The Bitter, Salvaged Life of Jennifer Smith

Paula Hendricks

Paula Hendricks | 02.04.13
Twitter: @PaulaWrites678


Jennifer cussed the chaplain out when she arrived at prison to serve her sixteen-year sentence. But in the privacy of her cell, she repeatedly beat her head against the concrete wall until it bled. Without drugs, she knew no other way to mask the anger and bitterness she had known from childhood.

For most of her twenty-two years, Jennifer’s parents said she was a mistake—that she was supposed to be a boy. So, Jennifer believed that God makes mistakes.

At ten, a nineteen-year-old from church began molesting Jennifer. To add to this evil, he asked her to act out Bible stories such as Adam and Eve. At this point, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with God.

She started drinking at age eleven to make the pain go away. By twelve, she was cutting, participating in criminal activity, and abusing drugs. By seventeen, she was a “mule,” trafficking drugs from Tulsa to Memphis.

One night, wondering how her life had turned out the way it had, Jennifer breathed a simple prayer, “Help. If You’re listening, help.”

She didn’t think about that prayer again until twenty-seven days later, when she saw six squad cars in her rearview mirror. As Jennifer was slammed to the pavement and cuffed, a load lifted from her. While she didn’t know what it would look like, she was certain life as she knew it was over.

After arriving at prison, Jennifer mocked the inmates in the faith-based program. But she watched them. Their joy haunted her because it was something she had never known.

So she caved and joined them. For ten weeks, she heard things she’d never heard before: Forgiveness equals freedom; God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. And, if she would believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins, He would give her a new identity.  

Ten weeks came and went, and the chaplain asked Jennifer to stay ten more. She couldn’t understand why—after the trouble she’d caused—but Jennifer agreed. 

And on December 21, 2000, God’s Spirit interacted with her through His Word for the first time in her life. When that class ended, Jennifer got on her knees and told God if He could salvage what was left of her life, it was His.

And it has been, ever since.

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Cor. 5:17) 

Catch the whole story in Nancy’s radio interview, “From Bondage to Freedom: Jennifer Smith’s Story” on

PS: Jennifer got out of prison on May 31, 2011, only to go back in . . . this time as denominational chaplain. God is now using her mightily to help salvage other bitter, broken lives. 



  1. Jennifer Smith, I just listened to your story on the radio. That person you were is my daughter now. She is in such a fight for her life. She is in such danger and all I can do is pray. Please pray for her. God bless you.
    posted by Jean
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 6:00 am
  2. Thanks for sharing this, Paula! Such a beautiful picture of God's grace and redeeming power!
    posted by Trillia
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 9:46 am
  3. Please thank her for being such a powerful life in Him. How she reminds me that He takes our stumbling blocks and makes them into His stepping stone - every one of them. If we turn them over to Him! So thankful and blessed that He has done this for so many - myself included - so others may walk with Him. God so blesses!
    posted by deby
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 10:09 am
  4. "Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
    Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
    Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
    I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
    My chains fell off, my heart was free,
    I rose, went forth, and followed Thee"

    The hymn And Can It Be came to mind...written by Charles Wesley.

    Beautiful story of God's redeeming love.
    posted by Jody
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 11:04 am
  5. That doesn't look like the same person! AMAZING! Thanks for sharing!
    posted by Heather patenaude
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 11:27 am
  6. Your face and smile radiates the freedom that's found in Jesus Christ!
    posted by Julie
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 11:37 am
  7. Your face and smile radiates the freedom that's found in Jesus Christ!
    posted by Julie
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm
  8. Jean,

