For my final blog post for the year, I have a special guest, Elder Breda Hines, who faces challenges most of us have never had to deal with. Her story breaks my heart, and I hope this interview will open your hearts to others who have to live with the daily challenge of children behind prison bars.
D: Thank you, Breda, for being willing to share your story with my readers. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Breda: I am a 76-year-old mother of three and grandmother of five grandchildren. Two of my sons are incarcerated, and I am an elder and a pastor in the Apostolic Pentecostal church and live in Washington, DC.
D: What are the challenges you and your sons face, looking to the time they will be released on parole or have served their time from the State Penitentiary? How has that affected you and your family? As a mother, I know you are a woman of faith; how does that get you through?
Breda: No doubt about that! It’s pretty challenging. To not be able to see your children. My boys have been gone for a long time – at least about 15 years or more combined. As a parent, it’s pretty unsettling. Of course. I always pray that God will let me live beyond my seventy-six years to support the male family members as they reintegrate a transition back into the community and society. It is so tough in these times that we’re in now.
D: What are the main difficulties you foresee in getting your sons reintegrated when they’re out on parole or when they’ve been doing their term?
Breda: Previously, the oldest has been reintegrated once before. I don’t know what will happen now, post-pandemic. The District has always been very good at finding jobs for them, including jobs in the government. When he returned probably about seven years ago, my oldest son had a job and was doing well. He ended up getting married, which didn’t work out, so he had to redo his parole. I am not familiar with everything that’s going on in the Federal and DC government, so I only know some of the challenges that lie ahead. But I know God will pave the way for it to happen whenever he opens the door for them to get out.
Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has done quite a bit recently after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. There were several incidents afterward at a few of the penitentiaries. Some of the District residents were outsourced to other facilities. She sent a memorandum to the head of one of the facilities. I don’t know if everybody knows it, but Michael Jordan owns many private facilities that house prisoners. Congresswoman Norton sent a memorandum to that particular head of the prison system, wanting to know why so many District residents were now being sent so far from home. When they are far from home, they don’t have a chance to meet with family members who enable them to bond with the family and help them grow while they’re there. To have a comfortable and good transition back into society, it’s complicated. When families are separated because your family really is your significant support. You need to help people in transitions and support them.
D: The family is probably the only one who loves them as general society doesn’t have love or patience with people who have been incarcerated. It is up to families to try and help as best they can. But it becomes very challenging as well. Tell me, how has your faith managed to keep you through this difficult time? When I look at the challenge that you’ve got with your son and also your grandson. How do you do it?
Breda: Only God. Only God, my faith has been the only thing that has kept me going throughout the years of separation from the children. Also, being able to talk to people because I’m very open and don’t mind discussing things. This event has been ongoing for many years; God spoke to my heart with the promises of Isaiah 49:25, New King James Version.
“Even the characters of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible be delivered, for I will contend with him who contends with you, and I will save your children. “The Amplified version is a little bit more personal to me.” For thus says the Lord, even the captors of the Almighty will be taken away, and the prey of the terrible will be delivered. For I will contend with him who contends with you. And I will give safety to your children and ease them.” I like different versions, so that’s the second one that, “I will give safety to your children and ease them,” I hold onto.
Unfortunately, my boys have been in some kind of prison fight. They have a lot of hostility against people from different cities, towns, and states, so recently, they moved to another place. One is in upstate New York, close to Canada. And the other one, I believe, is in Chicago. The good thing is they only have two and three years more to serve. God has kept them all the years. The oldest boy, he’s been in there on a getting over 20 years. So it’s very, very hard, but God is good, and he is faithful. They have been in there so long that they have become part of the prison culture, making it even more difficult. When a person is incarcerated over time, they become part of their environment. They have a new normal, a newly learned behavior, and they become a part of that particular network. When they’re incarcerated, they actually are standing still in society because they’re not in society. So when they return, it is to a place in time from when they left, and they bring all this other stuff out with them. I don’t know what our systems have in place today, especially after the pandemic. Still, I’m just prayerful that they have something in place because many people have been even getting out for marijuana usage. They just let people go for that. And they have legalized so many things that haven’t been legalized. It’s just like a slippery slope.
D: So it is like they have been transported in a time machine to another planet and then returned here after all this time. Life stood still in the prison environment, and life moved on outside; their school friends had grown up and had jobs and families of their own. Nothing is the same as when they left. Then, keeping out of that slippery slope is a huge problem because if they can’t, if they haven’t got the inner strength to overcome the past, it’s challenging not to slip back to being that person.
