From the publisher of Victorious Living, Kristi Overton Johnson: “Scotty and Jessica were some of the first people met when I began ministering behind prison walls. With their lime green shirts, Passion for Prison vests, and roaring motorcycles, they were hard to miss. Also unmistakable was their passion for the ones the Bible refers to as “the least of these,” their love for one another, and their trust in God. The day I met Scotty and Jessica, I knew I wanted to share their amazing story of faith, trust, and love with our Victorious Living family. That was in 2014. Three years later, the time has finally come.
As Scotty and Jessica sat on my couch for the interview, it only took one question to get their story rolling. For several hours, I sat with my computer on my lap, listening and smiling as they finished one another’s sentences. Both were eager to share every detail of their amazing God story. I typed feverishly to capture each word. It truly is an amazing story of patience, love, and ultimately trusting God in every detail of their lives. It all started with a simple question: So, when did you guys start dating?”
S: January seventh, 6:35 p.m., 2003.
J: He always says that.
S: Well, that was when I started dating Jessica. January seventh, 6:35 p.m., 2003 was the moment the Lord spoke to my heart and told me she was the one He’d picked for me. I’d been in one bad relationship after another and had all but given up hope of having someone in my life. I had told God that if He wanted me to be in a relationship, then He would have to pick the woman and bring His choice to me. My picker was broke! I remember hearing so clearly, “She’s the one,” but at the time I thought for sure that God’s picker must be broke too! This woman was mean as a snake and made it very clear that she wanted nothing to do with me. “She’s the one, God? Really?” Surely He must be kidding. I simply had to trust Him.
J: I was mean. (Laughs) I remember that night well. We were going to a singles’ Bible study and had met at McDonalds in Tampa. My friend leaned over to me and said, “Hey, Jess, this is Scotty. He’s single, and he’s your age.” I looked at her, glanced at him, and said, “So?”
I didn’t want anything to do with him. I wasn’t interested in no man except Jesus. I’d been sexually abused, beaten, ridiculed, and nearly killed at the hands of men. I was done! And besides, Scotty wasn’t even my type. He looked all preppy and clean cut. I wanted a tough man, one with a beard!
S: For the record, I was not preppy. And, until that time, I had always worn a beard. She just happened to meet me when I had just cut it off. It was a new season for me, a fresh start. But hey, if she needed a beard, I’d grow one. And I did. In the coming months, we were together often in a group setting. We began having conversations. Sometimes it looked like she was going to let me in, but then she’d slam the door. It was so confusing.
J: I just was not interested. Or so I tried to tell myself. I’d yell at him, hang up the phone on him, and tell him to leave me alone. But then a group of us would be in the car together, and Scotty would do something that would really tug at my heart. Like I’d stop to pump gas, and Scotty would jump out of the car, pump my gas, and then pay for it. I was like, “What?” No man had ever done anything like that for me.
S: I’m still buying her gas, by the way!
J: One time, Scotty and I went to a singles conference in Orlando. I told him not to follow me around; I was there to grow in my relationship with God. I didn’t want him interfering. But then, I remember looking around and wondering, “Where is Scotty?” I really did want him to pursue me.
S: Hey, she told me to stay away, so I stayed away. Then she tells me I was supposed to follow her? Good grief. I began to wonder about God’s choice. Maybe I’d missed it. I went to godly men in the church for counsel and they’d ask me, “Scotty, what do you want to do above all?” The answer was simple. I wanted to follow the Lord and be obedient to Him. I wanted His choice for me, and nothing less. I wanted to trust Him. Hearing my answer, they would say, “Then what choice do you have but to stand strong and cling to God’s promise?”
In retrospect, the Lord was teaching me to trust Him. I’m an emotional person. That’s not all bad—I mean, God created emotions. But a problem arises when your emotions lead your decisions. Every other relationship I’d had prior to Jessica, I had initiated based on my emotions. They felt comfortable. This time God was saying, “Listen, Scotty. I know this doesn’t look good now; it doesn’t feel good now. But I’m telling you, she’s the one. You can either trust Me with her, or you can go your own way.”
Sometimes, things would get so confusing, I would cry out to God—“What do You want me to do?” And He would reply, “I don’t want you to do anything. Just trust Me. Just stand there and watch what I can do. Watch Me work.”
God was so gracious to give me reminders of His promise at times when I was ready to give up. Once we were at this little church in Ybor City, Florida, at a training event for prison ministry. Jessica was deep into prison ministry, and I was there to support her. Halfway through the event, the pastor of the church called me into his office. I felt like I’d been called to the principal’s office! I sat down and watched as he struggled to find the right words. Finally he said, “I don’t know you, and I don’t know the girl you came here with, but I do know this: God says that she is the woman He has for you. He also says this woman has more walls, more barking dogs, more land mines, more barbed-wire fences surrounding her heart than most people. None of those things are your fault. If you want to get to her heart, you are going to have to climb over those walls and fences. You are going to have to pet those dogs and jump over those land mines.”
I was blown away. Jessica and I hadn’t even sat together during that meeting, so I knew this pastor couldn’t have known we were there together; nor would he have known about God’s promise to me about her. I began to share my heart, and we both began to cry.