    I will most certainly be agreeing with you in prayer for your daughter. It may look hopeless now but God has an amazing ability to take those things that the enemy meant for as bad and turn them into good. Just recently I found a piece of paper in my grandmother's Bible (the one who helped raise me) and it was a prayer list of lost souls in her family that she had a burden for and there my name was underlined. She died when I was 18 and never got to see the changes in my life but she had Faith in a God who she knew that nothing was impossible to Him. So years later her prayers were answered. May the Lord continue to strengthen you and May you continue to draw power from the life of Christ as you endure this difficult time. Praying for your daughter and if you would like to email me personally with your daughters name and request we will send this prayer request to a group of prayer warriors who love to pray. Blessings to you. Jennifer Smith
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:42 pm
  9. What a beautiful story of the Lord's redemption. Thank you for sharing, and thank you Jennifer for openning up your life to those who can glean from your wisdom!
    posted by Jessica
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm
  10. Jennifer
    Thanks for the courage to share your testimony. As a college tutor I met a young woman 5 years ago-shared with her all the time we tutored her through a degree-then she went to another college-and after losing touch with her-I found she was working as an erotic escort. She was back in jail recently and reached out to me-but when I wrote back the letters were returned.
    I've been looking and praying diligently for someone or some ministry that is much more equipped than I to deal with this type stuff-we are in OKC
    Her name is Nora and she needs the Lord. Praying that your victory will become hers and she'll come to know the Lord.
    posted by Marilyn Williams
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  11. Jennifer I heard your story today. You are me I Life from birth went the same other than my Mom did not want children and my Dad wanted boys. My questions are How did you work it out with your parents?How do you fit in with the women in the church? I was not taught how to be a lady I was taught how to be a man. So interacting with other women is so very hard. I am married and I seem to want to do it myself because I can. I ask because I know that God did not have this planned for me. So how did you get past that part the part that makes you able to do anything a guy can? Thanks for your stlory and God bless.
    posted by Patsy Dunkling
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm
  12. Jennifer..thank you so much for sharing your story. I am involved in jail ministry and I'm looking for some resources to share with inmates that would help them...particularly related to same issues you dealt with. Let me know if you think of anything. Normally we do a Bible study, but we are always interested in additional resources. God bless you and I pray He will continue to use your life to minister to others. Ellen
    posted by Ellen
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:15 pm
  13. Jennifer, your story gives me hope. My 15 yr old daughter was placed at a residential treatment center around Thanksgiving. She came home for a visit at Christmas and it ended violently. She returned early to the RTC, but recently ran away with 2 other girls. Since I adopted her at age 10, we have tried to do all we can to help her, but feel we may have been too late. I hope you will join us praying for her to come to a saving knowlege of Jesus, and for her safety. Even if she doesn't get to 18 in our home, I know God can reach her if she survives this. Thanks for sharing your story.
    posted by Lara Cornell
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm
  14. I love this: God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. What a great reminder for why wives are to submit to husbands, and children to parents, and employees to employers, etc, etc.
    posted by LeeAnn Cheeley
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 1:56 pm
  15. Jennifer . . . Thank you for your interview with Nancy. In that recording, you spoke of sexual abuse and the shame that followed. This is a question for which I have looked for an answer for years -- Does the shame ever end? If so, when?
    posted by Sandra
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  16. M. Williams

    Joining you in that prayer. So grateful for your service and your willingness to reach out to Nora. Maybe check with the Chaplain at where she is incarcerated and if we can be of any help you can contact us through the Prison to Purpose website.( Blessing to you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  17. Patsy,

