A former drug addict-turned-pastor who was arrested 35 times and sentenced to prison five times for eight felony convictions has opened up about the series of events that led him to Christ and why his mission is to tell others that abundant life is possible, even in prison.
The first time Scott Highberger got arrested he was just 12 years old. Growing up in Michigan City, Indiana, he was surrounded by dysfunction and substance abuse from a young age — and it wasn’t long before he began to adopt the habits surrounding him.
“I was a really angry kid who learned how to solve my problems through violence and fighting, and I ended up in a juvenile detention center at 12 years old,” he told The Christian Post. “Around that time, I started drinking, and that started a domino effect of committing crimes and abusing drugs and alcohol.”
Unable to stay out of trouble, Highberger dropped out of school in the ninth grade. By the time he was 17, he’d been arrested so many times that authorities placed him in an adult prison instead of trying him as a child. From there, he became trapped in a constant cycle of drinking, drugs, and prison stints, culminating in a 12-year sentence for selling drugs.
“I lived a very haphazard life with no real target or purpose,” he said.
While living in a halfway house following his release from prison, Highberger began dating a woman who eventually gave birth to their son. One time, the couple went to a movie theater to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” a film about a demon-possessed girl. Shortly into the film, Highberger said he experienced the “fear of God” for the first time in his life.
“I didn't know anything about God, but I knew it was God and it was just really crazy,” he said. “I ended up going out in the parking lot, breaking down, crying my eyes out. I went home and got the Yellow Pages and started looking around for a church.”
But God had different plans for Highberger’s life: The very next day, he was arrested on a warrant he didn’t even know about and found himself in prison yet again. This time, Highberger spent two weeks studying the Bible and eventually gave his life to Christ during a church service conducted in prison.
“I thought everything would change once I got out,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m born again, things are going to be different. I’m going to marry my girlfriend, and we’re going to have this incredible life together.'”
After returning home, however, Highberger’s girlfriend told him she was leaving him and taking their son with her. Devastated, Highberger returned to his former lifestyle, looking to drugs and alcohol for comfort. He ultimately attempted to kill himself, ending up with 40 stitches in his arm.
But the lowest point of his life, Highberger said, was the night his ex-girlfriend allowed him to take care of their son by himself.
“I had begged her to let me take him for a night, and she finally let me,” he recalled. “He was about 1-and-a-half years old. I got drunk and ended up driving to the ghetto to a crack house. I locked him in the car and got drugs, got back in the car, and drove home, smoking crack the whole way home with him in the backseat.”
“She found out about it, and was understandably livid,” he continued. “She told me I could never see my son again.”
With multiple charges pending against him and nowhere to turn, Highberger once again attempted to kill himself by taking over 100 sleeping pills. When that proved unsuccessful, he fled the state and wound up homeless, traveling from Florida to Arizona.
“I would sleep in dumpsters and on the street and just beg for change to buy the next drug,” he said. “I’d hit rock bottom. I was just so tired of my life.”
Eventually, he returned to Indiana where he was once again arrested. But this time, things looked different.
“Jeremiah 29:13 says, ‘If you seek me with your whole heart, you'll find me,’” he said. “At my lowest, I sought God — and I found Him in prison, and He just began to radically change my life.”
Highberger developed an overwhelming thirst for the Bible, and after his release from prison would bike through sleet and snow to attend church services, volunteering wherever he could. Determined to save others from the life that nearly destroyed him, Highberger approached church leaders about starting a prison ministry.
What started as a one-week service for inmates led to four services a week — and today, Highberger, along with his wife Danielle, ministers to thousands of prisoners, leading them to freedom in Jesus Christ.
“Looking back, I see that all those years were God setting me up for a comeback, to become desperate for Him,” he said. “To the outside world, prison is a place for punishment. For me, prison was a place to be alone with God, to begin a recovery process, to be away from negative influences, and to be stripped of everything. I found freedom in prison, and I want others to, as well.”
Highberger shares his powerful story in his book, Behind the Wire: A Prisoner's Journey to the Pulpit. In it, he details practical, biblical steps individuals can take to find true freedom.
"I've handed out thousands of books to prisoners, and I've received so many letters from people sharing how it's changed their lives," he shared.
“Freedom isn't just about a physical location; it's a spiritual condition,” he explained. “There's an invisible prison that holds many in its grip, and the only way out of that is through Jesus.”
Today, Highberger serves as the outreach and prison pastor at Road to Life Church in Michigan City. Now reconnected with his son, the pastor says his message is simple: New life is possible through Christ — even for a career criminal.
“What I really preach from the rooftops is that Jesus leaves the 99 for that one,” he said. “He left those 99 for me and he grabbed ahold of my life in prison. There is hope for that drug addict, the alcoholic, the career criminal, the one that is so far gone that you think they can never be redeemed.”
“Abundant life,” he added, “can be found right there in the jailhouse.”