Kathy Woods never really thought of herself as a big drug dealer.
She’d grown up in a family who had everything they needed.
She went to church. She’d gotten a brand-new car as a teenager and gone to college after she graduated from high school.
So just a few years later, when narcotics task forces in three counties were exhausting a lot of manpower trying to catch her and put her behind bars, it was hard for her to see herself the way they did.
“At the time, I looked at it as ‘I’m just doing what I’ve got to do to survive,’” Woods said. “But the police did not see it that way.”
Neither does she, now that she’s nearly two decades down the road, married with children and serving in a ministry role at a church. She sees a young woman who had been through some hard times but who also made some bad decisions that snowballed.
And she sees someone on a crash course to run straight into Jesus — someone who one day would know the power of God’s redemption and restoration.
It all started when Woods was 16.
“Life was good. My dad owned his own business, and things were going well,” she said.
But spiritually their family had some fault lines. Her mom was very involved with her church’s children’s ministry, but her dad didn’t go except for Christmas and Easter, and he didn’t believe God was real.
Then when Woods was 16, she found out her dad had been having an affair.
“It was this blow to our world,” she said.
Immediately, her mom said they would get a divorce, but over the next two years it was a roller coaster of trying to work it out and deciding they couldn’t over and over again. Woods also went through a breakup with her high school sweetheart. She started going to parties, experimenting occasionally with drugs. During that time, her dad was also diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.
He began to deteriorate rapidly. The divorce was final when Woods was 18. Then at 19, she found out she had an early form of cervical cancer, and after a procedure to remove it, doctors told her she might never have children.
“For a kid who had had no bumps in the road, it was a lot,” she said. “Then I started dating a guy who was 10 years older than me.”
She said she didn’t really love him — he was just someone to spend time with in a season where everything was really hard. But things escalated quickly.
“We were eating dinner with my dad one night, and my dad said, ‘I sure do hope you guys get married because I want to walk you down the aisle before I can’t,’” Woods said. “So the guy I was dating said, ‘Oh, we’re going to get married aren’t we? We should just go ahead and do it.’”
Woods knew she didn’t want to marry him.
“But my dad was crying and saying, ‘Oh, I can’t wait,’ and it just snowballed out of control for me,” she said. “So the next thing I know, I’m 21 and getting married to a man I cared about but in no way did I love him the way I loved that high school sweetheart.”
She dropped out of college, planned a wedding and got married — and her new husband physically assaulted her when they came home from the wedding. She was stunned. The abuse escalated until one day Woods finally asked him what had changed.
“I said, ‘You’re not the same person,’ and he said it was because he was using drugs,” she said. “He told me I was always wanting him to do things, and all he wanted to do was get high and have a good time and that everything would be better if I would just do that with him.”
Woods couldn’t bear the thought of going back and telling her recently divorced mom that she was being abused and her marriage was failing. She also couldn’t bear the “I told you so” comments she thought she might get from friends who had thought the relationship was a bad idea.
She felt trapped.
So she tried crystal meth.
“Pretty much immediately I was hooked,” Woods said.
It alleviated the abuse at first, but then it got way worse. Eventually when her dad needed full-time care, she used that as an excuse to leave her husband. But her dad didn’t have enough money to pay for full-time care and support her and her addiction.
So when a friend offered Woods a chance to make money selling drugs, she took it. And once again, it escalated.
“Within three months, I was moving a good bit of drugs,” she said.
Over time, officers in Jefferson, St. Clair and Shelby counties were chasing her, trying to get enough evidence to arrest the young woman who was one of the main people moving drugs into and out of the area. They eventually arrested her in Shelby County, and when they did, the narcotics officer “was so kind,” Woods said.
He asked her if she wanted to go back inside and get her shoes.
“I told him no, I really want to go in and get my Bible,” Woods said. “The whole time I’d been using, I really was not in a good place with the Lord. I was leaning toward my dad’s view on God. But when I was hurting, I would go to my Bible, and randomly in that moment, I told him I’d rather have my Bible than my shoes.”
He told her he would let her get both. And as she got into his car, God was starting something new, she said.
“They transferred me to St. Clair County, and my mama would not come get me,” Woods said. “She said, ‘I know you’re safe, I know you’re sober and I know you’re not hurting anybody else.’ She also told me that she had stepped in to take care of my dad. She said, ‘I’m leaving you there, but I’m praying for you.’”
So now, stuck in jail, Woods started seeking solace where she could. She started going to a chapel service run by women from a local church.
“The only reason I would go is because you could color while they had chapel,” she said. “So week after week after week, I went and colored while they talked. And finally at some point, the Holy Spirit started to move again and relit my heart.”
Woods said God reminded her that she had never been alone and that He had protected her.