    Thank you for sharing. Getting past the conflict with my parents was just simply I had to choose to forgive. When I realized all that I have been forgiven of, forgiveness toward them wasn't as hard and realizing that God wanted me to Honor and respect my parents, it was easy to focus on their weaknesses or shortcomings but this focus was a breeding ground for disrespect. Over the years I have realized that the parents God gave me where custom made for me and the ability to draw upon the power of Christ to enable me to maintain honor and respect for them. Learning how to be a lady and interact with other ladies, I first had to humble myself and admit my need for guidance in that area and then be willing to be taught. God placed some wonderful older ladies in my life while I was in prison. Revive our Hearts has also played a huge role when it comes to womanhood in my life. As a single woman, I struggle with self sufficiency and like you said knowing how to do things my self, I am finding that allowing my dad to do some things for me and others that God has placed in my life helps me. For you allowing your husband to lead in this area. Just want to add that having those strengths to know how to do multiple things that a man can do doesn't make you less of a lady. Knowing your identity in Christ and cooperating with the purpose of our gender has brought much freedom to me in this area. Praying the Lord would give you wisdom and heal the areas of your heart where you have been hurt in the past and that His grace and peace be multiplied to you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm
  18. Jennifer, God Bless you for sharing! I listened to your story earlier & wanted to comment but, found it difficult to do so as it brings up so many memories of my older sister. Her story is somewhat like yours...she turned to Lesbianism... She was left in- charge of her younger siblings, as our mother worked supporting 4 children alone. (Our minister father left God, abused me & left us all!) Eventhough my mother listened to me when this happened with my father, my mother closed her eyes to the signs that were there & our pleas of help to her in regards to my sister....(dressing like a man, behaving like a man, physically abusing/bullying her siblings.) It's VERY HARD to have a relationship with her even after all these years & we have even had to CUT OFF my whole family as they seem to empower her to continue in her CONTROLLING/ ABUSIVE/DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR! (when I say "destructive" I mean destructive in that she & other family members have tried to destoy my family-VERBALLY & PHYSICALLY! They believe in the BILL GOTHARD stuff! It's all about CONTROL! We had to put out a Warrent for her arrest for threats/phone harrassment...) She has said SO MANY TIMES she has changed, yet to find out she is still doing the same things... Once, bringing a married woman to church with her & she & this woman getting baptized when all along she & this woman were living in sin! All the things I wanted for my children---Aunts & Uncles, cousins, Grandparents...because I grew up without them, are gone. SIN is SO DESTRUCTIVE & it's tenticles are EVER REACHING!!!!!!! When people live in sin they are SO DECEPTIVE & try to suck others into their lifestyle, trying to bring a sense of "normalcey" to their lives, when there is NOTHING NORMAL there AT ALL! Please remember my sister & family in your prayers? That God would CHANGE their hearts!?! (I have tried to talk things out with them but, there is NO HONESTY THERE! I believe if you can't be honest with yourself, you can't be honest with God OR OTHERS! Equalling, no relationship/fellowship!) There are SO MANY things going on with these relationships ONLY GOD can make THE DIFFERENCE! Thank you for your prayers!
    posted by Becky Green
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm
  19. Thanks you Jennifer for sharing your story. I have a daughter that I have been burdened for long before there was any outward evidence that there was something wrong. So I'd pray a hedge of thorns around her that she would not find her way to evil and evil would not find its way to her. But then I started seeing signs of something not quite right. First there would be lying. Then more lying. Then getting very sneaky. There's more and I could go on but what I'm wondering is what can we do when we feel we are doing all we can but see no repentance. What could be going on here? We've tried to deal with it, not overlooking it when she'd get caught in a lie or being deceptive. We've prayed, fasted, reasoned with her, showed her from scripture, got others to pray. But it seems to be getting worse instead of better. It "seems" the enemy is after her and I know not one of us is safe from him. We have a common enemy but sometimes it seems like he targets certain ones more. I realize that might not be true but that how it "seems". What advise could you offer? And could you please pray?
    posted by Meg
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm
  20. hey you bright and shining star ! So encouraged for the wisdom grace and maturity i hear in your voice and for Gods faithfulness...
    im relating to a amost 3o yr.old mother-she spased out and hit a couple of cop cars with her children in the car-shes in a mental health unit where she'll be for 6 months to keep it out of criminal court or jail time.they have her sooo drugged up which makes her more depressed and seemingly irrational.however there are soo many unresolved areas of her heart that need healed and the hospital just wants her to keep looking into herself to name her narsis then they give her another drug-shes becoming a zombie and im not sure im getting through to her.
    posted by laurali
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm
  21. Becky,

    Thank you for your response and it is my prayer that God's forgiveness reaches the boundaries of all the hearts in your family.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 4:20 pm
  22. Sandra,

