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‘God works all things together for the good of those who love Him’ – How Romans 8 sparked a fire in Sherrie’s heart 

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A unique childhood

I was raised by my dad in a little town, and when I was about two, he decided that I needed a mother figure. He met a woman who had 2 sons, and we moved in with them. For the eight years that we lived with them, the two boys did unspeakable things to me. I never told anyone, and it heavily affected my life and my environment. My dad found out the truth when I was 10, and he ended the relationship immediately. I remember him saying to me, ‘I’ll never be with another woman again for as long as I live. I’m going to focus my life on making you the best human that I possibly can.’ And he did. He never had another girlfriend again for the rest of his life. From then on it was just him and me.

We weren’t wealthy, but I don’t remember missing out on anything because my dad made sure there was always enough. He had this wonderful ability to take a step away from the world and see the bigger picture. We lived in a coastal town, and during the big storms, we would jump in the car and drive from lake to lake to watch the banks slowly burst open and flood out to the sea. He’d say to me, ‘Look at Mother Nature. Look how amazing Mother Nature is!’ He gave me an understanding and respect for something that was greater than myself, even though it wasn’t God, and I’m so grateful for that. 

The Downward Spiral

By the time I was 28, I was married with two young children. Then my dad passed away, so I began managing his business. On top of that, my husband and I had bought and were managing another business. During that time, I was struggling with drug addiction on and off; it was something that, at times, controlled my life. I look back now and can see I was just trying to cope with the many demands on my time. But at that time, I didn’t see it that way. I felt like a constant failure. I would do so well getting clean, and then I would suddenly go on a bender again. 

A few years later, my marriage broke down, and I began dating Caleb*, who, I eventually learned, was on ice. I told him that I couldn’t be around him if he was taking drugs because I was trying to stay clean. He told me he would give it up, but then I caught him taking it again. He apologised and promised to get clean, but he never did. We went round and round like that for years. Then he started hitting me, and before long, he had coaxed me into taking ice with him. Soon enough, I was addicted again, and we got into a really bad situation where he would leave for days or even weeks at a time and then come back and beat me up. It was terrifying, and I gave my kids to my ex-husband for a few months while I tried to sort things out and make their home safe for them. However, things got worse, not better, and after three months, I went to go and get my kids back, and my ex-husband said, ‘No, no, I’m going to keep them because I can tell you’re on drugs. I can tell that you’ve got something really bad going on with this guy. It’s not right for the kids. I’m keeping them.’ 

I was heartbroken and desperate, so I reached out to my half-brother, Nick*, to see if he could help me. I just knew that if Caleb could see Nick at the house, then he would leave and never come back. But Nick told me he couldn’t help because he was on the run from the police and was trying to fund his $1,000-a-day ice habit. I offered to help however I could, and he said, ‘If you could get some ice and bring it to me, I could sell it and make some money, and maybe that could keep me on the run for a little bit longer.’ So that’s what I did.

By the time I got home, he was ringing me saying, ‘Can you do that again?’ But each time he wanted me to get more and more drugs. We ended up starting a drug and weapon business together, and before I knew it, we had a bit of an empire. I was fully aware of how illegal it was. There were times when I would think, ‘Wow, if we got caught right now, I would go to jail for life.’ 

Eventually, I did get caught and I went to jail. I was relieved that they had only charged me for weapons possession and not drug dealing. But then, about 12 months into my sentence, someone I had dealt to had informed on me, and I realised that after finishing my current sentence, I would be extradited to Queensland to face further charges. So I got comfortable. There’s this saying in prison, ‘Get your head in jail’, which means to not think about the outside world, and I think that was what got me through initially. I told myself to keep my head in jail, to just think about what goes on in here, and don’t even think about what might happen when I get out. 

Meeting Jesus

I had tossed around the idea of God a bit in my life but never really knew what to make of Him. Overall, I felt God was condemning me for all my past decisions. But then I began participating in The Prisoner’s Journey, mostly just to have some time away from the racket of the atmosphere and the dynamics in the prison yard. I remember at the very start of the first session, the man leading the program said, ‘I want you all to come up and write on the board what you think you need to do to get into heaven.’ So we all went up and wrote down things like, ‘Be a better mum,’ and, ‘Don’t do drugs’. When we all sat down again, he said, ‘None of these are right. There’s only one thing you need to do to get into heaven. In fact, every single one of you has a free ticket into heaven. When you walked in here this morning, there was a free ticket to heaven on your seat, and all you need to do is pick up that ticket and believe that it’ll get you into heaven. All you need to do to get into heaven is believe.’ 

