From the AJC archives: Interview with Ashley Smith

“Captive,” which tells the story of Fulton County Courthouse shooter Brian Nichols and Ashley Smith, who he chanced upon while on the lam and held captive for hours, is due out in September. The trailer is out now.

The book is based on Smith’s book “Unlikely Angel: “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero.”

In 2005, shortly before the book was published, the AJC was the first media outlet to sit down with Smith (who is now remarried and is known as Ashley Smith Robinson) to talk about her encounter with Nichols.

Here’s that story, which ran Sept. 28, 2005:

BITA HONARVAR/ AJC staff

BITA HONARVAR/ AJC staff

The “Unlikely Angel” is a reluctant celebrity.

“I don’t like the glitz and glamour,” Ashley Smith said in a question and answer session Tuesday.

“For goodness’ sake, I have flip-flops on,” Smith said, smiling and displaying her casually clad feet. “It’s all right. Jesus wore sandals.”

In the nearly seven months since her fateful encounter with Fulton County Courthouse shooting suspect Brian Nichols, Smith — who received $70,000 in reward money for her part in his arrest — has quit smoking and hasn’t gone near drugs, she says, after battling addiction for years. She has reconnected with relatives, and she’s learning how to be a good mother to her 6-year-old daughter, Paige. And she says her goal is to share her faith and reach out to others struggling with substance abuse.

Smith is on a national media tour to promote her book, “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero, ” which went on sale Tuesday. Her publicity tour includes television appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Larry King’s show, Paula Zahn and “Good Morning America.”

In her book, co-written with Stacy Mattingly, Smith shares details about mistakes of her past — even revealing that she gave Nichols drugs while she was his prisoner.

She says she has been nervous the past few days, knowing that soon the world will know her secrets.

“People wanted to know me, ” Smith said. “Now they do.”

Q: You were very candid in the book. Was it hard to be so honest?

A: I remembered what Jesus said: The truth will set you free.

Q: What’s the strangest part of being newly famous?

A: The weirdest thing to me is, people come up [to me]. Most of them are very nice. People say, “You did a good job.” People never cared what I said before. Now it’s like, “We like you.” I pulled up to this Christian bookstore to get a CD. There it was [a display promoting Smith‘s book]. I was like, I can’t go in there anymore. I was so nervous. My knee knocked over a shelf of CDs.

Q: How has having money changed your life?

A: I always wanted Paige back. Especially after Aunt Kim had her for two years. But I used to think, “I will never be able to provide for her what Aunt Kim can provide for her.” Now I can. God has said, “Here’s the missing piece.”

Q: Do you have custody of your daughter now?

A: I take care of Paige physically, financially, I bathe her at night, I put her to bed. When I get back home . . . and I can actually build a home for Paige and me, it’s just a matter of going to the courthouse to sign the papers. It’s not going to be an issue. My aunt [who has legal custody of Paige] sees me grow every day.

Q: Does Paige understand what has happened to you, and what is happening now?

A: She understands . . . not [all] of it. She thinks I was sick. She doesn’t understand the whole story. I will tell her one of these days. I pray every day [drug addiction] doesn’t run in her genes. I’ll tell her before it’s too late to make a difference.

Q: Tell me about the new Ashley Smith.

A: The new Ashley. Wow, where do I start? The person who runs my life now is not Ashley. It’s Jesus. I don’t make a move without saying, “Guide me, lead me.” I put others before myself now. It was just all about me. Now it’s about making a difference.

Q: What’s a typical day for you like now?

A: Get up around 6 a.m., read my Bible, have some time with God. Get Paige up, get her dressed. [Aunt Kim takes Paige to kindergarten.] I go to the gym, come home, shower up. Lately I’ve been stuck on the computer answering e-mails. Then I pick Paige up at 2. We like to do crafts together. We like to paint and color, we make bracelets. She loves to go run with me. We kick the soccer ball. I’ve developed an interest in child psychology.

Q: Do you have any interest in completing a college education?

A: I might like to pursue child psychology. We’ll see what happens.

Q: Is there anything you wish you had done differently the night Brian Nichols held you captive?

A: I think everything I did was the way God wanted it to happen. Sometimes I think, when he was bringing those tools in [from the stolen truck], “Why didn’t you shut the door? You gave him drugs, Ashley.” I did what the Lord led me to do that night. God led me to do that.

Q: You wrote that you were working two jobs, attending school, trying to turn your life around. How did you happen to have crystal methamphetamine in your apartment?

A: I really wanted to stop. I would not do it for a week or two. Every other time that I got a little bit and did it, I never ever did it all. It was like, “I screwed up again, ” then I got rid of it. This time I didn’t.

Q: Nichols asked you for marijuana, and you said you didn’t have any, but that you did have “ice” — the crystal methamphetamine. You write that you refused to do the drug with him and tried to talk him out of it. Was Brian Nichols the first person you tried to talk out of doing drugs?

A: That’s the first person I reached out to — to try to get him to say no. It’s the first time I refused drugs and said no. . . . It’s the first time I felt that I would never do it again.

Q: You write about telling Brian Nichols how you knew what it was like to be in jail, that you knew the pain of losing your husband, and about how drugs nearly destroyed you. Do you think that if you had led a perfect life before your encounter with Nichols, you would have been able to relate to him as well?

A: No, I wouldn’t. He would have seen this perfect person.

Q: Are you nervous about having to testify at Nichols’ trial? What do you think of him today?

A: Of course I’m nervous. I’m going to be face-to-face with the person who scared the crap out of me. . . . He did the right thing by turning himself in.

Q: Do you have any plans to communicate with him?

A: God had a meeting for us and I believe it was March 12. If he lays it on my heart [to meet with Nichols], I can’t not do what he says.

Q: Nichols faces the death penalty. Do you have an opinion on that?

A: It doesn’t really matter what I think about it. It’s up to the government. It’s up to God. I pray for Brian Nichols, that he will find his purpose. I pray for the families of the victims who died. I know the pain of picking up the pieces.

Q: You mentioned you will donate some of the proceeds from the book to a fund for the victims. What are the details?

A: Nothing’s been planned yet. I would like a physical structure. My long-term goal is to start a foundation for kids who are battling drug addiction. That’s my dream.

Q: Who are you most looking forward to meeting?

A: I got to meet Rick Warren [the author of the megaselling inspirational book, “The Purpose-Driven Life, ” which Smith read to Nichols during her captivity]. That was my favorite. He said I could go to Africa with him [on a mission trip]. I was like yes, I will definitely go. That’s awesome!

Q: Who in the Bible do you relate to most?

A: Paul. God wanted me to wake up. I didn’t think I was important enough for God to use. He’s showing me different now.

Ask me a year ago if I’d be sitting here speaking out against meth. My teeth were rotted out. My mind was gone. . . . I can’t watch it destroy people like that. I have to try to make a difference now. I want to stand up against something that took a few years of my life away.

Q: Do you think you deserve all this attention?

A: I don’t think anybody deserves anything, especially God’s love. We’re all sinners. I’m grateful for it. I’m humbled by it mostly.