    Thank you for your question. There where two things that I believe fueled my shame. One being unworthiness and the other guilt. Once I understood that I was truly forgiven and that God intended for me to forgive others even the guy who violated me then the guilt cleared up. Learning my worth in Christ was also another tool. The shame was just a surface problem the greater root was forgiveness. So yes the shame goes away, I am not ashamed of what happened to me anymore, how can I be when God is using it for the greater Glory. Blessings to you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm
  23. Wow! God is so good!
    posted by Michelle Anderson
    on Monday, February 4, 2013 at 9:21 pm
  24. Amazing story of Transformation that Jennifer has. May she continue to be a vessel that the Lord shines through to bless others and release the captives from pain and suffering. To God be all the glory.
    posted by hattie vance
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:05 am
  25. @Ellen... "Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free" by Nancy DeMoss is used in many jail ministries. It has been an effective tool to build a foundation of God's Word in women's lives. ( God bless you for your service to the Kingdom in this way.
    posted by Sarah, with the TW Team
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:14 am
  26. @Lara...Praying for your daughter this day. Asking the Lord to draw her to Himself and bring salvation to her. "Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you." (Isa. 30:18a) Heavenly Father, please protect this young girl and give her safety until Your work is accomplished. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
    posted by Sarah, with the TW Team
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 10:25 am
  27. Jennifer,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I have really been touched. In reading it, I realize how much shame I carry for many wrong choices in my life. I always appear to be the "good girl," but I have done and said many things I am not proud of. Your life had to do a 180 degree turn when you were in prison. I find it hard to as someone that has always "on the outside" done the "right" things, but I know my heart hasn't always been where it should have been. I know we are all sinners saved by grace. I just want to get to a place where the mask is removed. I don't want to be torn inside that everyone looks to me to have it all together, but I have my own struggles just like others. Many people in my family thnk that. I have tried to explain to my one sister that I have struggles just like everone else. It seems like a lot of responsibilty is placed on my shoulders in my family, and sometimes I feel it is more than I can handle, and often become very resentful. I think I needed to hear your message of God loving us unconditionally. I think even for those of us who have walked with the Lord for many many years, we still struggle with really and truly believing that He wants to be there for us in our daily lives. I guess sometimes I feel guilty thinking I should be so grateful to have grown up in church, and I have so many great things in my life. When I hear somebody's story such as yours, I do feel guilty like "what's my problem? I haven't been through all that." I guess as I think about it, we all need God's mercy and grace, no matter the circumstancess in our lives. Thanks again for sharing, God Bless You as you minister to other women.
    posted by Tammy
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm
  28. Meg,

    Thanks for sharing and yes I will pray for your daughter. As I read your comment I could not help but think of how blessed your daughter is to have you interceding and investing in her life. I pray that one day she will know what a gift that is. I know it may seem hopeless now but as I shared with Jean earlier years after my grandma passed her prayers for me were answered. In the planting and watering we never know when God is going to give the increase. My advise would be not to give up hope, you never know if the circumstances your daughter is in will be the very thing God uses to draw her to Himself and reveal to her the great need she has for Him. It is my prayer that God would strengthen you and that His Word would comfort the thoughts with in and that He would send people in your life to encourage you while you are waiting on Him to deliver your daughter. Because of His great mercy we have a living Hope. I will be joining you in earnest prayer for your daughter.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 6:56 pm
  29. Laurall

    Thank you for your kind and encouraging words and for your willingness to invest in the life of others. I am sure that there where many in my life who felt similar to you not knowing if they where getting through but I will tell you that there where times when what they had said or done weighed heavy on my heart and I reflected on them often. Praying that during these next six months that the Lord would protect her and keep her by His power. Praying for wisdom for you that you would be able to take God's truths navigate them around any mind sets that she may have. Be encouraged, I am a life that was changed because of many like you who took the time and effort to invest in my life. May the Lord Bless you and multiply His grace and peace unto you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 8:19 pm
  30. Beautiful story that touched my heart! As a therapist, I deal with angry children daily and struggle with knowing what to do. Your story has inspired me to consistently build a loving relationship with them. Do you have any advice for me in trying to get through to children who are angry, resentful, defiant, and possibly abused?
    revive our
    posted by Tara
    on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:05 pm
  31. Tammy, Thank you for your kind words. I agree that God's grace and mercy are something we all need. Even though in prison I became free, I have found that for that freedom to continue I have to keep applying truth. One of the areas for me that is a challenge but yet vital to my heart maintaining its freedom is being able to share my heart. Being able to share those struggles and the truth of my heart even the ugly things and having someone that I can ask to pray for me is key for me. Just want to thank you for your courage in sharing your heart in your comment. Another thing that has helping me is choosing to be grateful instead of focusing on my situation and irritations, Nancy has an excellent book on this called Choosing Gratitude. Praying for you Tammy that you will be encouraged in the Lord today.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 8:53 am
  32. Tara, thank you for your desire to help and reach out to children who are struggling in this area. I don't know that i could give you any across the board answer on how to deal with these issues. I know what is working in my life. I found that my anger was fueled by past hurts in my life and anytime someone would hurt me in a similar way I would respond in anger. I would meditate on what had irritated or injured me which only produced bitterness. Reasoning against such mindsets takes creativity, patience, long-suffering, mercy, kindness, gentleness,forgiveness and persuasiveness in order to guide God's truth around mental road blocks. I started with an anger journal, recording when I got angry and then going back and asking the Lord to help me identify hurts or unfulfilled expectations or rights that I thought I had. Then I would list things that I could be grateful for in the situation and to focus on that instead of the actual irritation or offense. Don't know if that helps any but I am grateful for what you do. Blessings to you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm
  33. Prayers Worth Repeating..a study put out by Stonecroft has been used of God in a huge way to direct my thoughts/prayers for my adult children who are not walking with God. My children are not involved in what we might think of as major sin; but they are still not walking the walk, and my concern for them is still intense.
    posted by Joyce
    on Friday, February 8, 2013 at 12:17 pm
  34. Thank you, Jennifer, for your testimony. I led a bible study in the women's jail, and also have parented angry foster children and a rebellious biological daughter, so your comments are enlightening.
    posted by valerie novak
    on Friday, February 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm
  35. Jennifer,
    Your story Has captured my heart. My 40 year old
    niece was in bondage to drugs which led to involvement in a shoplifting ring. She served 9 months in prison & now cannot find a job in order
    to support her children. Is there an organization
    that helps women who want to make a life for themselves after prison? The family has gone over & above to
    help her. Now we are trying to convince her that she must humble herself & not hide her past & trust God
    to lead her to someone who will give her a chance.
    She keeps running farther away from her past hoping nobody will find out.
    If there is an organization that can help I really need to know about it.

