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Former Angola inmate begins Mississippi prison ministry

Robert Hyde, a former inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, found Christ while serving a manslaughter sentence and is now leading prisoners at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman to the salvation he experienced in Jesus. Photo by Tony Martin/Baptist Record

PARCHMAN, Miss. (BP) – Robert Hyde, the immediate past pastor of Grace Baptist Church in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, who was granted parole in March 2022, has begun discipling inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

In his role as a program supervisor, Hyde oversees more than 300 men who are taking classes in vocational school, adult basic education, Mississippi Delta Community College courses, careers services, book clubs via Zoom from Mississippi Library Commission and Jackson State University, and the extension center of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary classes. He also is an adjunct professor with the NOBTS extension center.

Hyde, who began working at the prison in July 2022, said his new role is a way for him to give back to those who helped turn his life around while as an inmate.

“It feels right to be here doing this,” Hyde, who shared his testimony at the 2023 Louisiana Baptist state Evangelism Conference, told the Baptist Message. “This is exactly where I am supposed to be, which is helping guys. I finally get to be for these guys what other men were for me at Angola. It’s the ultimate way to give back.”

Road to redemption

Hyde grew up in Baton Rouge with an abusive stepfather, and the domestic violence eventually led to his mother’s death from a gunshot wound. He then went to live with his grandfather, whose aloof attitude left Hyde with no parental leadership. This led to a life of drugs, alcohol, the occult and eventually manslaughter in 2001 of another man at a party at age 28.

While in Richland Parish Detention Center in Rayville, La., the Holy Spirit brought him under conviction, Hyde turned to Christ in his cell.

Two years later, Hyde was given a 35-year sentence for manslaughter and was transferred to the Louisiana Department of Corrections. At Winn and Dixon correctional centers, Hyde began to lead Bible studies and eventually learned of an opportunity to transfer to Angola, enrolling in 2012 with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension.

He earned associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the extension program, and was ordained by Grace Baptist Church in 2017. In 2015, he was called to be the associate pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Angola; and, during that time, October 2015, Washington Baptist Association unanimously voted to accept the congregation into its fellowship. He served in that role until 2019, when he succeeded Paul Will as senior pastor.

Hyde spent the final two years of his time in Angola helping to establish a Christian-based substance abuse recovery program. Using the Celebrate Recovery model, Hyde witnessed 150 inmates turn from drug addictions to changed lives in Jesus.

First Baptist Church in Saint Francisville, La., and the Washington Baptist Association provided the materials, but the inmates have paid for uniforms of mentors, the speaker system and most other costs.

Now, Hyde supervises programming and education at the Mississippi prison. Burl Cain, the former warden at Angola who started the seminary program in 1995 and now is the commissioner of the Department of Corrections in Mississippi, encouraged Hyde to apply for the position.

Hyde said the seminary was instrumental in preparing him for his new role.

“It’s a real honor because the seminary meant so much to me,” Hyde said. “Every penny of our seminary education was taken care of by Louisiana Baptists. The professors and pastors who poured into me and the others were the spiritual dads we at Angola never had. I never could have done it without Louisiana Baptists.”

Path to forgiveness

Securing his release from Angola and landing a job at Parchman have been tremendous gifts from God, Hyde said. But he emphasized that reconciling with three of his four daughters has been a special blessing from Him.

When he entered prison in 2001, Hyde already knew two of his daughters, Pamela and Kyra, who were 7 and 9 years old at the time. Through the years he maintained ongoing conversations with them.

He later learned he had a third daughter, Janae, whose adopted parents finally agreed, 14 years after he entered Angola, that she could meet Hyde in 2016.

Once he was released, Hyde was reunited with his two oldest daughters in Baton Rouge. In December, he met his youngest daughter for the first time in Monroe.

Despite the crime he committed, Hyde said his daughters have shown unconditional love.

“If you are a parent and you have done something stupid, you know what it’s like to experience the deep forgiveness of a child,” he said. “There is something in the forgiveness from a child that is so pure because you know there is no ulterior motive. When you mess up as badly as I did, forgiveness is the one metric you have to verify you are back on even ground with your relationships.

“I have learned there is nothing more important, besides Jesus, than your blood and Christian family,” he continued. “I took that for granted before I knew Jesus. Now I can appreciate it and I will never take it for granted again.” Hyde asked for continued prayers as he ministers to Mississippi inmates.

“Thank you, Louisiana Baptists, for helping me learn how to be the man of God that Jesus Christ asked me to be,” he said. “Without your contributions, without your ministry, without your churches, without the brothers and sisters in Christ, I wouldn’t have stood a chance of becoming the man I am today.”

This article originally appeared in the Baptist Message.

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