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Former hostage Ashley Smith recounts terrifying night that changed her life

A decade after being held hostage, Ashley Smith says she barely recognizes the woman who talked a killer into letting her go.
/ Source: TODAY

A decade after being held hostage by a gunman following his shooting spree at a Georgia courthouse, Ashley Smith says she barely recognizes the woman who talked an escaped killer into letting her go.

“The majority of the time, just because I’m a different person today and the life I lead and the decisions I make are so much different today, so it seems like I never really even was that person,” she said Monday on TODAY.

On March 11, 2005, Brian Nichols escaped from his Atlanta rape trial, stole a gun from a sheriff’s deputy and gunned down a judge and court reporter before fleeing. That evening, he ran across Smith after she had finished work and forced his way into her apartment, where he confined her for seven hours.

At the time, Smith was a 26-year-old waitress trying to put her life back together. She was a widow with a 5-year-old daughter, who was living with an aunt as Smith tried to kick a drug abuse problem.

The night that Nichols held her hostage, Smith read her captor passages from the Bible and a self-help book and spoke about her daughter. She also made a decision that changed the course of her life, she told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie.

WATCH: Ashley Smith recalls 7 hours of terror as killer's hostage

“I was forced with the decision of whether or not I was going to use drugs with Brian Nichols that night,” she said. “Drugs had been a way of life that I had let consume me for many years before that and I had a choice, whether I was going to use them or not. It was almost as if … Jesus took the body of Brian Nichols in that one moment and said, 'Do you want to do this, or do you want to have a different life?’"

She decided to change her life for the better, "and by the grace of God, I haven’t used illegal drugs since the day before that happened."

Today, Smith, who married eight years ago, goes by Smith Robinson, and raises a 14-year-old step daughter and a 4-year-old son in addition to her now 16-year-old daughter.

“We definitely have a full busy life these days,” she said.

Her interview was part of a week-long TODAY series called, “Where Are They Now?” that explores news stories that captivated a nation through the eyes of the people who experienced them.

Smith's ordeal recently was turned into a Hollywood movie, “Captive,” which opens this Friday. The movie stars Kate Mara and David Oyelowo.

“It’s definitely been very surreal,” she said of watching her life play out on the big screen, for which she offered up praise.

“Kate does a fantastic job playing me,” she said. She also added accolades for Oyelowo, especially since he did not have any contact with the person he was portraying.

“He had to kind of go off of my memories and speak a little bit to Brian’s mother,” she said. “For the most part, it’s done very well. I don’t think I would have changed anything about it.”

Follow writer Eun Kyung Kim on Twitter.