Interview: Ashley Smith Robinson, the Real-Life Captive Who Inspired the Movie

Posted on September 21, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Ashley Smith Robinson was a recovering drug addict, a widow in her 20’s, and a mother who desperately wanted to be able to prove that she could care for her little girl. Brian Nichols was a desperate man about to go on trial for rape when he escaped from prison, killed four people, and took Smith hostage in her own apartment. For seven terrible hours he kept her there. She gave him drugs, made him pancakes, and read aloud to him from Rick Warren’s best-seller, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?. She wrote a book about her experience: Captive: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero.

Now Ashley Smith Robinson, happily married, mother of three, and continuing to spread the word about her faith and her story, she spoke to me about what she has learned and what she hopes to inspire in people.

What has been your experience of talking to people who have seen the film already? How have they responded to it?

People have responded very positively. Definitely everyone is understanding and seeing the redemption side to the story, seeing that God reached down and pulled me out of the pit of hell that my life had become and completely changed my life. This film is kind of a tough thing to deal with because four people lost their lives for my life to completely change for the better and it has been a hard thing for me to deal with that. I try to stay on track and help people see that something good can come out of a very negative event and try to continue to give God all the glory.

How did that experience make you see yourself differently?

For me up until this point I was very lost in my way of life. I was raised into a Christian home and as a teenager I got off on a very bad path, begun to use drugs and begun to live a very party lifestyle, the ways of the world. And suffered lots of tragedies in my life, the loss of my first husband, lost custody of my daughter as a result of the drugs. It was a very deep dark place and I didn’t really feel worthy of God’s love anymore because I thought the decisions that I made were too bad and Satan always let me know that I was too bad for God to love me. But that could have been nothing further from the truth because today I understand that there is absolutely nothing I could do to let God not love me because he loves me despite on my past mistakes even the mistakes that I make today. He loves me no matter what and there is nothing I can do to make Him not love me. So I think seeing myself knowing that He loves me no matter what has made me the person I am.

How did it feel to actually meet Rick Warren after his work was so important in your story?

He spoke some real positive truth in my life and he has always been very good in encouraging me to continue to stick to my faith and stick to my story. You know, sometimes the world doesn’t always want to hear the name Jesus, they don’t want that to be the explanation of the one thing that turns out for the better but the truth is that is the explanation. God is the one that changed my life and got me out of the apartment alive and so He definitely gets all the credit. Rick Warren has been very important in helping me continue to stay true to that when I need encouragement. He keeps on telling me that God uses brokenness no matter what. When he came out on the Oprah show and gave me a hug is when he said, “Don’t let people get to you. It’s your story, you tell it and let God be bold in there.”

One of the real turning points in the film and I guess in the real story is when you gave Brian meth and he wanted you to participate and you didn’t. What is it that gave you that strength at that moment?

I really believed that Brian Nichols did not want me to do drugs. Jesus Christ took the body of Brian Nichols at that moment and He was asking me did I want to do drugs and continue living the life that I was living. Because if I did then my life would be over but if I could chose one time not to do drugs then God would really give me a life that I couldn’t imagine. And you know to be honest with you I didn’t know if I was going to live for five minutes or live to see more years but five minutes of a better life than the life that I was living and actually saying no to the one thing that controlled my life was seeming a lot better to me than continuing on the path that I was on. So I chose not to do the drugs and I immediately felt really free, not physically of course because I was still being held captive, but emotionally and spiritually, I felt like God was in complete control.

Is it extremely painful for you to keep reliving that experience with people talking to you about it?

I don’t think it’s painful for me it’s actually good for me because it keeps me remembering where I came from and where I don’t ever want to go back to. And the reason that I tell my story and not for any other reason, my hope is to help other people see that even through our brokenness God loves us and continuing to talk about it. If it helps just one person then my job is been done successfully.

Why did David Oyelowo, who co-produced the film, want to play Brian Nichols?

He says that if he believed God found the humanity in Brian Nichols then that’s what changed the whole situation and got me out of there alive. David is a man of deep faith and he’s very true, very true in his actions and everything that he is and everything he represents. He wasn’t quite happy about playing the person who murdered four people in a day, but it was underlying story of redemption and Grace and humanity drew him through to the film.

Watching the film, it seemed the two shared a sense of desperation.

When I choose not to do the drugs, I begun to look at Brian Nichols in a different way. Instead of looking at him at the through the eyes of Ashley Smith a human being, a very flawed human being, I begun to see Brian Nichols through the eyes of Jesus. And I began to see that he was just a sinner saved by God’s grace, the same way I was, he had chosen to kill four people, to brutally murder four people, where as I at one point in my life chose drugs over my daughter and made other bad decisions in my life. I was just a sinner saved by God’s grace and so I began to see that we were very similar in who we were and things that we had done. I began to feel God’s love that night and I began to know Him and there was absolutely nothing I could do to make Him not love me and I just kind of wanted Brian to feel like a human being also. He told me that he just wanted some normalcy in his life and I tried to give him normalcy so that I could make it out of there alive. I felt for sure that if I could strike a chord in finding some similarities in us, that would make a connection. Once people have children, they tug at your heartstrings, and so we began to talk about having kids. At one point he took a shower and he tied me up before he did that so I wouldn’t run away but the I was cooking him pancakes and just being normal, that’s what normal was to me.

What do you think is the most important lesson of the purpose driven life?

I think the most important lesson is that you learn to serve God in the shape that God has for us. For a long time I tried to control my life and do the things that I thought God wanted me to do but I was still absolutely wrong, ruining my life. I think we need to learn to serve God in the path that that He has selected. He is all-powerful and all knowing and has got a perfect plan for each one of us.

Is there a Bible verse or prayer that is really special to you?

Ashley: My Bible verse is Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” It’s definitely important to me that I know that I trust God in all that I do and not try to understand because some things you just can’t understand. You just have to go on faith alone.

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