BOOK EXCERPT: 'Radical Restoration: The Dawn Knighton Story' by Dawn Knighton
CBN News' John Jessup interviewed Dawn Knighton, a former crack addict, exotic dancer, and prostitute.
Her life story of rape, drug abuse, and hustling reads like a screenplay with the star spiraling hopelessly out of control, often landing in and out of jail and hurting the people she loved most. But one night – locked up in confinement – she cried out to God in sheer desperation. For Dawn, it was a turning point that changed her life trajectory and ultimately revealed her true calling.
Knighton’s journey – from prostitution to prison to being an ordained pastor – paints a beautiful picture of the modern-day prodigal and shows how she found redemption and healing through her faith in Jesus Christ and is now preaching a message of restoration to inspire hope and real, radical change within others in the “prison nation.”
Excerpted from "Radical Restoration: The Dawn Knighton Story" by Dawn Knighton
As the sounds of the motorcycles roared in the background, I watched as the handle of a pistol came down toward my face. In mid swing, all I could see was a giant forearm with veins popping out and a big 8-ball tattoo in the center of it. He began busting me across my forehead over and over again. I remember asking God, “Is this it? Is this the beating that’s gonna finally take me out? Am I really going to die this time?”
This was not an unusual scene in my life. A life of working for escort companies and dancing in strip clubs was a normal way of living. Here I was again in bed with a man I never met before just to earn enough money for my next “hit”. I had been beaten up before. But this time, I knew something was different. My hands were taped behind my back and there was another strip of duct tape across my face. I was not able to speak or move. As I listened to the daunting words of my rapist, I felt totally helpless. He was telling me of the brutal, graphic, and inhumane things that he had done to other women while he was beating me to a bloody pulp. He went on about how he had killed them and how they deserved it. “You bunch of trashy tramps. You’re nothing but no good crack whores. Y’all are all the same and you all deserve to die.” As I squinted through the blood puddles that were filling my eyes, I could see that he looked like Satan himself. His eyes were black, his face contorted and sweat was pouring off of him like water. My face was throbbing, my ribs were crushed, and some of my teeth were missing as they had been knocked out. As he straddled me I winced, scared of the next blow.
I was crying out to God, “Please don’t let me die like this.” It was at that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of peace come over me. As I watched his every move, his countenance began to change. He started to gag and then began throwing up all over me. I couldn’t believe it. I saw tears begin to roll down his face. He was actually crying. He sobbed and pleaded as he began to put on his clothes. He kept saying over and over, “I’m sorry . . . I’m sorry . . . I am so sorry for what I have done. Please just let me get out of here.” With a huge sigh of relief, I thought to myself, “It’s over! Thank God! Once again, you have spared my life.”
I would honestly say that I have always loved God. I went to a Christian school through the third grade. Every Sunday morning I would get myself up and get ready for church. Then I would stand in my driveway and wait for the Sunday school bus to come and pick me up to go to the Baptist Church. I absolutely loved church, and I was there every time the doors opened. My Daddy often tells the story of how I would go and get saved and baptized over and over. My name was in every church bulletin in town. I would always go to the altar and ask for prayer. That always led to the church people coming to our home to talk to my parents about salvation, which they never appreciated.
I always looked forward to summertime because I knew my Aunt Mable and Uncle Bobby would come get me for a week or two to spend time with my cousins. They lived way out in the country on a beautiful piece of property with lots of land and giant oak trees. It had a beautiful sink hole full of fish that we fed in the evenings. We would ride motorcycles and bicycles, play on the trampoline, go fishing, and get very dirty. In the evenings, we would sit in a circle in their living room and read the Bible and talk about the stories we read. The best part of those summertime visits was that we would always go to church. They attended a little Assembly of God Church and my Aunt Mable’s Dad, “Granddaddy Cooksey,” (as he was called by my cousins and me) was the preacher. He would teach us the Word of God and he would be so passionate about what he was preaching that he would turn beat red and shout, “Glory be to God!”
It wasn’t like the church I was used to at home, because he was on fire and every part of me would feel like I was about to burst with excitement and anticipation. I listened intently to every word he was saying. I wanted what he had; he had power in him like I had never seen before. The congregation would pray and touch heaven. I felt like angels were there with us and I felt the presence of God like I had never experienced. I loved it! I remember singing those songs out of those hymn books and they would make me cry. I loved the promises of going to Heaven, with streets of gold, and knowing Jesus was building me a mansion in the sky. I just couldn’t get enough.