    Blessed be the God of many chances,
    posted by Sharon Baker
    on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm
  36. Sharon, So thankful for the love you have for your niece and your desire to help her. If you want to email Prison to Purpose at we would like to help and direct you any way we can. Blessings to you.
    posted by Jennifer Smith
    on Monday, March 4, 2013 at 12:24 pm
  37. Tears of joy just swept over my heart. Love ya, Jen, my sister in the Lord!
    posted by Mary Crawford
    on Saturday, June 1, 2013 at 10:11 am
  38. I also was incarcerated where both Stacy and you Jennifer were at. I spent a year combined in Gals, PAL, and APAL. My life was forever changed, praise and glory to GOD. I have been out for 17 months. My faith is strong but my actions are weak. Please pray for the Lord to renew my devotion and dedication to Him. I KNOW when the progression of Truth is stopped all is not good. It is time for me to progress in Him. I live in Harrison, AR and need reference to a good Church also. Thank you and may God bless and keep you.
    posted by Suzette
    on Saturday, March 14, 2015 at 2:59 am
  39. @Suzette...Bless you, Suzette! What a beautiful testimony to the faithfulness of God. Praise the Lord indeed for a changed life! We have indeed prayed for you. Our Prayer Team prays individually and specifically for each request; we count it a privilege to pray for you. How we pray you will take the steps to renew your devotion and dedication to the Lord.

    Not too long ago I heard Anne Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) say that when she felt distant from God at one point in her life, she knew where to find Him—right where He had always been…in the pages of His Word and on her knees. I encourage you to seek Him through prayer and Bible reading, Suzette.

    The daily routine of reading your Bible and praying are consistent, purposeful ways of seeking the Lord’s work and ways in your life. It can indeed become the sweetest time you will have in your day.

    For your Bible reading, make sure you have a modern translation, so it is easily understandable, and the meaning comes alive to you. (If you need help getting one, write us at and we'll be happy to help!) If you need a suggestion, start with reading Psalm 139 each day for 7 days. Get a journal and write down 3 things you learn about God and/or what He does each day. After reading and writing, get on your knees and thank Him for who He is and what you have seen of Him in His Word. Talk to Him about your life and your longing to be closer to Him and to know Him more. Then, the next week, do the same with Psalm 103. See if that doesn't draw you right back into fellowship with Him.

    We don't have a suggestion right now for a church, but if we find one, I'll let you know! That will be an added plus to walking with the Lord and knowing Him more!!

    God bless you, Suzette!
    posted by Sarah, with the TW Team
    on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 11:47 pm

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