How hope broke free from prison
Adam and Amanda Whittle’s story was too good to have a sad ending.
A military veteran turned from a self-destructive path. A marriage pulled out of its tailspin.
Yet the young couple’s fairytale redemption was playing out against a bleak backdrop — a potential 30-year prison sentence that could snatch away the gift of a hope-filled future.
READ: Part 1 of Adam and Amanda’s story.
Adam’s drug trafficking arrest in 2013 brought the separated couple to NewSpring Greenwood looking for a fresh start.
Jesus used the crisis to take control of their lives.
In the 15 months Adam was out on bail, Adam and Amanda tasted the deep, lasting joy the high-school sweethearts had never known in their five years of marriage.
For the first time, the couple was learning how to build their lives on God’s promises, and they had friends who were helping them work it out day-by-day.
“We were the happiest we’d ever been,” Amanda says.
Meanwhile, their NewSpring family watched and waited.
They prayed and believed with Adam and Amanda that every month Adam’s sentencing hearing was delayed — every month Adam’s life reflected this remarkable change inside and out — was one more month’s proof for a judge that Adam didn’t need to serve time.
One more month’s setup for a miracle.
“The lawyer told us not to worry,” Amanda says.
At the Augusta, Ga., courthouse a few days before Christmas 2014, family, friends and church staff hastily assembled to offer a collective character witness — and see the curtain drop on “happily ever after.”
Instead, Adam was sentenced to the minimum five years, cuffed and hauled off.
Their community was left in tears, and a hysterical Amanda could only cling to the memory of quick hug and a kiss.
“It didn’t seem real,” she says.
Adam and Amanda knew what it meant to be thankful to God for dreadful circumstances.
Now they would learn what it meant to be thankful to God in dreadful circumstances.
“You think when you become a Christian, life is going to be great, you're not going to have any struggles, you're not going to have any pain,” Amanda says. “To be a young Christian, and to deal with something like this, was very hard.”
Adam was sent to a maximum security prison.
Nothing could prepare him for the brutal conditions and the desperate loneliness he felt. He did the only thing he could do: He turned to the Bible multiple times a day.
“There were gang riots. Every day fights. Every day people got stabbed. People got killed. You’ve got to fight for your food. You have to fight for respect,” he says. “If it wasn’t for my relationship with Jesus, if it wasn’t for the power of God, I wouldn’t have made it mentally, and I wouldn’t have made it physically.”
Whenever Adam and Amanda would ask themselves, “Why?”, God spoke the same words of comfort to their hearts: “I have great things planned for you all, and it’s going to glorify me in the end.”
That simple hope was their constant reminder to each other, and it kept them patient and positive.
It was only through Jesus we were able to survive this. - Amanda
Amanda felt Adam’s loss as a kind of grief, but she couldn’t live in the hole he left behind.
She went back to college to finish a degree while she worked as a special education teacher.
“I just would take the day as it came to me,” Amanda says. “I would have a quiet time in the morning, the routine of work, talk to Adam when I got home, and just kind of try to make it to the next day, and repeat the process over and over again.”
Adam and Amanda’s community provided a support system that few other inmates or their families had.
Amanda’s new co-workers prayed with her to begin the day, and lifted her up in difficult moments. Those co-workers joined others who would sit often with Amanda at night and check in with her to see how they could help.
Adam had his own small circle — a couple and three or four friends — who would send cards and letters every month, deposit money into Adam’s prison account, and give up Saturdays to come visit just when it mattered most.
“It would have been a lot more hard for me and Amanda,” Adam says. “Knowing that there’s someone there that’s thinking about you helps a lot. I’m very thankful to the Lord for empowering these people to stay in our lives.”
Adam and Amanda could see God at work keeping the bond between them tight and their love alive.
At every stage of Adam’s incarceration, they experienced new ways to feel intimacy in every opportunity.
At first, they got to express themselves in long letters and occasional 15-minute phone calls between Amanda’s weekly visits.
Then after two or three months, those phone calls became almost daily, sometimes stretching for an hour or more.
“He was excited just to talk to me or even hear me breathe on the phone,” she says.
On visit days, they would spend 9am to 3pm together in the tiny visitation area, sitting across a small table, with the noisy conversations of others around them.
They were allowed a hug and a kiss when they first walked in and when they departed, but if a guard saw more than three physical contacts in between, the visit would end.
Each sneaked fingertip or foot touch tingled with romance.
Getting through prison assured me we can get through anything in life. - Adam
Their words were about ordinary things — descriptions of everyday tasks, what she ate, who she hung out with — but love was tucked inside every one.
“It was good for him to know what was going on outside the four walls that he had to stay within,” she says.
Adam and Amanda had their most difficult days when parole opportunities would come and go.
When they would break emotionally, they mostly felt empathy, not distance, in the silences that could alone express the hurt and disappointment.
Amanda saw him remain steadfast and even upbeat, in as much as that is possible behind bars.
“For the most part, he was fully trusting Jesus and knowing that He had something for us, and it was going to be great ... and Jesus has got this,” Amanda says.
Adam saw a strength in Amanda he didn’t know she had.
“We had only 15 months to grow together through the Lord to prepare for [prison,]” Adam says. “She was right there by my side every day. I know it was hard for her, but she really didn’t show it. Getting through prison assured me we can get through anything in life.”
Adam was released after 32 months, the last six months in a transitional center, where he lived dormitory style, going to work every day in a battery factory.
The daily phone calls became FaceTime video. The weekly prison waiting room visits became full days they could spend around town or at a family home nearby.
“I honestly felt like we were in high school again. I was like glued to him, attached to him,” she says.
As the final release date and Adam’s return home to Greenwood neared in July 2017, their thankfulness for God’s daily grace on the long journey seemed to grow stronger and deeper.
“It was only through Jesus we were able to survive this,” Amanda says. “You would think prison time, and being away from each other, would have weakened our marriage, but it actually strengthened our marriage. It feels like we just picked up where we left off.”
Watch the video to see the moment Adam and Amanda were reunited for good, and hear about why they’re more confident about the future than ever.