After Deon’s death, my life began to really spin out of control, with many late nights. My life consisted of days with no sleep, and a drug dealing boyfriend, who soon became my second husband. It was a Friday night, February 27, 1987, at 7:00 p.m., and we were sleeping on our L-shaped sectional couch. We were getting some rest because we knew it was going to be a busy night. At this point in the game, we were dealing kilos, and had a lot of customers. All of a sudden, we woke up to a loud bang as the door was kicked in, and men in black with bright yellow letters on their back that said F.D.L.E., began screaming at the top of their lungs. Pistols were pointed in our faces as they surrounded us. We were busted. I was about five months pregnant and on probation already. All I could think of was the nightmare of possibly having my baby in prison. They handcuffed us as they ripped our house to pieces. Their unmarked cars littered the street, and they hid behind the back of the house, awaiting the customers who would be coming to purchase their goods for the night. As each of them arrived, they were detained by law enforcement. By the end of the evening, there were about thirty people in the middle of our living room floor in handcuffs. They had to let some of them go, but the ones who had dope on them went to jail with us. We were shown on the 11 o’clock news, walking out of our front door in handcuffs, and next to our picture in the paper the next day the headlines read in bold print, Ring Leaders: Community Drug Bust. The reality of possibly going to Federal prison got our attention. We bonded out with a new outlook on life, and no more drug traffic at our house. Our home became as quiet as a deserted city. Only by the grace of God and a praying mother-in-law, our charges were dropped from a technicality on their search warrant. God was on our side once again.
That, my friends, was a wake-up call. We managed to stay somewhat clean and sober as I finished out my pregnancy resulting in a beautiful baby boy. He was the most handsome man in the world, and he still is in my eyes. Fourteen months later, along came another little blonde-haired, green-eyed angel. Life was good. We were working hard and spending most of our weekends at a rental house on the beach. We were cooking out at home, and having a social drink and maybe a joint or two.
As my children got older, ballgames and cheerleading began, and we were always at the ball field. I began to meet new people and make new friends. Before I knew it, I was headed down the wrong road again. I was snorting cocaine with one of the other moms from the baseball team. She would come over to hang out, and always had a pocket full of coke. Once again I was staying up all night, losing weight, and drinking like a fish. It wasn’t long until I was completely out of control. Good old addiction was taking over my life again. I was writing bad checks, got a DUI, and had multiple car accidents and incarcerations. Once again, I was going through a divorce and had no stability.
It became a pattern. I would get into a relationship, get married, get back on drugs, and go back to jail, over and over again. This time, I decided that I would put myself into a rehab program. I did the best I knew how to try to change. I got a head full of clichés and tools that were supposed to help me to stay clean and sober; Eventually, I mended relationships with family and my children AGAIN. I got a great job cutting hair and making great money – AGAIN. Needless to say, once AGAIN it didn’t last long. Two weeks before I graduated from a one year long program, I got mad and walked out. At that point, I was never able to finish anything and would constantly sabotage myself. Within fifteen minutes of leaving the program, I had $500 worth of crack in my hands and I was off to the races.
I had absolutely no desire to live anymore. In my eyes, I was a complete failure. I was in and out jail on a regular basis. I would get arrested, raise all kinds of hell in jail, and get tied down in the black chair. Sometimes the guards would have to use the taser to get me to confinement. Everyone at the jail knew me on a first name basis. I was a regular, and they hated to see me coming. I remember a sweet lady by the name of Ms. Anne that came to teach a Bible study. They were having a service and I went up for prayer and told them, “I can say this salvation prayer, but I don’t know how to be a church lady. I don’t know how to be like you.” So she came and picked me up upon my release and took me home with her. It lasted about two weeks and then I decided to call one of my old guy friends to meet me at the movies. When we got in the theater, he began to fondle me. It made me mad and I walked out and started walking back to Ms. Anne’s house. A couple in a car stopped to ask me directions and I asked them for a ride. Sure enough they were smoking crack. The devil always has the wrong people in the right place. Needless to say, it was on after that. I was supposed to get baptized the next day, but I just couldn’t make it. I was too ashamed and couldn’t stand the fact that I had disappointed Ms. Anne. It sealed it – I just knew I couldn’t be a "church lady."
As usual I went in with a fight; kicking, screaming, and cussing, which led me to straight confinement. Locked down in an 8x10 cell and restricted in a turtle suit (straight jacket), buck-naked and freezing cold, I cried out to Jesus once again, “God is there any way that you can help me?” I was in the jail inside of the jail, which was the maximum security confinement of the entire compound. It had now become a matter of life and death to me. I had said the salvation prayer forward and backward, upside-down, and sideways. I needed the real deal; I needed an absolute mind and heart transformation that would penetrate the depths of my soul.
It was at this time that God began to truly speak to me. He began to give me a vision and speak to me, telling me that I was valuable to Him, that I was a precious jewel. He shared that He put me in His safety deposit box and reminded me that I cried out at the altar that day for Him to do whatever it was going to take. He took me to a place of total surrender. He showed me that He was with me in my broken place. He was going to heal my hurts and my wounds, and take away the shame and the pain.
I was taken out of the turtle suit and placed in a room by myself. It was then that I asked Officer White to bring me a Bible. She and I had a love-hate relationship. I would come in a mess and she would have to fight me, and then she would encourage me once I came back to my right mind. As I read it, I began to receive revelations, and was reminded of the promises of God that I knew as a little girl.
Reprinted from Radical Restoration: The Dawn Knighton Story Copyright © 2016 by Dawn Knighton.
Published by Dr. Dawn Knighton of Radical Restoration Ministries.