Growing Up Behind Bars

Most of us look back on our high school days with fond memories and generally regard that time of our life with nostalgia. However, I want to tell you about a ninth grade girl whose life took a radical turn in one single moment.  And her memories of “the good old days” are very different from ours.

At age 15, Keisha moved out of her parent’s home and started living with a friend.  Any kid that would prefer to face the world without her mom and dad, must have had a hard life.  One afternoon, while riding in a car with a young man she knew, they got into a heated argument.  It was the final straw for Keisha.  Years of pain bubbled to the surface and a dark rage boiled inside.  She was done with being disrespected.  When the vehicle came to a stop at the next light, Keisha took hold of a gun, put it to the boy’s temple, then pulled the trigger.  That split second decision changed her life forever.  While her friends had fun going to the movies, Prom and graduation, she sat alone in prison for felony murder.

When I met Keisha she was 35 years old. She had spent twenty years of her life in prison and was about to be released. She was excited, but a little apprehensive, about being set free into the unfamiliar world.  She had spent more of her life behind bars than she had ever been outside, and she longed for simple things like lying out in the sun and looking up at the stars.

But let me tell you how I met Keisha.  Last Saturday I went into her prison for a ministry event where a guest speaker shared her personal testimony about God’s forgiveness.  After sharing, the speaker asked the room of women to raise their hands if they wanted someone to talk to.  Every hand went straight up in the air, except Keisha’s.  She sat slouched in a chair, arms crossed, at the back of the room.

I happened to be sitting right next to Keisha and noticed her hardened disposition to the message that was being shared that day.  But I wasn’t going to force her to talk to me if she wasn’t interested.  So I stood up and walked around the jail to see if anyone else wanted to talk.  However, the other interested inmates had already paired up with different volunteers.  When I looked back towards Keisha, the inmate sitting next to her made eye contact with me and gave a quick finger gesture towards Keisha…as if to tell me I needed to come to her.  So I walked over and said, “Would you like to talk?”

Keisha shrugged her shoulders, stared at the floor, and mumbled, “I don’t care.”  I presented a quick, simple Gospel message to her and explained how Jesus paid for all her sins, no matter what they were. I said if she surrendered her life to Him, she could be assured she would have freedom for all eternity in heaven.  But when I asked her if she wanted a relationship with God, she confidently looked at me and said, “No.  I ain’t never gonna be good like that.”

Keisha insisted she wasn’t good enough to be loved by God, but I let her know that wasn’t true.  I clarified how salvation wasn’t about how good we are, it’s about how good HE is.  I told her no matter what other people in the world thought of her, the Creator of the Universe knows her by name and wants to have a relationship with her…because He adores her, and has a great plan for her life.  Then, all of a sudden, she began to cry.  I could tell that affirmation was something she wasn’t used to.  And through streams of tears she said, “Ain’t nobody ever told me that before.”

At that moment, the prison guard announced we only had five minutes left to talk.  With my heart racing and butterflies in my stomach, I looked at Keisha one more time and said, “Are you sure you don’t want a relationship with God?  Because, He really wants one with you!”  She smiled and whispered, “I’m ready.”  I couldn’t believe what I had heard, so I asked again, “What did you say?  I couldn’t hear you?”  She smiled and whispered a little louder, “Okay, I’m ready.”

I was so excited I jumped out of my chair and started praising God.  She laughed at my happy dance but I just couldn’t contain myself.  Then, in a timid, quiet voice she began to pray for the first time in her life.  She confessed to God that she was a sinner who needed His help.  She knew He died for her sins and she admitted she needed His forgiveness for a different life.

I’m excited about what the rest of her life will be like now.  My prayer is that she gets many moments to lie in the sun and look up at the stars… and I hope she praises God for everything He has done for her when she does.  If anybody needs a powerful God to move mountains in her life, it’s Keisha.  And, my prayer is that He really shows off for her now.


  1. And all these 20 plus years that Keisha was confined for the grievous sins of her past….God was at work preparing the heart of Jennifer…..who had also been in bondage for a prolonged season of her life….for the grievous sins of her past. Now, guided by the Providence of a Loving and Merciful God, these two meet…..for “such a time as this”. The old hymn says it all: “Jesus paid it all…..all to Him I owe….sin had left a crimson stain…He washed it white as snow.”

  2. Uhhh patsy there was no reason for this girl to spend 20 years of her life in prison. SHe could have been rehabbed in 3 months and chould have gotten a job and moved on with her life. I don’t think God wanted her in prison for r20 years. Some of u phoney chiristains make me sick.

    1. I don’t know all the details as to why she received the sentence she did. That decision was up to the jury and the judge back in 1994. But, despite her sentence, I was fortunate enough to meet her recently and encourage her with how to face the world when she finally gets out. She and I had a great conversation that day. My prayer is that she is able to find a job she enjoys and friends that will love her. I do believe God is able to lead her on a path of hope and restoration so that she doesn’t become discouraged or get into more trouble when she’s finally released. But, she will have more obstacles and challenges to face during her transition than most of us can imagine. And that is why I’m praying for her and excited about the new life she can have now.

  3. Holy Spirit of God Most High,
    Thank You for making sure Keisha was took care of these 20+ years. Actually, despite appearances, trials & tribulations, You had firm hold of Keisha. She just wasn’t aware of it at the time. Thankfully, she is now. You made sure that Keisha met up with the right person, Jennifer Leigh Allison.
    Abba Father,
    You promise to give a double portion blessing for one’s former troubles, even to give beauty for ashes. Thank You for making sure that Jesus is with Keisha, even going before her to prepare the way for her to know all manner of Tender Mercy, Amazing Grace and Unmerited Favor. Thank You for all the ways that You bless and prosper Keisha in ever good, perfect, and beneficial way … and for all the ways You lavish True Love on Keisha’s life. Thank You for all the ways You shower on Keisha miraculous honor and respect. Thank You for all the ways You help Keisha and for all the ways You Lovingly Provide Omnipotent Good for her. Thank You for giving Keisha a brand new life filled with more good than she has ever experienced before, Lord. Thank You for all the ways she is privileged to experience the glory of God’s Virtues, Wisdom, Truth, and Love, Strength, Power and Might in her life. Thank You for all the ways You make sure Keisha knows beyond all doubt the miracle of God’s Perfect Love and what It’s really all about and how vast, deep, wide and high God’s Perfect Love really is. And thank You for making sure that Keisha is blessed with such an amazing testimony that Jesus Christ can’t help but be exalted, God can’t help but be glorified, and The Body of Christ can’t help but be blessed.
    Dear God,
    For all the ways You lavish Omnipotent Goodness on Keisha and for all the ways You make her life brand new, bright, beautiful and glorious …. I for one can’t help but praise You. In Jesus’ Blessed and Holy Name. Amen.

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