Jerry Madison Jr. was just 4 and having fun putting stickers on the refrigerator when his dad decided to teach him how to smoke a joint.

“My dad and I lived in this apartment, and I can remember it to this day,” said Madison, 44. “He told me, ‘Come up here and sit with me. Do exactly what I do.’ I look at my dad as a role model because he’s my dad. He put the marijuana in his mouth and took a couple hits. So I did the same thing. He said, ‘Don’t tell your mom.’”

Madison’s parents divorced when he was young, and his dad got custody of him and his mom got custody of his sister.

“My dad was a drug addict and my mom was an alcoholic,” Madison added. “He was very abusive. Just his presence coming in you’re like, ‘Oh, God, or go hide.’ He was so dominant and controlling—that was Big Jerry. You know, don’t mess with him.”

After a long history of drugs, alcohol, failed marriages, cheating, partying and jail time, Madison has found a Father who unconditionally loves him.

He was baptized Nov. 15 at Southeast Christian Church’s La Grange Campus.

“I always thought that it was all about me and I could do it my way, but it’s obvious that it’s His way that works,” Madison said. “Nothing that I do works. So, I surrendered, and I’ve been pursuing Him every day. I thank God that He wakes me up. It was a process. It was just one day at a time. Tomorrow’s not promised—you don’t know—so do what you can. I want to be a part of something. I want to know that I’m a part of this church. I want to know that I volunteer with this group.”

“Jerry is such an encouragement to me,” said Brent Dennison, connections pastor at the La Grange Campus. “Every time I’m with him, he is always so appreciative and thankful for what God is doing in his life. He doesn’t have much—material wise—but you would never know it because he is genuinely thankful for all that God provides for him. If you just spend a few minutes with Jerry, you will be a better person.”

Rebellion was normal

A Louisville native, Madison’s childhood choices were less about calculated rebellion and more about swimming in the current of his family’s values.

“It was normal,” Madison said. “I think the feeling of drugs and alcohol was an escape for me.”

When Madison was 5, his dad began giving him small green bottles of Little Kings Beer to take to his room during parties.

“I remember drinking Little Kings and getting drunk and my dad thought it was funny,” Madison added. “That was the beginning of an addiction. My dad threw parties and would sneak me a beer and say, ‘Go drink it real quick. Don’t let your mom see.’ I was like, ‘I’m cool. My dad gave me a beer.’ So I’d just hang out in my room waiting for my dad until the party slowed down, and he would come and check on me and give me a drink or hit of something.”

When his mom came around, she thought he was sleeping, not passed out from inebriation.

When Madison was in first grade, child protective services noted signs of abuse, such as welts from his dad’s belt, and he was sent to a foster home.

Madison fled the foster home because he missed his dad, but CPS placed him with his grandparents for the next six years.

“That was the best time of my life,” Madison said. “I learned so much from my grandparents. They taught me values, responsibilities, to work hard, do your chores and do your homework. Get all that done first, then you can play.”

However, at 12, Madison went back to his dad’s house.

“That was a roller coaster,” Madison added. “At first, it was like, ‘Cool. I’m back with my dad. He’s got a new woman in his life. She’s nice and sweet.’ My dad still did drugs. I got to doing it more with him, like it was OK and a regular thing after school. So I got the idea of, ‘Well, I know some buddies.’ So I started drinking and doing drugs on my own with the boys and didn’t come home from school.”

Though Madison occasionally attended a church where his cousin was the pastor, he continued with his life of addiction.

“Women, drugs and alcohol, and if you didn’t have that, you weren’t going to be cool and couldn’t hang out with the crowd. I wanted to fit in,” he said. “I felt the power like my dad felt.”

A string of women

Madison graduated from high school in 1995, and he moved out of his dad’s house. For the next several years, his life revolved around work, women, drugs and alcohol.

Madison and his girlfriend of six months moved to Lexington, had a child together, married in 2000 and divorced two years later.

Madison’s “safe haven” was working eight to 10 hours a day and coming home to get lost in cocaine, alcohol and music.

He eventually moved back to Louisville and had a daughter with another girlfriend. After they separated, Madison began a nine-year relationship with a woman with whom he had two daughters.

“Anything I wanted to do, she didn’t have a problem with it,” Madison said. “She said, ‘Drive around, go in the garage, go behind the building, I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do drugs around the girls.’ Weed consumed me so much. It affected a lot of time with my kids.”

After that relationship ended, Madison got married for a second time in 2013.

Monster in me

Drugs progressed to smoking or snorting heroin, and while working at a carwash, Madison stole money from cars to help support his habit.

It got to the point where Madison only paid his phone bill because he needed to reach his drug dealer and even skipped holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It really consumed me,” Madison said. “I couldn’t go to the store. I couldn’t take the dog for a walk. I couldn’t spend time with the kids. I had to get high.”

After suspecting his wife was cheating on him, he asked a friend of hers and literally beat the truth out of the friend.

In 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail for assault and burglary. He was released in February 2020.

Four years in prison led Madison to do some serious soul-searching.

“I went to church. I changed my life completely around. It woke me up,” he said. “I had to go through this to get me where I needed to be today. The Lord saved me by grace. I owe it to Him. I can’t go back to that lifestyle because I know the monster I created. I defeated him.”

While working in the prison’s library, he began reading The Southeast Outlook.

“Every week I would read it and I was like, ‘Wow. These stories are awesome. They’re encouraging,’” Madison added. “So I collected them. I remember saying, ‘One day, when my day comes to leave here, please send me to one of these Southeast campuses.”

When Madison was released, he checked into Prodigal Ministries—a Christian aftercare program offering a therapeutic living environment for men and women recently released from prison—and then connected with the La Grange Campus.

Madison has been clean since March 16, 2016.

“They help you out so much and the unconditional love I’ve received,” he said. “I never thought that would happen to me and I feel it every time I go to church.”