the mistakes he had made as a teenager that led to his prison sentence. Cunningham said he was a star boxer as a teenager, but that he soon fell into street fighting.
"One night I got carried away," he told me from the passenger seat of Yahoo News' rental car, "I'm fighting a guy, and I beat him to death. They locked me up for second-degree murder."
In prison, he said he found redemption through his religious faith and music. Cunningham has since reinvented himself as an artist in Charleston who writes music with a style he calls "Christianity mixed with social and political consciousness."
He began drumming with his hands on his chest. "Ima drop a verse for you," he said, and sang this:
It was the second-most surreal car ride I had taken this week.