By her late 20s, Sharon Dutra had seen it all.
Homeless, hopeless and addicted to drugs and alcohol, she left behind an abusive home and a flawed marriage only to wind up behind bars. There, she found salvation and a new sense of purpose.
Now Dutra wants to enlighten others with her book, “Be Transformed By the Spirit of the Living God: Contemporary Adult Bible
Studies Focusing on Life’s Real Issues.” Currently available for sale at The Bible Depot in Grover Beach and The Parable in San Luis Obispo, the self-published study guide deals with such subjects as commitment, discipline, forgiveness, freedom and self-esteem.
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“I wanted to help people in an even deeper way,” Dutra, 53, said. “I wanted their lives to change.”
Raised in Los Angeles by an alcoholic father, Dutra grew up in a series of foster homes.
“My dad was married four times by the time I was 17,” said Dutra, whose mother left when she was 4 or 5. She began experimenting with drugs at age 13, and first ran away from home at 15.
At age 19, while working with the California Conservation Corps, Dutra met her first husband, then an incarcerated felon. Upon his release, the two married and had two children.
However, Dutra said, their eight-year marriage was marred by drug and alcohol use.
She left the relationship at age 29, spending two years on the streets before being arrested for a probation violation in 1989.
“I had no one to blame but myself,” said Dutra, who ultimately served 10 months in prison. “I was so guilt-ridden. I was so ashamed.”
While incarcerated, she read “Al Capone’s Devil Driver: Alleged Wheelman … St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” by George H. Meyer. Inspired by the author’s jailhouse conversion, Dutra gave her life to Christ.
“That was the awakening moment for me,” she said. “It transformed my life.”
In the years following her release, Dutra met and married current husband Michael and returned to school to get her registered nursing degree. (She’s currently a nursing
instructor at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.)
After the couple moved to the Central Coast from Napa in 2003, Dutra started a women’s study group at Oak Park Christian Church in Grover Beach. But she struggled to find a guide that would speak to everyone.
“How do you speak to this abused, addicted woman and this Christian (woman) who’s been a Christian her entire life?” Dutra asked.” “It was difficult to find material that would bring their lives together.”
After reading Liberty Savard’s “Shattering Your Strongholds,” Dutra decided to create her own study guide instead. She worked on “Be Transformed” for six years, even taking a year off from her bachelor’s degree studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills to focus on the book.
Dutra said her book, published in 2011, “crosses all barriers.”
“Be Transformed” is currently being used by Bible study groups at state correctional facilities in Chowchilla, Wasco and Soledad, Dutra said, as well as Grover Beach nonprofit Captive Hearts’ women’s ministry at the San Luis Obispo County Jail.
Dutra, meanwhile, has showcased “Be Transformed” in workshops she’s held at churches across the county. And she’s working at bringing the book, which is being translated into Spanish, to a mega-church in Bakersfield.
“It’s about God changing our lives, and that passion for having a changed life,” Dutra said.