J: I see Scotty coming out of the pastor’s office all teary eyed, and I think, “What’s this guy doing over there, crying to the pastor?” Here’s the deal. I had been really hurt. I was raised with good morals. My father taught me that your first sexual relationship should be with your husband. But something happened. I was 16 years old when my 34-year-old boss took advantage of me sexually. I said no, but he didn’t care. Let me tell you something—a thousand showers can’t wash someone off you that you didn’t want on you. It’s the most disgusting feeling in world.
I felt ruined, like a vase that had been thrown to the ground and shattered. Believing what I’d been taught, however, I moved in with my boss. I told everyone I was in love and was going to marry him. It was either be a slut or marry this creep, I reasoned. I started drinking and getting high and began to rack up charges.
Finally, my cousin confronted me. He said, “Jessica, you can’t lie to me. Tell me what happened.” I told him about the sexual abuse and why I was living with this man. Daddy had taught me that my first should be my husband. “That’s not what your dad meant,” he protested. With a new understanding, I eventually moved out. But I moved out broken and confused. I began to date a guy I’d had a crush on since seventh grade. This time I gave my consent. I was sure I was in love. One day he showed up with a little jewelry box. I was so excited. He opened the box and then said, “I’m going to ask Tammy to marry me. Do you think she’ll like this?”
I remember driving by the church on their wedding day with tears rolling down my cheeks. I couldn’t blame him. She was beautiful; I was just trash. After all, I had been with two people now. I was devastated. I met another guy, then another guy, and then another. It always ended up the same. Some cheated on me with women, some cheated on me with cocaine. Some beat me with their fists, others with their words.
Right in the middle of all this, my best friend Carla introduced me to another man—Jesus. Carla and I were two peas in a pod. Some even called us “salt and pepper.” We’d had many wild nights together, but one night when I went to pick her up, she told me she wasn’t going out. When I asked her why, she told me she had rededicated her life to Jesus Christ. I told her she could stay home in her pajamas and I’d feel sorry for her, but I was going out to have some fun. She said she’d be praying for me.
In the coming days and months, I kept my eye on Carla. Something was different about her. Storms would come and go in her life, but she stayed steady and calm. Nothing bothered her. I wanted what she had. I started mimicking Carla’s life. If she went to church, I went to church. If she sat on the pew, I sat on the pew. If she sang or prayed or memorized scripture, I sang and prayed and memorized scripture. But I couldn’t help noticing that Carla’s life was being transformed, while mine stayed the same. Her prayers were being answered, while mine hit the ceiling and bounced back down. Carla had a real connection with God. I did not.
For two years, I struggled in my faith while Carla grew strong. What had I done wrong? I mean, I’d walked the aisle of a church to receive Christ. I’d gotten all emotional and cried. I’d repeated prayers and memorized scripture. Yet something was missing.
All that changed one night. I was going through a very tough time and was so tired of life. I got down on my knees and cried out in desperation to God, “God, if You are for real, then bring it on. I am trusting You with my life. You better not let me down! Amen.” Some prayer, huh?
But because of that desperate plea, because I had finally laid my life down, something changed. In that moment, God’s Spirit took up residence within me and brought with Him everything that He is—peace, joy, love, and hope. In that moment, Jesus saved me from my sin and gave me a new life. I was saved through my faith where, before, I was trying to be saved through my religious works. (See Ephesians 2:8–9.) And since then, God has never let me down! I grew so hungry for God, and that’s when Scotty dropped out of the sky.
S: January seventh, 6:35 p.m., 2003, to be exact.
J: He always says that!
S: When we met, we were both just two broken vessels that God was restoring. Jessica had so much to work through, but so did I. For so long, I didn’t feel worthy of love, especially not God’s love. And I would step into relationships that fed this sense of unworthiness. When my ex-wife would punch me in the face, I accepted it because I thought that was all I was worthy of.
This unworthiness led to an eating disorder. I comforted my insecurities with food, and I got bigger and bigger. Food was my drug of choice. It all started in my childhood. My dad was very abusive physically, mentally, and emotionally. You know, if you’re told you’re a dog long enough, you’ll start to bark.
Through my relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit began to show me that I was indeed worthy of good things. Ironically, He used a mean woman who was searching for God herself to lead me to His good plans.
J: It’s been quite a process for both of us. I was not an overnight faith success story. God did not immediately free me from my struggles. I worked through habits and sinful personality traits for years. But things changed when I finally asked myself: “Do I want to please Jessica, or do I want to please Jesus?”
Wanting to please Jesus is how I ultimately ended up in a relationship with Scotty. I watched as Scotty pursued me, jumping over every roadblock I set up. One day I was alone in my car, listening to Dr. James Dobson on the radio. He asked the question: “Wives, do you trust the Lord? Then you need to trust the Lord with your loved ones and with your choices.” Suddenly I realized that I needed to trust the Lord with Scotty. I needed to start letting down walls and letting Scotty near me.
