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Troubled Teen Faces Unexpected Legal Outcome

Joe was part of a church youth group, but partying and drugs were his real passion. He faced a personal crossroads after he was arrested for attempted car theft. Read Transcript

JOE DOWNES: I was at a Widespread Panic concert

and had consumed a large amount of LSD.

The cops came, arrested me, I get put on cell block

in Fulton County Jail as a 22-year-old kid.

And during this period of time, I start going into withdrawals.

NARRATOR: Growing up, no one would

have guessed that Joe Downes would ever end up in jail.

JOE: I was raised by a very Christian mother,

raised and went to a Baptist church pretty much any time

the doors were open.

My father was not a Christian.

He wasn't adversarial against Christians.

He might go on Easter and he might go on Christmas.

NARRATOR: Although he was saved at a young age,

Joe started walking away from God in junior high.

JOE: I started drinking.

I started smoking, started experimenting with drugs.

I got into the bad areas of my life,

mostly because the crowd I was running with.

All the other guys around were doing it, so I did.

Throughout high school, everything intensified.

All the drinking, all the smoking,

all the drug use, all the experimentation just got worse.

NARRATOR: He was good at hiding his drug use

and still graduated high school with honors.

In the fall, Joe left for the freedom of college.

JOE: And that's where my drug use really took off.

My freshman year in college, the campus searched my room

and found all kinds of marijuana, all kinds of scales,

all kinds of pipes and bongs.

I was given a slap on the wrist and put on social probation.

That was it.

That following summer, I got caught

living in the girls' dorm.

They didn't want to kicked me out,

but they kicked me off campus, which

allowed me to get an apartment.

That was exactly what I wanted, because then, I

could operate with impunity.

NARRATOR: From marijuana to acid, to prescription pills,

Joe used and sold it all.

Then his lifestyle caught up to him.

JOE: It was December 29th of 1998.

I was at a Widespread Panic concert in Atlanta.

I had spent all afternoon in the parking lot selling ecstasy.

I had a large sum of cash on me, had a lot of drugs on me,

and had consumed a large amount of LSD.

I remember walking into the show.

I don't remember leaving the show.

The next thing I remember, I am handcuffed

to the gurney at Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta

with EKG leads all over my chest.

Turns out, I tried to steal a cab.

The cops came and arrested me.

I had a knife on me, had a switchblade on me

that I was wielding at the time.

I resisted arrest according to the cops.

They very well could have shot me

and killed me with just calls.

After getting released from Grady Memorial,

they sent me to the Fulton County Jail.

I get put on cell block in Fulton County

Jail as a 22-year-old kid.

And during this period of time, I start going into withdrawals.

I was charged with possession of a controlled substance

with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana,

possession of paraphernalia, assault with a deadly weapon,

trespass, and destruction of property.

I called my dad, and he proceeded

to get a bunch of money together and come over to bail me out.

He looks at me and says, this is your one and only shot.

If I were to get arrested again, I'd be on my own.

NARRATOR: Joe entered in a rehab program.

And although it wasn't biblically based,

something clicked from his childhood days in church.

JOE: Coming to realize, hey, these 12 steps aren't really

foreign principals to me, but what really accelerated

that was when a good friend of mine

consistently invited me back to his church.

NARRATOR: The church met in a converted bar, of all places.

It was there that Joe was challenged

to read the whole Bible.

JOE: I did it over the course of a year,

and then I did it the next year.

And I did over the next year.

And it was just one baby step after another--

led to one thing after another after another.

And once I started putting in the work,

I started realizing that it wasn't God who moved away,

it was me that had moved away from God.

My case finally came up in May of 2000,

which is 17 months after I was arrested.

And the reason why it took so long for it to get called

is because all the drug evidence that they had on me


They had the evidence slip, where

it was checked into the evidence locker,

but all the drugs, all the paraphernalia, and all the cash

walked out of the evidence locker.

And they could not indict me because they could not

produce evidence.

I will sit here and tell you I was guilty as sin.

But God chose for me not to have to face punishment for that.

If I'd been convicted of all the charges,

I think I would have faced 15 or 20 years.

I was able to plead as a first time offender

to an assault charge and make restitution to the cab company.

And as soon as I made restitution,

my sentence was suspended.

And since I pled guilty as a first time offender in Georgia,

my record was expunged as soon as the sentence was suspended.

You can never do something so bad

that God won't take you back.

It doesn't matter how low you sunk,

doesn't matter that what you consider

the depths of your depravity, doesn't matter how bad you

think you've been, your loving Father is waiting

to wrap his arms around you.

Looking back on my life, there's no doubt the God was there

the entire time.

There are so many things that I did,

or was part of that should have either incarcerated me

for a good part of my life or should have killed me.

And I'm still sitting here.

It's all the proof I ever need to know that God was there.

I feel like I was welcomed back in by the loving Father God.

He was there and wrapped his arms around me.


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