'It's Never Too Late to Turn Your Life Around'

Interview by Jennnifer Schuchmann, Copyright Christianity Today International

In March of 2005, Brian Nichols allegedly shot three victims in an Atlanta courthouse and hours later, a fourth—at a construction site a few miles away. While trying to evade police, Nichols forced himself into Ashley Smith's apartment where he held her captive for seven hours. Miraculously, Smith was able to convince the alleged killer to surrender peacefully. After the event, details emerged about how Smith witnessed to Nichols and read to him from Rick Warren's bestselling book, The Purpose-Driven Life. Her story made national headlines and Smith was hailed as a heroine. But there were parts of the story that America hadn't heard. In her book, Unlikely Angel, released in late 2005, Smith tells of her terrifying encounter with Brian Nichols and reveals that, prior to the ordeal, she had struggled with an addiction to crystal methamphetamine and actually gave the drug to Nichols after he asked her for marijuana. Following these revelations, Smith was assailed by critics, who questioned her integrity and joked that it wasn't "God" but drugs that helped Smith survive. A year after the Atlanta hostage crisis, Smith continues to put her life back together, and even has plans to work with Celebrate Recovery www.celebraterecovery.com, a faith-based addiction recovery program established through Rick Warren's church. Today's Christian recently spoke to Smith about her life today. What have you done in the past year?

A lot of healing really. To begin with, I just spent time with my daughter and learned how to be a normal, straight person who was not on drugs. I also had to learn how to be Paige's mom all over again.

How did people respond to the revelations made in your book?

For the most part, the attention was positive. There were a few people who were like, "Uh huh, see I told you she wasn't this perfect angel or whatever."

How did you respond?

I was like, "No kidding! That was my point from the beginning."A?

But for the most part, the feedback was wonderful. Since the book has come out, I've been able to go out and do a lot of public speaking. It still amazes me when people come up to me—and they don't even have to be addicted to anything, they just have a problem in their life—and they say, "Ashley, you've given me hope."

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I'm like, "Jesus gives you hope through me."

How did people react when they learned that you gave Brian Nichols crystal meth?

Some people asked me whether it was God or the meth that calmed him down. To those people I said, "You know, meth doesn't calm you. It speeds you up. It makes you hallucinate, go crazy. Really, that's what it did to me. And obviously, he settled down. So the answer to the question is yes, it was God."

Addicts say that meth is a very difficult drug to quit. Did you just quit or did you use a 12-step program to get clean?

The first step in any program is realizing there is a greater power than yourself. When you're trying to come clean and restore your sanity, you just have to give it all to God. And that is where I left mine—with God. I don't necessarily go through a 12-step program now and I didn't then. I just leave it all to God.A?

My surroundings have totally changed. The people I hang out with, the way I live my life, all aspects of my life changed. Yes, I know how hard it is to get off meth, but I wanted to do it long before that night.

That night I said to the Lord, "Here it is. You can have this too. You've done way better miracles than this."

Now, I just feel very blessed that this happened in my life.

How has your spiritual life been affected by all of this?

My spiritual life has never been better and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Every day, I wake up and say to God, "Hey, [Lord], where are we going today? What can You do to surprise me today?"

I am a small group leader for youth at my church, where I am very involved. I feel honored and blessed that the Lord has used me and that He continues to use me.

You grew up in the church …

I did. But when I was about 16, I started hanging out with the wrong crowd at school. I moved out when I was 17. I got these wild hairs and went crazy and stopped going to church.

So what do you tell the kids in your youth group so they don't make the same mistakes?

I tell them that they are not supposed to be 50 years old before God wants to use them. That's what I always thought. I had it in my mind that you could have fun and party until you were 40 or 50 and then God uses you. But it's cool to be 27 now and know that God is using me in a mighty way.

And of course I tell them where I've been, what I did, and why I did the things I did … [she shows them videos of meth addicts and tells them] … that meth will ruin your life in less than a month and I hope this scares the crap out of you.

Have you had any contact with Brian Nichols?

No. I have not

How do you feel about him now?

I feel grateful that he allowed me out of the house, when I should have been the fifth victim. I have gotten a second chance to live my life and be a part of my daughter's life. I thank him for that.

So, Ashley, what's your purpose?

I think God wants me to continue to tell my story—that it is never too late to turn your life around. I will be starting school in the fall, taking psychology actually. So however He wants to use me is His choice. But what I am doing right now is continuing to tell my story and to let people know that it is never too late to turn your life around. God is just waiting for us to turn to Him so that He can use us.

Is there anything you want people to know?

I want people to know that God has blessed my life. I owe the rest of my life to Him. I am just dedicated to doing what God wants me to do for the rest of my life, and to being a good mom to my daughter.

Jennifer A. Schuchmann is an Atlanta-based writer and the author of Your Unforgettable Life: Only You Can Choose the Legacy You Leave (Beacon Hill Press). Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine.
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