S: It wasn’t a day too soon! I had carried carrot cakes to her parents, hung out with her friends, and done everything I knew to do. Her mom loved me; her brother said he’d pay me to marry her; and her dad said he’d give me some goats as a dowry! (Laughs) But you know what Jessica said? She said I needed to go to prison with her if she was going to consider being in a relationship with me. Prison?
J: I was heavily involved with prison ministry, leading eight-week Bible studies in facilities with inmates who had recently made decisions to follow Christ. I was finishing up such a study at Hernando Correctional when the chaplain was suddenly deployed to Iraq. I wondered, what is going to happen to these girls? I felt God leading me to minister on a regular basis to these women. So, with Carla’s help in coming up with a name for my ministry, Passion for Prison, I formed a not-for-profit organization. Ministering to inmates was my life. Inmates were my peeps! If Scotty was going to be a part of my life, then the love of inmates had to be a part of his.
S: I was a little hesitant. I hadn’t lived the life Jessica had lived. I hadn’t even had a speeding ticket! What would I have to offer people in prison? I started to pray, and God quickly showed me that prison isn’t walls and wires. Prison is sin. And we all have sin. Jesus Christ had freed me from my prison of sin, and He wanted to free others too. God showed me that what I had to offer inmates was Him—freedom.
J: I took Scotty to Avon Park Correctional. He was a natural. I looked across the prison yard, and there was Scotty leading my inmate friend’s bunkmate to the Lord! My friend, who I’ve known since middle school, looked at me and said, “Jessica, I think we have a keeper. I’ve seen the way he’s been watching you.”
S: She started being nicer to me after that. (Laughs) Next thing I know, we’re riding motorcycles into prison together and ministering the freedom of Jesus Christ to thousands of inmates. This was right up my alley, as I had grown up riding motorcycles.
J: I hadn’t. I learned to ride when a complete stranger gave me a bike and paid for me to attend a motorcycle class! Scotty paid his way and attended the class too.
S: I’ve paid for a lot of things since I’ve met this girl! It was over a not-so-romantic meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken that I was paying for that she finally gave in and said, “Okay, we can date.” After all the things I had been buying, I’d thought we’d been dating since January seventh, 6:35 p.m., 2003!
J: Now that we were officially dating, I started paying attention to who Scotty was as a person. We grew close, and then I found out that Scotty had been married before. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I didn’t want some other woman’s husband! I asked Scotty to tell me what had happened and prepared myself for his excuses—but there were none. He simply said, “I disobeyed God. I pray for His forgiveness.”
I had never heard a man call sin, sin. Scotty didn’t give any excuses or justify his actions. He just admitted he was wrong and confessed his sin without any blame. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sin, Jesus forgives and cleanses us of all unrighteousness. I realized in that moment I wanted to marry a man like that.
Scotty proposed to me at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. He led me to the display of Jacob’s well, knelt down on one knee, and read Genesis 29:20: “So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.”
“I have the same love for you that Jacob had for Rachel,” he said. “Will you marry me?” People gathered around us, watching his proposal.
S: She said yes! We went to our pastor, whom we both loved and respected, for premarital counseling. When he discovered I’d been divorced, he didn’t feel that he could marry us. We were saddened by his response. I wanted our pastor’s blessing, and I wanted desperately to marry Jess, but more than anything, I wanted to be right with God. If marrying Jess wasn’t a part of His plan, then I would lay it down.
J: Scotty came to me and asked for the ring back until he could rectify this situation. He had to take it off my finger, because he had promised he would never ask me to take it off. I’ve never seen a man cry so hard. Our pastor had told him he needed to try to reconcile with his ex-wife.
S: Well, if our pastor felt I needed to reach out to her, then that’s what I’d do. It took me a while to track my ex down. I called her father and asked for his forgiveness for divorcing his daughter. He was gracious and gave me her number. I went to my pastor’s office to make the call, but before I could dial the number, he said, “Wait! After counseling with other pastors and witnessing your heart to make things right with God, I believe communicating with your ex will be like digging up dry bones. Unless you want to call her, you don’t have to.” I hung up the phone as fast as I could! He blessed our marriage, and I ran to a friend’s house where Jessica was pet-sitting.
J: The first time Scotty proposed, it was so romantic. This time, I was in the middle of changing kitty litter!
S: Hey, I wasn’t waiting another minute! Thinking back to when I picked up the phone to call my ex-wife, I am reminded of when God asked Abraham to lay his son, Isaac, on the altar (Genesis 22). The moment Abraham lifted his knife to sacrifice his son, God stopped him. Likewise, the moment I picked up the phone, God—through that pastor—stopped me. Often God just wants to see if we will fully trust Him and take difficult steps of obedience. My being willing to step back from marrying Jessica and reconcile with my ex showed that my love of being obedient to God was greater than anything. Even what my heart longed for most.
J: It’s true. The moment you put your whole faith in Jesus Christ, that’s when God shows up!
On July 9, 2004, Scotty and Jessica were married before their friends and family. No goats were exchanged for Jessica’s hand, but Scotty and the bridal party did wear headdresses and robes like the ones they believed would have been worn when Jacob married Rachel. Together, Scotty and Jessica serve the Lord through their Passion for Prison ministry. For more information, visit passionforprison.com.