People Magazine
December 26th 2005
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Ashley Smith


“I’ll tell my story to as many people as possible.” Says Smith (with daughter Paige). “It keeps me sober.”

Before escaped convict Brian Nichols held her hostage in her Atlanta apartment for seven hours on March 12, Smith, a waitress, "didn't really see a future for myself," she says. She watched her husband die after he was stabbed in an early morning brawl in 2001 and, despondent, became addicted to crystal meth and gave up custody of daughter Paige, 6.

After she persuaded Nichols—who had already killed four people—to give himself up by reading from Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life, Smith, 27, found her own salvation. She's been off drugs since the ordeal; she wrote a book and gives inspirational speeches; she drives her daughter to school and coaches her basketball team—and she's on her way to regaining custody. "It took having a gun shoved in my face, but I'm done playing games with God," she says. "I'm ready to live my life."