An inmate, the judge who sentenced her and a life changed


It was a typical day in Judge Scott Ballard’s Fayette County courtroom on March 22, 2019. Jennifer Kelly, an inmate at the Fayette County Jail, did what she had done numerous times before – face a Superior Court judge. She was about to take a plea deal for a 10-year prison sentence. While the district attorney and Jennifer’s public defender were in total agreement for her to take the plea deal, Jennifer was not willingly on board.

The Honorable Judge Scott Ballard was presiding and called Kelly to approach the bench so he could discuss her options. Jennifer recounts the conversation with Judge Ballard as “an awakening.” She heard compassion in the judge’s voice as he explained everything to her in a heartfelt manner, and she sensed he cared for her seeing the wasted life she’d lived and wanting better for her.

“Peace like a river flooded me within, and I was somehow liberated,” Jennifer says. “If I had a white flag, I would have waved it in surrender. It was at that point God met me and encouraged and strengthened me to go forward.”

Two weeks later, Jennifer was transferred to Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville to serve out her sentence. Through a prison email system called JPay, Jennifer was able to stay in touch with the woman she knew as “Miss Lisa,” a clergy volunteer at the Fayette County jail she had met with for weekly Bible study during her five months of incarceration in Fayette.

During back and forth email conversations, Jennifer confided in Lisa a dream she had to one day publish a devotional book aimed at helping encourage others to find freedom despite their past. Lisa encouraged Jennifer to pursue her dream, even offering to make it come true. The handwritten devotionals were mailed to Lisa, who began the process of typing, editing, and creating a cover. On March 16, 2020, Jennifer’s book Bound Yet Free: 52-Week Devotional for Those Bound Seeking Freedom became a reality.

In the Bound Yet Free introduction, Jennifer wanted the courtroom transcript included, so Fayette County court reporter Karen Griffin helped with that vital piece. One of the first copies was sent to Judge Ballard at Jennifer’s request.

Upon receiving it, Judge Ballard commented, “When I read the transcript of what I said to Ms. Kelly, it sounded pretty ordinary to me. I think what happened was that Ms. Kelly was attentive to an inner voice with a message that spoke to her with surgical precision in a way that I lack the eloquence to do. There was nothing special about what I said. What WAS special was that she listened to the inner voice. I’m so glad she did! I hope her book will prove meaningful to many people.”

The best moment for Jennifer besides seeing the book come to fruition was knowing her two daughters were proud of their mom despite the effects her poor decisions had cost them growing up.

The book is available online at, and royalties go directly into an account in Jennifer’s name to help give her a fresh start upon her release in 2022.


  1. So on this “typical day” in Judge Ballard’s courtroom, this woman’s public defender and the district attorney were in total agreement on the plea deal, even though her attorney is supposed to be speaking on her behalf and she was not on board with the deal.
    Then the judge (who was the DA for many years) talked her into taking the plea deal. Her attorney should not have let the judge talk to her until the decision to take the deal was made.
    Fayette County justice at its finest.

    • This inmate knew she was guilty, but wanted to proceed with a trial hoping she might get a lesser sentence somehow by a miracle. Her rap sheet was 62 pages long and the judge was merely giving her some wise advice that if she didn’t take the deal and proceeded to trial that the sentence could be 20 years vs the lesser deal on the table. If you read her book, you would have the bigger picture as to why she agreed and why she feels so blessed that the judge bothered to take a moment and instruct her to take time to think before she made her decision. It was her decision (not forced on her) but without being given the time to take a deep breath and think about the impact of going to trial she might have made the biggest mistake. Jennifer sees that now and is so thankful the judge allowed her to process and make the right decision for her. Order the book and read more of her story. I bet you’ll see things differently than you posted above.