I had never really considered what it took to get to heaven before. I was really cautious, and I thought to myself, ‘That can’t be right. I’ve spent my whole life away from God – it can’t be that easy!’ That man had ignited this curiosity in me about the afterlife. I went away trying to figure out how he couldn’t be right because I was sure that there had to be more to it than just believing. In prison, I had nothing but time, and I needed something to focus my energy on. I’ve seen girls do crazy things to get away from what’s in their head, from fighting to self-harm, and I felt that looking for Jesus and just trying to find what that was all about was probably a good option, especially as I didn’t know whether I was going to go up on more charges in Queensland after my first sentence. For me, investigating Jesus was a good distraction. 

A Powerful Witness

Prison Fellowship has had a huge impact on my life! I remember there were 3 ladies from Prison Fellowship who would drive three hours to the prison and then three hours home again every single week to come and talk to us about Jesus. We read the Bible, sang a few songs, and chatted with them. So many times, they would get to the prison and find that we were on lockdown and couldn’t visit us. I felt so bad for them driving all that way for nothing! But it never deterred them. They were there every week, ready to share God with everybody – rain, hail, lockdown, no lockdown. That was so powerful to witness. I couldn’t understand how they kept their motivation, and I figured there must be something going on, something greater than themselves. 

They were there every week, ready to share God with everybody – rain, hail, lockdown, no lockdown. That was so powerful to witness. I couldn’t understand how they kept their motivation, and I figured there must be something going on, something greater than themselves. 

One day I requested to receive letters from a Prison Fellowship volunteer, and a lady called Lydia* started writing to me. In prison, there’s not much to get excited about, so receiving mail is very exciting! Especially because you can read it over and over and you can write back and you can look forward to the next letter. Our lives were so different – Lydia was 87 and a committed Christian. Her husband was slowly deteriorating, and she was having to consider putting him in a nursing home. She shared her struggles with me, and even though I couldn’t relate to them very much, it encouraged me to share mine in turn. Knowing someone cares does so much – they make you feel seen and recognised, which is huge when you feel like the rest of the world has given up on you. Never underestimate the power of photos, visits, and letters in prison. It really gets people through. 

Over the years, I’d stopped writing to her for 6 months or a year, and then she’d write to me again. She would say something gentle like, ‘I don’t know if you’re still inside, but I was just thinking of you and thought I’d check in.’ It was such a lovely thing that she kept in touch but didn’t push me to respond. I loved that she never gave up on me; she never stopped writing to me. Now as a Christian, I’ve seen that with Jesus as well – He’s still there, and he’s not pushing. He’s just sitting there waiting for me to turn around and grab hold of him all the time.

Discovering Romans 8 

There was an inmate at one of the prisons called Audrey*. She was a little old lady who was a strong Christian. She started giving me these little devotionals called ‘Word for Today’. Each devotion always felt significant to me, like it was speaking to what I was going through at the time. Each day Audrey and I would read them in our own cells and talk about them together later in the day. One day, the devotional talked about Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.’ 

That same day I received a letter from Nick, my brother, who told me that he’d had an experience with God in his cell that left him crying and that his life would forever be different. He told me he had been looking at Romans 8:28, and I just couldn’t believe that I had just been looking at that same passage myself. 

Later that day when I went back to my cell, I found a letter from a little girl who’d written to me through her church. It said that God loved me and was looking over me, and then she wrote out Romans 8:28. Just like that, I was in tears. It was so overwhelming. That was the first time I’d really felt God’s presence, and He said, ‘I’m here. This is what I’m trying to say to you: I’m trying to tell you that it doesn’t matter what’s happening now. In all things, I’m working for your good because I love you, and you are called for my purpose.’ 

I have meditated on that verse so much over the years, and every time it brings out something new, something deeper. Every time I felt sad, somehow that verse would pop up, and it felt so supernatural, I really felt like God was there trying to comfort me. It felt so personal. He’s so individual and so specific in what he’s trying to say to us. He might not stand in front of you and say, ‘Hey, Sherrie,’ but he still talks to us. All these things that happened in just one day ignited a fire in my belly! I just wanted to know everything I could about God, and I wanted to talk about Him to anyone who would listen. 

