Billy Ballenger Opens Up About Going to Prison, Overcoming Shame & "Mercy"

Billy Ballenger

Singer and songwriter Billy Ballenger returns with "Mercy," which is now available. The powerful anthem, encouraging listeners to step past shame into the joy and freedom of God's forgiveness, was co-written by Ballenger; Building 429's Jason Roy and Jesse Garcia; and NewSong's Russ Lee. The single was produced by Jason Roy.

Ballenger's powerful life story of finding redemption in prison has riveted audiences across the globe. Following a difficult childhood, which included being bullied, Ballenger married and became a father at the age of 18 as he pursued a lifestyle of partying, substance abuse, violence and burglary. After a SWAT team invaded their home, Ballenger and his wife, Jodie, were both sentenced to six years in prison and lost custody of their daughter. Shortly before he went to prison, Ballenger began attending church where he re-committed his life to Christ. While incarcerated, he studied the Word and grew in his faith, and two years later, he and Jodie were released and reunited with their daughter.

Today, his journey fuels his passion for sharing the Hope of Christ with audiences around the world, including Russia and China. Ballenger's Break the Grey Inc. has produced assemblies at hundreds of schools, and he's shared his testimony and music with more than 500,000 listeners at festivals, conferences, churches, camps and other venues. In 2020, Ballenger joined the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular lineup-Christian music's largest annual tour-performing in 31 arenas around the country. He has released six full-length recordings, along with two EPs: 2020's Walking On Waves and this year's Tree And The Nails. His story has been featured on The 700 ClubLife Today, and 100 Huntley Street, among other leading outlets.

Q: Billy, thank you for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: you and your wife were once sentenced to six years in prison, what were the circumstances that led up to this point?

Both of us came from broken homes as children. We eventually met in a court-ordered reform school placement called Josiah White's New Possibilities in Wabash, Indiana. We each spent well over a year incarcerated at this facility, a Christian-based ministry where we were shown a lot of love and given structure.

Upon our release, we were sent back to our hometowns, and by that time Jodie and I-as teenagers-had fallen in love with each other. I ran away to find Jodie, and her mother allowed me to move in. A series of bad decisions caused a fast spiral into violence and the party life. We purchased stolen goods and were involved in a small drug war. As a result, our house was raided by a SWAT team. We refused to cooperate, and we lost our freedom and the custody of our daughter. Within eight months we were sentenced to prison. 

While in prison, we completely surrendered to Jesus. We prayed to be reunited as a family. God heard our prayer, released us from prison a year early, and we received full custody of our daughter less than two months after our release. 

Q: When and how did you find Christ?

I first found Jesus at age 10 when the local Baptist church set up a stage at the fire station and invited the children. They gave an altar call and I asked Jesus into my heart at that time, although I backslid as a teenager. My wife had a similar salvation experience as a young child. Just before we went to prison, we attended a church where they gave an altar call and we both rededicated our lives to Jesus. 

Q: Talk to us about the shame you felt and how Christ helps us overcome our shame and guilt.

I was ashamed of myself in so many ways and for so many reasons. However, I also had hope in my heart that it could get better. The more I read my Bible in prison, I began to think differently. God's Word strengthened me to be able to believe that when God says He forgives us, He really, really does. 

Q: How then did you get involved in music?

As a 7-year-old boy I recall telling my friends we were going to build a stage, form a band, and all the girls would come watch us sing! In middle school I joined the choir and began singing in church. Later, I joined the choir in reform school as well. Ten years after my prison release God stirred the desire of my heart and led me to start recording music for the first time. 

Q: You have just released a new song co-written with members of Building 429 and NewSong, how did you get to write with them?

I was honored to be part of the Winter Jam 2020 tour, and we were able to travel to 31 cities before COVID shut it all down. The experience backstage was very life-giving for me and I became friends with Jesse Garcia and Jason Roy of Building 429. We ended up working together in the studio that summer, writing and recording my first radio single, "Tree and The Nails."

Also during Winter Jam, Russ Lee of NewSong consistently poured into me and encouraged my gifting, so earlier this year I asked Russ if he would consider writing with Jason, Jesse and myself. He agreed, and we all co-wrote my second single, "Mercy."

Q: Talk to us about your song "Mercy."

This song feels like a gift that dropped out of heaven right into our laps. It's straightforward and relatable to everyone, I believe. "Mercy" lets the listener experience the real, true redemption offered from our Heavenly Father to all who will receive it. 

Q: In terms of new music, what can our readers be looking out for in the near future?

I am always going to be involved in music with a message. To me if there's no message, there's no music. You can expect some tunes from me that continue to encourage faith to arise in the heart of the believer; songs that challenge listeners to believe in God as Redeemer in every situation, regardless the circumstance. 

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