Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:35PM - 152 Views

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It's no coincidence that Jimmy Wayne's pets are two rescue Chihuahuas.

You're probably thinking I'm a big dog person, but I ended up with two small dogs because they needed a home, he said during a recent phone interview from his home in Brentwood, Tenn., where he was out walking said dogs. I couldn't turn them away. They're kind of a parallel of my life, if you will.

Wayne is not just a country artist but a man who had a tumultuous childhood, which he spun into a career as a musician and activist.

He will put on a free performance at Breakers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs tonight. Space is limited, though. The first 100 people in line will gain entry beginning at 6 p.m.

By the time he was 14, Wayne found himself bouncing from school to school and in and out of the foster-care system. His mother was in prison, and the only family left was his older sister Patricia. It wasn't until the age of 16 when he met Bea and Russell Costner, who would give him a home and some stability, that things turned around for the hit maker, who is responsible for songs such as breakthrough hit Stay Gone, I Love You This Much and Do You Believe Me Now.

TIMES LEADER: Can you describe your life-changing meeting with the Costners?

JIMMY WAYNE: I was looking for work to buy food and knocked on their door, which is what I did in those days instead of going out and getting in trouble with the other guys who were committing crimes, going to jail, some of them getting shot or ending up being killed. I just didn't want to be a part of that lifestyle and completely avoided it. It made sense to me to go up to this couple, who had a woodshop, who were in their mid-70s, and see if they needed a young kid in there to sweep the floors and, sure enough, they did.

TL: How did you make the conscious decision at such a young age to stray from the crime-filled life of the people you knew?

JW: I'd seen enough of it and seen what happens to people who decide to stay in trouble all the time. I've never met a successful drug dealer in my life; I've seen them wounded or dead. I wanted to be happy, to have a good life, even if it meant not having a big fancy car and all that other stuff. I just wanted to be scar-free.

TL: As a former foster child, what is one thing you wish people could know about foster children and the life they live?

JW: The most common perception people have of foster children is that they're bad people. They're in there for a reason; they must have done something wrong. Well, no, not always. It's hard to say a little girl whose parents were killed in a car wreck and she ended up in a foster home when she was 8 is a bad person; it's not her fault. One other thing people have to realize is that in a lot of states these children reach 18 and age out of the system. Most often have nowhere to go and end up homeless.

TL: In 2010 you did a walk to raise awareness about that ...

JW: I walked from Nashville, Tenn., to Phoenix, Ariz., 1,700 miles. I walked the back roads, I slept on the road and at strangers' homes and spread the word to everyone about it. The treasury department in Tennessee started to take notice of what I was doing. I was eventually introduced to a senator, and the governor of Tennessee ended up passing a law that no child ages out of the system at 18 anymore; that age was extended to 21. I wish every state would look at this law and realize the amount of money they could save by having it. Fifty percent of the females that age out of the system end up pregnant, and one out of four males ends up incarcerated within two years.

TL: You've not only used your personal experiences to be an activist but to pen songs. Are any tracks special to you?

JW: There's a song I'll be performing called Where You're Going that's special to me because the moral of the song is that it's not where you've been but where you're going. It doesn't matter who you are; we shouldn't judge anybody by where they've been. If the Costners had judged me I wouldn't be where I'm at. I'm glad they at least gave me that chance, and I am where I am today thanks to that family.

if you go

What: Catch a Rising Country Star performance with Jimmy Wayne

When: 7 tonight. Doors open at 6 to first 100 people in line

Where: Breakers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, 1280 Highway 315, Plains Township

More info: 831-2100

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