That was when I started meeting with Dee, a Prison Fellowship volunteer. Every two weeks, Dee would come, and we’d sit down for about an hour and chat, and she’d buy me an ice cream. I would talk to her about what I’d learned about God and what was happening with God in my life. She used to say, ‘I can’t believe that I’m living this whole life out there. And you’re in here having more happening to you with God than I am out there.’ Sometimes when she would walk in sad, she would walk out so enlightened and happy, and I would do the same with her. You can’t talk with a fellow Christian about Christ and walk away miserable and depressed because the person you’re talking to brings their love, and you bring your love, and then when two or more people are gathered, God is there too, and He brings His love as well! Seeing Dee every two weeks did huge things for my faith and my mental health. It changed the way I looked at the world and how I lived my life on the inside. That’s the other great way that Prison Fellowship has had a huge impact on my faith. 

This fire inside me for Christ leaked out into others, and people around me would smile. It was infectious! Some other women in the prison started attending the chapel services in the prison with me. I still remember one lady from Prison Fellowship who would come to worship on Sundays with us. After the service, she would remember my name and say, ‘It’s so lovely to see you, Sherrie.’

Seeing Dee every two weeks did huge things for my faith and my mental health. It changed the way I looked at the world and how I lived my life on the inside. That’s the other great way that Prison Fellowship has had a huge impact on my faith.

Moving Forward for Christ

Before prison, I had everything. I had a home, I had furniture, I had kids, I had a business. I had a life. But looking back from the inside, I started to see that God had slowly taken things from me until the day that I stepped into that prison, the first day of my incarceration. I had nothing, and there wasn’t anything that I was stressing about on the outside. I had seen it as a bad thing at the time, but after I had given my life to Jesus, I thought to myself, ‘I’m so thankful that I don’t have to worry about anything on the outside.’ So many women spend their days wondering where their children are and if anyone picked them up from school. I knew my kids were safe with my ex-husband. 

There’s a verse in Hosea 2:14 that talks about Israel, but I just couldn’t help but feel like it was relevant to me. It says, ‘“Therefore, behold, I will allure her and lead her to the wilderness, and speak to her tenderly. There I will give back her vineyards and make the Valley of Achord into a gateway of hope. There she will respond as she did in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call Me ‘my Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘my Master.’” I realised that God was taking me into a peaceful place and talking to me softly. I was so grateful to God that he had taken away from me any of the things I might have worried about, and instead, He gave me the freedom to step away from the real world and put all my energy into learning more about Him and spending time with Him. So much so that when I finished my first sentence and was waiting to see if I would be extradited and sentenced again on drug charges, I was quietly praying that I would be sentenced again because I wasn’t ready to give up on that unique time of focusing solely on God. I knew once I got out the distractions of life would take over, and I would lose the privilege of giving God all of my time and energy. 

When I applied for parole, I wrote the judge a letter expressing remorse. He said he had never seen acceptance and accountability like that from an inmate before. God had given me the clarity to understand the impact of my crimes on other people, from the police and ambulance officers to the little old ladies who didn’t feel safe leaving their windows open because people steal things for drugs. It’s just one of the many reasons I will never go anywhere near drugs again. 

God has looked after me and carried me the whole way since I’ve been out of prison. I had to do parole in Queensland, but I didn’t know anyone there, so I looked for a church and there was one website which said everyone who walked through our doors was welcome. And I thought, yeah, I’ll try that. So I walked in there, and I found my church family! As soon as I walked in, the pastor came up and said hello, and we caught up later in the week. We sat down, and he said, ‘What’s your story?’ So I told him my whole story, and he said, ‘I don’t care what you’ve done – we’re a church for the broken. We’re not here for the perfect.’ That’s when I thought to myself, ‘I think I found the right church.’ 

God has looked after me and carried me the whole way since I’ve been out of prison.

Since my release, I’ve been able to do some amazing things! I bought a three-bedroom unit, which my church helped me renovate to make it a suitable place for people getting out of prison. I used to have girls come to me in prison crying because they were about to be released, and they knew that they were going back to their same environment. They had no other environment, and they knew that that environment would lead them back to prison. This unit is a small way that I can help give ex-prisoners a better chance and help to reduce recidivism. I’m really strict about it being a place that is drug-free, that is stress-free so that the people who stay there have their best chance once they leave prison. 

Prison Fellowship has been present throughout my prison sentence, igniting that fire in my heart, and I know that God is going to continue to work in my life – I just have to be ready to pick it up when he puts it in front of me. Right now, I’m focusing completely on my children. My daughter gave her life to Christ recently. It was the sweetest, most beautiful experience. And my son’s still plugging away at it. I’m really happy focusing on them and their walk, but I’m ready to do whatever God puts in front of me, too. 

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