Brooke Jones has a clean slate.

After serving almost 12 years in prison for armed robbery and other felony crimes, Jones received a pardon from the governor of Kentucky in 2019.

“I didn’t just leave prison that day, I got a full pardon, which means every felony and crime I ever committed was not on my record,” said Jones, 39. “It’s the most humbling thing that can ever happen to you. When you ask God for forgiveness, you’re like, ‘Yea, I believe He forgives me, but He knows. He remembers.’ I know He forgets our sins and that they are as far as the East is from the West, but my pardon was such a tangible example of what God’s forgiveness actually is. It’s like I never did it.”

Jones, a member of Southeast Christian Church’s Indiana Campus, said it is “undeniable” that God moved on her behalf.

“What He’s done for me, I can never forget or deny Him because there’s no other explanation for where it came from,” Jones added. “All of my friends in prison who had lost hope saw how God worked. It’s just awesome. It’s hard to get off the miracle cloud.”

Jones not only gained her freedom, but she also can start a new life without a felony record.

“That’s one of the most mind-blowing things for me,” she said. “I can fill out a job application and not say, ‘Yes, I’ve been convicted of a felony and let me explain all of the reasons you should overlook that.’ I didn’t just get a free pass out of jail, but I got a fresh start on life.”

‘Wherever you go, there you are’

Jones grew up in Louisville as the oldest of five siblings.

Her dad wasn’t in the picture, but she had a good stepfather.

“When I was in second grade, my mom pulled me out of public school and put me in Our Savior Lutheran School,” Jones said. “That was my first exposure to the Bible and God. We never went to church before then. I now know what that childlike faith means because you just believe and accept it.”

In middle school, Jones started hanging out with the wrong crowd.

“I was just trying to fit in. It’s like, ‘Who am I? Who are you?’” Jones added. “I started smoking and running around with people because they were doing things I had never been around. I went from nice, Lutheran school girl to stealing from stores and running away from home. Nobody could really reel me in.”

At 13, Jones got arrested and continued down the dark abyss.

“It just snowballed,” she said. “There were no solutions and it kept getting progressively worse. I was smoking weed, dabbling in other drugs and drinking all the time, though none of that was in my home. I got in that crowd, but I took it to the extreme. I’m the person who takes it the farthest out of the group. Once I was already deep down in that hole, I was like, ‘This is where I’m going to live.’”

At 15, Jones dropped out of school after getting pregnant with her first daughter.

Shortly after, her mom joined the military, and the family moved to Texas. Though it was a new place, Jones had the same problems.

“Wherever you go, there you are, so I went with them and that was that. I didn’t change because we moved,” Jones said. “I took all my baggage there.”

Jones mom contacted her dad, who was an alcoholic, and she moved to Florida for a few months to see if that would work, but they “butted heads.”

She moved several times, got her GED and worked odd jobs, but continued the party life.

At 19, Jones became pregnant again, and her youngest sister, who had a congenital heart problem, died when she was 11.

A year later, her grandma had mental health problems and committed suicide.

“We were close. My grandma and I were both the black sheep,” Jones said. “She’s not your conventional baking the cookies grandma. She’s like we’re going down to this poker game and you can sit in the car.”

At 21, Jones continued “coping” with her problems by using drugs. She used meth while pregnant with her third child, and even stole $1,800 from her mom to pay a drug dealer.

Her mom turned her in to the authorities, and Jones landed in prison for a year right before she had her fourth child.

The Good Samaritan

Shortly after getting out, Jones started stealing money from donation jars at gas stations, but that was child’s play compared to what she would do next.

At 27, Jones stole an unloaded gun and robbed a McDonald’s at gunpoint.

“My adrenaline’s going. We’re talking $100 or less for robbing this place, but there’s no amount of money that could justify those types of decisions,” Jones said.

Jones robbed two additional places at gunpoint that night without getting caught, but a week later, she tried to steal a purse from a lady at a restaurant and a “Good Samaritan” clotheslined her.

In August 2008, Jones was charged with 15 felonies and sentenced to 17 years in jail.

“I’m in jail, and I’m relieved because I don’t need to be out there in the world. I’m not good at it,” Jones added. “Female prison is one of the darkest environments there is. It’s a lot of drama, homosexual relationships and drug activity.”

About five years into her prison sentence, Jones had to go to a Bible study in order for her kids to be able to attend a kid’s day the prison was hosting.

“I was just like, ‘I’m going to read this stuff, so I’m not bored to tears while I’m in here,’” she said. “I just started doing those Bible studies and was actually following along in this Max Lucado ‘God Came Near’ study. Almost immediately, God just started showing up in my life. I can’t explain it. I invested in this group because I started feeling better, healthier and was more hopeful. I had a clearer state of mind. I felt more peace than I had in a long time.”

Jones became “all in on Jesus” and began reading Scripture several hours a day.

Around that time an old friend from middle school, Brad Jones, reached out to her via Facebook. He said they dated for three weeks back in school, though she didn’t remember.

She shared Christ with Brad, who “didn’t do that Jesus thing.”

However, they continued talking and began reading the Bible together over the phone.

Brad eventually gave his life to Christ, started attending Southeast and got baptized.

In 2015, Brooke and Brad saw each other for the first time since middle school, and Brad asked her to marry him though she had 11 years left on her sentence.

They got married in November 2016 in prison.

‘Even if’

A few years into her sentence, Jones asked a judge to shorten it. He said he was unable to do so, but that he would support her if she requested a governor’s pardon because he said her sentence was too harsh.

She was denied in 2015.

“I was like, ‘This is my golden ticket,’” Jones said. “Then, nothing. It was one of those things like, ‘Why?’ I felt like God was saying, ‘I have your back’ and gave me this judge … so I just kept wavering in my faith walk. I wasn’t sure what to do. Did God want me to ask for another pardon or just do my time?”

Brad pushed her to give it one more shot.

“It took those talks and those prayers to get me through,” Jones added. “I had given up on the pardon, and I’m like God’s got me because I’ve made it this far. I’m a Jesus music fan and there’s a MercyMe song that goes, ‘You can move this mountain, but even if You don’t, I’ll keep my eye on You.’”

Though it took several years of waiting, Jones received a pardon in 2019.

“I don’t know Matt Bevin, and I’m not into politics, but he gave me a full and unconditional pardon,” she said. “They told me to go call my ride.”

Jones now lives in Charlestown, Indiana, with Brad and her 16-year-old son, Luke.

She is in the process of starting a ministry to provide inmates with clothing and other supplies because she saw a need while she was in prison.

She earned an associates degree in prison and is currently attending the University of Louisville, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work to be a drug and alcohol counselor.

“I want people to see that you can rise above,” Jones said. “Drug addiction is a lifelong struggle, but you can overcome through Christ.”