0

Ashley Smith talks about drugs, Brian Nichols and what her future holds

Ashley Smith's book ,"Unlikely Angel," was released this week. The following is taken from an interview with Smith by Gwinnett Daily Post reporter Andria Simmons.

The book was co-written with author Stacy Mattingly. How much part did you have in the storytelling?

There were long days of interviews, and they were very stressful but also very healing. She would send me what she was writing, and I would get everything right ... the details, the feelings, the emotions, right down to the color of the shirt I was wearing. We got a big poster board and I drew her a model of the apartment.

How difficult was it to relive all of that?

It was difficult. But going into it I prayed, "Lord just let me feel the emotions so that the doors I haven't shut can be shut." The hardest thing for me to talk about was Mack's, my husband's, death and giving up on Paige. Well, not giving up on Paige but giving her up and choosing the lifestyle of drugs instead of her.

At the time of your encounter with Brian Nichols, you had given custody of your daughter, Paige, to your Aunt Kim in Augusta while trying to straighten out your life. Was Paige aware of your addiction to crystal methamphetamine?

She knew that Mommy was sick. As a matter of fact, she thought I was sick from the scar on my stomach because of a car accident. She doesn't really ask about it anymore now. She just knows that things are better and Mommy is getting better every day.

I was scared after my husband died of how to raise her by myself. I always wondered how I was going to do it. That was my focus. My goal was to get back and do it.

Everybody has been talking about the methamphetamine. Why didn't you initially come out about the drugs when all this happened?

It wasn't so much that I was scared of what anybody else would think. I was scared about what my family would think. I was on the road to recovery in their eyes, they didn't know that I had fallen back deep into it. I was scared that my aunt would say, "Forget it. You can't have (Paige) back; you have to start all over again." But this is a platform that I believe God has given me to possibly go out and help people. Jesus himself said the truth will set you free, and that is what's important to me now.

It seems like your family members practiced a lot of tough love for you, but you refused to give up crystal methamphetamine completely even after completing a drug treatment program twice. When you have a relationship with a drug addict, what can you do to help? Could they have done anything for you?

They had to just let me go. Somebody like me is not going to change until they really want to change.

The drugs took a few years of my life completely. I am saved by the grace of God right now because there are a lot of people that don't recover from it. It did rot my teeth, it did thin out my hair, it did give me psychosis. It's still a healing process. People don't understand the effects. That's why it's important to tell the truth.

You wrote in the book that the turning point for you was in your bathroom when you tried to convince Brian Nichols not to take the meth. Why?

For me to be faced with somebody who could have pointed a gun at me, at that moment if he said, "If you don't do it then, I'm going to shoot you right now," I would have said "fine" because I was not going to do those drugs. From that moment on, never again. Even though I came out and said to him, "Here you go; I've got this. I still tried to discourage him from doing it."

Why do you think you tried so hard to see this man who is accused of gunning down four people as a real person?

When he came in, he said, "Don't make any sudden moves, I don't want to hurt you. I'm not going to hurt you if you do what I say." So I knew he would hurt me if I didn't do what he said. So I tried to be as respectful as possible.

Do you have any idea what impact you might have had on Nichols? Have you talked to him?

I don't. I pray for him. I hope that it made a difference and that he finds God's place for his life, his purpose in life.

You read to Nichols from the "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren, and recently you met with Warren in person. Why did his book affect you so much?

The book changed my life. In a sense it drove home the fact that God has a plan for my life if I want the plan. All I have to do is be open to it. And I have. I realize now it is possible that God wants to use the mistakes I've made, my addiction, to help others in life. And that's a good plan.

When you were following Nichols in your car while he dropped off the truck he allegedly stole from a U.S. Immigration and Customs agent, why didn't you just seize the moment to drive away? Why didn't you use your cell phone to call police?

My car was the biggest piece of junk in the world. Had I just floored it and tried to get around, I was scared it would break down and that would have really ticked him off. If I would have called the police, then I was scared maybe he would see me on the phone and just run. I surely wouldn't have followed him then, and I wouldn't have been able to find him. Or I could've called police and he could've gotten in the car with me and I would have put myself in danger.

I knew he was going to let me leave and I figured if I just get him back to the apartment, he won't have a way to go anywhere. When I left to see Paige, my plan was just to call the police and get them there as soon as possible.

Does it make you upset when people question why you acted or failed to act in certain ways that night?

I ask myself those questions sometimes. I know when I read the book, I'm like, "OK, he's bringing tools in the house. Why didn't I just run, shut the door and lock it?" I don't know. I was just trying to look ahead to what I thought he was doing. That's what kept me going.

Some people have been skeptical about parts of your story, questioning whether you knew Nichols before March 11 or participated in doing drugs with him that night. What do you say to them?

There are going to be those people out there that think I knew him or think I did drugs with him. That's all right. They just don't understand the miracle of what happened.

What is it like for you being in the spotlight?

Being in the spotlight is a tough thing. I just want to make a difference now for people. I don't like all the glitz and glamour, but if that's what needs to be done to make a difference, I'll do it. There is a lot of people that had no idea about my addiction. I made this decision for myself to do those drugs. Now I am making the decision to stand up against them.

Do you have a plan for five or 10 years down the road?

I am putting a plan together. My life is so different now than the way it was before. I am still just trying to grow and figure out what it is. I definitely can see that happening. That's really what it's about here is seeing lives change. I was completely honest and told my story to reach those people. When I see lives being changed that's what it's about.

Do you plan on going back to school to continue pursuing a career as a medical assistant?

I am still interested in it. It's possible that I may finish that out. I've also gotten interested in child psychology, so that's possibly something that I'll go back to school for. Right now my focus is just on this book and helping change lives. There are so many people out there like me.

You say you no longer have a desire to do ice. What if you wake up tomorrow and that craving to get high returns?

I just take it day by day. The desire is totally gone. I pray and I hope that day never comes. If that day does come, the first thing I'll do is remember where I came from and remember I never ever want to go back there and scream out to God, "Help me." But I don't see that happening right now. If it does, then I'll deal with it.

Will there be a movie about your experience with Nichols?

We're just talking about it and praying about it right now. I think our generation is a visual generation. My book is only the second book I've read all the way through in a while. So if a movie will help reach other people, help get the message out, then we'll do it. But there's nothing solid right now.

In the book, your prayers made it seem like you were having a constant dialogue with God while you were struggling to keep your nerve and stay level-headed during this crisis. Have you always been this way?

I think God's always been there knocking at my door saying, "Hello, let me in, let me in, I'm here if you need me." That night I finally opened the door and said, "Come in. Make a difference. Help me. I'll do whatever you want me to do. I'll surrender completely to you, even my addiction."

In June, Barry Keith Tabor Jr., 24, of Augusta and Cory Blaine Coggins, 23, of Grovetown, were indicted in Columbia County on murder charges in the stabbing death of your husband four years ago. How did you react to the arrests? Do you have any sympathy for them?

I am just glad that somebody is going to pay for what they did. It was tough for me to look at Paige and to know that she was never going to feel the arms of the man that loved her the most around her and the people that did it and took him away were still out there just enjoying their life.

I can pray for them. I just hope they see what they did was wrong.