Most childhood memories involve special family moments, playful times and plenty of laughter. For Sharon Dutra, it was a very different story.

Sharon was born in Los Angles. Her mother left when she was just five years old, and her father was an alcoholic who was married four times by the time Sharon was 17.

"This created a feeling of abandonment and rejection in my life," Dutra explained. "I just felt empty. I knew God, but I didn't know him personally. I was pretty much lost. I lacked joy and peace. I wanted to take my life because I didn't want to live through that anymore."

To numb those feelings, Sharon started using drugs and alcohol. This led her down a long path of destruction. 

"By the time I was 17, I was hitchhiking around California," Sharon said. "I was using drugs. All of the drugs I could get my hands on. I had decided that I hated myself. I was trying to get out of feeling the things that were so powerfully impacting me in my life."

Sharon was arrested for the first time when she was 15 years old. She would go on to be arrested 13 times by the time she was 29. The last arrest led her to jail and a complete transformation in her life. 

"I was in my cell, and my cellmate had been asked to work in the kitchen. This was a blessing because it gave me some time alone," said Dutra."When I was there, I was reading a book called Devil Driver. It was about Al Capone's chauffeur. He had committed murder and ended up incarcerated. He went on to meet Christ in prison. The irony was that I wasn't looking for God. I was reading it because it was a gangster book."

After finishing the novel, Sharon realized that God was exactly who she needed. 

"I just fell to my knees and wept uncontrollably," said Dutra.  

After that, Sharon says her whole existence changed.

"I felt love, and I felt peace, and I felt joy. He completely transformed my life at that moment. It took years for me to overcome the issues I had, but at that moment, I felt like a brand new person."

The chaplain bought Sharon a Bible and began discipling her. Before she knew it, Sharon was teaching Bible studies in prison.

"It was the most exciting time of my life," said Dutra.

After being released from prison, Sharon returned to school to become a nurse. She also started up her ministry, Be Transformed Ministries.

Today on Connections, Sharon shares her testimony with us. She'll also share how she's using her experience to help others.