"I am what society would call a 'repeat offender,'" says Deborah Daniels.
She speaks frankly, but at times it's hard to believe that the calm woman sitting before the camera could have ever lived such a chaotic and self-destructing life.
A TRAGIC TURNING POINT
"I don't remember a lot of my young years as a child," Deborah says. "[But] I remember a lot of the stories … about my mom's life and her journey."
Deborah's mother only had a sixth-grade education, but she was determined to provide for her family. Wanting a better life for her kids, the family left Birmingham for Demopolis, Alabama, where Deborah's mother found a job working at a restaurant.
Then came the turning point that would have a lasting effect on Deborah.
"There was a point in my mom's life where she decided that selling alcohol would help her," Deborah says. "We lived in a duplex house, and my mom turned one side of our house into what we would call 'a jute joint.'"
Selling alcohol meant that men were frequently in and out of the house. When Deborah was 7 years old, she was molested by her mother's boyfriend. The abuse continued for three years.
'A TROUBLED CHILD FROM A DYSFUNCTIONAL FAMILY'
"I was expelled from school for having marijuana in my possession," Deborah recalls. "They sent me for psychological evaluation."
The diagnosis was discouraging: Deborah was "a troubled child from a dysfunctional family."
"What they didn't tell me is that every child is a troubled child and every family is dysfunctional—apart from Jesus Christ."
Eventually, Deborah dropped out of school and began a life on the streets. Her only plan was to make fast money and live "a life of abundance—of money, drugs, men, and everything that lifestyle brought with it." Including jail time.
At 18, Deborah was arrested for a jewelry store heist. She was a first-time offender, so she was only given probation … with restitution for over $60,000.
"I had no way to pay that kind of money," she says, "except to continue in my criminal profession."
She started dealing cocaine to come up with the cash.
OUT OF CONTROL
For two decades, Deborah was in and out of jails and prisons. Deborah seemed doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes, living a life of men, drugs, and deception.
Then, in 1993, Deborah was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Little did she know that this sentence would be her last.
"God, if You can do anything with my life, then use it. It's Yours."
TO SAVE A WRETCH
Although her sentence initially scared her toward God, Deborah returned to her previous ways once behind bars.
She gambled, disobeyed, disrespected authority, and was rebellious. Inside, Deborah was angry, hurt, and felt isolated—"like God had deserted me, and that this was my fate in life."
But then one day in 1995, Deborah heard a group of Prison Fellowship® volunteers singing:
I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me …
"I was indeed a wretch," Deborah says. "I had no idea that that day God would come into my heart and change my life completely forever."