Multiple deaths in the family left Johanna Berrios-Espinoza feeling hopeless and crushed before a new purpose gave her something to live for.
Growing up in Boksburg, Johanna encountered death at a young age.
"Life was not easy growing up. When I was eight years old my dad died. Then my 18 and 24-year-old brothers died in a motor accident," Joanna recalls sadly.
"I started drinking alcohol when I was 15 and got married that same year."
Alcohol numbed her pain for a while but it was always short-lived and her husband was abusive and did not show her the love and comfort she craved.
"I always asked God why my life is so bad and why others have a better life," she says.
Johanna's mom was murdered in 2011, causing her to give up all remaining hope in life.
"I have done a lot of stealing to keep up with my habits of alcohol and sometimes drugs. Sometimes I even sold myself for sex just to have money to drink," she confesses.
The deep pain and hurt inside was made worse by the wrong choices she made to rely on alcohol, steal and prostitute herself instead of turning to God for help.
Johanna went to prison multiple times for crimes such as shoplifting, stealing from her ex-husband and breaking her parole.
"I am still waiting on the results of another three court cases," she says about her current time in Johannesburg's Central Prison.
With a vicious cycle that kept repeating itself, Johanna finally came to the point where she realised she needed to look beyond herself for saving.
"I heard about the salvation Jesus offers from the pastor in prison. I felt prompted to receive Jesus as my Lord and Saviour because of the hard time I was having in prison. I knew I was (spiritually) lost without Him," she says.
Thinking back on all the wrong choices she had made, Johanna says, "I realised I needed God in my life to forgive me for all my sins."
The prison pastor explained to her that God came to earth as Jesus Christ and made a way for her to be forgiven when He died on the cross as the punishment she deserved for her sins.
With the punishment paid in full, God made a way for anyone who humbly comes to Jesus to have a fresh start and eternal life in heaven one day.
"I knew I did not want to go to hell when I die so Pastor Gwen helped me pray to God for forgiveness and for Jesus to come into my life," Johanna explains.
"I was crying when I did this and felt a peace and hope in my heart."
Since that moment of giving all the hurt, pain, guilt and self-reliance over to Jesus, Johanna has begun to heal from her past.
"God is now leading me step by step," she says, "I really believe there is hope for everybody if Jesus is in your life."•