“There have been a lot of dangerous, dangerous situations I was in that looking back now, I’m lucky I’m not dead,” she said. “And the Spirit just reminded me of that and said, ‘God has sought you, He’s called you, He’s shown you favor — just come home.’”
It was her 89th night in jail, and she went back to her cell and wept.
“I told the Lord, ‘I want to share the gospel, but I know I’m going to prison.’ I knew I was looking at 25 years because of the charges. That was going to be my minimum,” Woods said. “I said, ‘God, I’m going to do what you called me to do. I’m going to share the gospel, and I realize it’s going to be in prison.’”
The next day, the mother of the friend who had gotten her started selling drugs came and posted her bail bond. Woods’ mom let her move home, and she stayed sober and got involved in church. It was about a year before she finally went to court for her sentencing.
“I was so convinced I was going to prison, I had my bag of stuff to take with me,” Woods said.
But the judge called her into his chambers and asked a question that surprised her — he asked her about her relationship with God. So she told him.
And he told her something even more surprising.
“He said, ‘I just really feel like the Lord is leading me to give you a second chance,’” Woods said. “He said, ‘I’m struggling with it because you’re a pretty big deal to catch and have charges on, and I can’t imagine what I’m going to get from the other judges and the cops if I let you walk out of here. But I just can’t shake that the Lord is telling me to let you go.’”
He turned to the officers in the room and asked if it would be OK with them if he gave her time served for one charge of distribution and dropped the other charges against her.
“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I know they’re going to say no, why would they say yes?’ And they both said ‘sure,’” Woods said. “If you could understand the amount of manpower they spent trying to get me arrested and catch me, for them to turn around and say, ‘Sure, let her walk away’ — it’s mind boggling, and there is only one explanation for it.”
That explanation was God, Woods said. She began the journey of finding out what it looked like to live as a Christian adult with a bag full of trauma and struggles.
“Those first couple of years were hard. I don’t want anybody to think my story is ‘the Lord intervened, and I did everything I was supposed to do,’” she said.
People began to invest in her along the way, and she started volunteering in youth ministry at a local church.
She never touched drugs again, but she also hadn’t learned what it looked like to live a life fully surrendered to Christ. During that time, she became pregnant with her son.
“I was like ‘I’m a disappointment; I’ve come back but I’m screwing it up so badly,’” Wood said. “But through the journey, people I really thought would say ‘yeah, you’ve got too much going on’ really stood in the gap for me and championed for me.”
One of those was Tim Faulk, a minister who discipled her during that time and helped her get on her feet in ministry. Another was Chris Crain and Russ Donaho, at the time pastor and worship minister respectively of North Valley Church, Odenville.
“Both just poured into me, loved on me and understood my passion for ministry and missions and wanting to help people who are struggling and lost,” Woods said.
They told her they saw a lot of skill and talent for ministry in her, but they wanted to equip her with more depth of Bible understanding.
Education and ministry
“Chris actually paid for my first seminary class,” she said.
From there, she went on to Leavell College at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and after graduation served in student ministry at Deerfoot Baptist Church, Trussville, then at Serving You Ministries in Birmingham. She now serves as administrative assistant for city ministries at the Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham.
God has done a lot of restoration work in her life. She’s married now and has a stepdaughter in addition to her son. She spent five years in student ministry, pouring into students and helping them see the life God has for them.
She prays both they and her children will know God but get to live “normal” stories and not walk the same road she did. And she recognizes the role that her mother’s constant prayers played in her journey.
Over the years, Woods has been on missions trips across the U.S. and around the world. She’s mentored students in job training programs and worked with families in a part of inner-city Birmingham that faces a lot of brokenness.
And prison ministry is dear to her heart — she encourages people all the time to get involved and not get discouraged if it seems like everyone involved is coloring and not listening.
God is at work, Woods said, and she’s a testimony to that.
“I love sharing hope and the truth that you are being pursued by your Creator,” she said. “He is willing to restore. It may take time, and there are consequences to our actions, but He does restore.”
Crain said Woods’ story is “a living example of the gospel’s power to change.”
When she was at North Valley, “her love for Jesus was magnetic,” said Crain, who now serves as executive director of Birmingham Metro Baptist Association. “I was amazed at Kathy’s ability to bring others along when she began to live on mission for Jesus. Kathy seems to operate by the philosophy that Jesus can redeem anyone and use them to impact the world. She lives that out like few I have ever observed.”
Keith Stanley, City Ministries pastor at Brook Hills, said, “Kathy is a huge blessing to Brook Hills and our City Ministries as God uses her story and life experiences to provide guidance and wisdom to our overall strategies and to provide encouragement and hope to many struggling with the effects of brokenness in our city.”
Outrageous Justice, a small-group curriculum designed by Prison Fellowship, offers inmates hope. See story here.