Brandy got a second chance. Now she helps others do the same.
"He had a gun in my face. He was going to shoot me," Brandy* says, referring to her abusive ex-boyfriend. "But I got it away from him, and I … I pulled the trigger."
The bullet tore through the man's spine, killing him. Brandy was arrested and put in county jail. She was convicted of manslaughter and served six years and nine months in two prisons.
FREEDOM TO ROAM
Brandy's father died when she was 12, leaving her mother to raise Brandy and her sisters alone.
"She was away a lot, just trying to cope with my father's death," Brandy says. "That left us [kids] to figure things out on our own."
Brandy used that freedom to explore drugs, drinking, and rough crowds. She was in and out of romantic relationships, many of which became abusive.
The man's violent tendencies "started escalating quickly," Brandy says. The abuse came to a head that fateful day when he pointed the gun at her face, and she turned it on him.
Brandy was arrested in 2005 and locked up in the county jail. Unable to go outside or move around, she was left to her thoughts all day—and all night.
Brandy barely slept for the next three weeks. Every time she nodded off, her mind replayed the grisly scene that landed her there. One night, trembling from one of her frequent nightmares, she cried out to Jesus.
"I asked Him to hold me, to take the nightmares away, and—if He did—then I would get to know Him," Brandy says. Her voice brightens as she remembers what happened next.
"All of a sudden I felt His hands on me, like actually touching me." Brandy, calmed by her encounter with the living Christ, was finally able to sleep. During the day, she devoured the Bible to learn all she could about the Jesus who answered her cry.
FROM ONE CELL TO THE NEXT
After a year in jail, Brandy was relieved to be transferred to the prison. At least now she could spend some time outside.
Brandy's family was remarkably supportive during her incarceration, though she needed Christ to help heal her estrangement from one of her sisters, and her daughter struggled with her absence.
Near the end of her sentence, Brandy started praying for a program to offer help transitioning to life on the outside.
A PRAYER ANSWERED
Their training included case studies designed to teach them how to respond to difficult social situations like receiving poor feedback from a boss or responding to rejection, and mock interviews to prepare them for finding a job.
But it was the Prison Fellowship volunteers who most impacted Brandy. Volunteers like the woman who came on Christmas to share dinner with the class.
"I couldn't understand why she was spending her Christmas dinner with us instead of her family," Brandy says. "But I realized I wanted to show that same kind of selfless love to others in my position."
Brandy suddenly felt called to help former prisoners re-enter society, even before she did so herself.
BRANDY'S SECOND CHANCE
Brandy was released in 2012 at the age of 47. Her family welcomed her home. She moved in with her mother and started working with her once-alienated sister. She quickly revived her relationship with Amanda, now a married mother of two living in Oregon.
"My re-entry experience was a good one, which I know isn't normal," she adds.
Transformed by her time in prison, Brandy began working with Prison Fellowship's community reentry team in Michigan, connecting returning citizens with churches, Celebrate Recovery programs, and job opportunities.
Amanda's family then moved to Montana and needed help with childcare. Brandy jumped at the opportunity and moved to Montana in 2013. She cared for the children and led an addiction recovery class at a local church.
One of the men attending her class, Jonathan*, was also a former prisoner. Jonathan and Brandy began dating and were eventually married.
MAKING THE MOST OF SECOND CHANCES
Brandy and Jonathan are making the most of their second chances. "They are committed followers of Christ and they inspire others through their example," says Mark. "Their lives declare the fact that God can completely transform and bring new life to broken people."
When asked what she feels at this point in her life, Brandy pauses reflectively, then says, "Peace. Fulfillment."
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy and safety of the people involved in this story.
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