Breda: Yes. It is an entirely new beginning. The District previously provided a lot of support and help in the reentry here, but they are still stuck in time because they still need to move on from being on the inside. When they come back, even if they have a job, it’s pretty tricky to get the type of support services that they need. They need some kind of counseling, mentoring, and job training. They have not previously had any kind of upward mobility training or anything like that while there. They’re starting over and brand new, which makes it very, very complicated because their age now is beyond that of the kids who stay on the outside, and we’re able to mobilize upwards, almost back as school leavers. So it’s complicated; my faith is the only thing that’s gotten me through.
D: That’s what I wanted to ask you about. You are an elder in your church. Has your church been supportive of you through this journey? How can they help and support both you and your children? What does it look like, and how would that work?
Breda: I’ve been associated with quite a few churches, and all of them have been very helpful. The one I’m attending now is my home church. I’ve been with them for about 20 years, even before I was saved. I had a relationship with some people; the Lord moved, and I was saved. They have been very supportive over this time. Other churches I have been associated with had also helped when I was in need, offering to help and support my sons when they came out. We need moral support, the touch of love as the body of Christ as a whole, the church, not the four walls, but the people that make up the church.
I appreciate and thank God for the different churches I have been affiliated with or traveled to. I was able to reach out and establish a relationship with them. That has been very helpful over time. We need the support of people who would just hold us in the space we’re in without judgment but give us the love and support both parents and children need.
D: It must be heartbreaking to have your children put away for a long time.
Breda: It is, but one thing I do say is they’re still alive. If they had been out here, who knows what would have happened? Things are really going downhill now with so much violence.
D: What do you think is the cause of all this social trauma? There is so much gun and street violence in the District and elsewhere.
Breda: We’re in the end times and don’t wrestle with flesh and blood. There are a lot of spirits that have been released hovering over the earth and especially Washington DC. It is a very high crime area because it’s the capital of the United States. We hear about a lot of the local things happening, but I’m sure a lot is happening in other parts of the country, especially with our gun laws. I know people need guns for protection, but these children don’t understand human life, so how could they understand guns?
D: What things do you think your church or volunteers can do to help support people who have come out on parole or been released from prison? What are the things that would be helpful?
Breda: Do you mind if I mention Christ City Church? They are very supportive of the community. I remember them mentioning a poetry club that supported young people in prison. Those types of activities would be helpful while they’re still in there, and it helps them to think. Many people do prison ministry primarily based on Scripture, which is good, but at the same time, they need to make it applicable to everyday life. The church could continue to have more programs like that. Small Group Bible Studies to help people reintegrate back into society, where they feel loved and accepted. They need the personal touch, people interested in them as individuals to mentor and care that they succeed. They need to know somebody cares. We all need love, and that is the best of humanity. They certainly won’t be receiving much love from anyone in prison. To help them integrate, we need to show them compassion. Help them understand that Christ died for them and that they are just as loved by Him. Try to bring that across, showing them that we are just a channel of God’s love toward them. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world. He so loved the world, and dearly prize the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life”. We must not think we are exclusive in the church because we believe. The harvest of souls is vital as there are still people who don’t know of the love of the Father. They need to be told, and it’s crucial in our endeavors and even on our everyday journeys; we talk to people about the things of God because a lot of people haven’t heard or experienced it. So many people are experiencing different things that impact their life negatively. They don’t have that caring touch or hear a gentle word that could help their heart or help their daily walk. Things like the poetry club are excellent for helping them to express their feelings.
D: Poetry is one of the good ways of writing your story so that it’s not offensive to anyone. It’s merely poetry, which is expressive, telling your story and doing it in a way that people can actually hear you.
Breda: I read a couple of the poems in the book presented in Christ City Church; they were so heartfelt. They were expressing what they felt about things, and that’s very important to be able to express yourself and have a platform to do it.
D: That’s right, and for the audience to hear and not feel threatened by it. It’s a medium of expression like a painting, non-confrontational. It is also therapeutic to that person. Are they taught any skills at all in prison?
Breda: They used to be; I was able to send my son on his first incarceration a computer, and training, which I sent there weekly, was scheduled and allowed. Then they started changes, and now I can’t send anything; they have to buy everything from the commissary. You can send them a letter, and that’s it; no more packages when the DC Department of Corrections was down in Lorton, Virginia. A metro bus would take the families to visit their loved ones on Sunday mornings. They don’t have anything like that now. It’s sad because some people, especially seniors like me, don’t know how to connect using email and technology. We are being warned about theft from mailboxes looking for money, yet that is the only means of communication some people have.
D: Thank you so much, Breda, for sharing your heartache and hope as the mother of two incarcerated sons. Your faith inspires me, and Your story will give people a little understanding of how difficult it is to reintegrate into society when you have been in a time capsule for so long. Anyone interested in supporting or volunteering in the Free Minds Book Club can access it here at the link. Or if you would like to write a letter to someone in the DC Prisons to encourage them, you can find out more about it here at Neighbors for Justice.