Robert Hyde, immediate past pastor of Grace Baptist Church in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, was granted parole in March 2022. Since then, he has begun discipling inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary.
In his role as a program supervisor, Hyde oversees more than 300 men taking classes in vocational school, adult basic education, Mississippi Delta Community College courses, careers services, book clubs via Zoom from the Mississippi Library Commission and Jackson State University, and the extension center of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also is an adjunct professor with the 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 an inmate.
“It feels right to be here doing this,” Hyde said. “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 during a party when he was 28.
While in Richland Parish Detention Center in Rayville, the Holy Spirit brought Hyde under conviction and in his cell he turned to Christ.
Two years later he was given a 35-year sentence for manslaughter and 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, where he enrolled in 2012 with the NOBTS extension.
Earning associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the program, Hyde was ordained by Grace Baptist Church. In 2015 he was called as associate pastor, and in October of that year Washington Baptist Association unanimously voted to accept the congregation into its fellowship. Hyde succeeded Paul Will as senior pastor in 2019.
Hyde spent the final two years of his time at Angola helping establish a Christian-based substance abuse recovery program. Using the Celebrate Recovery model, Hyde witnessed 150 inmates turn from drug addiction to changed lives with Jesus.
He now 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 commissioner of the Department of Corrections in Mississippi, encouraged Hyde to apply for the position.
The seminary was instrumental in preparing him for the new role, he said.
“It’s a real honor because the seminary meant so much to me,” he noted. “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 the job in Mississippi have been tremendous gifts from God, Hyde acknowledged, but 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 contact with them.
He later learned he had a third daughter, Janae, whose adoptive parents finally agreed in 2016, 14 years after he entered Angola, that she could meet Hyde.
Once he was released, Hyde was reunited with his two oldest daughters; in December, he met his youngest daughter for the first time. Hyde is praying that one day he will be able to reconcile with his fourth daughter.
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,” Hyde continued. “I took that for granted before I knew Jesus. Now I can appreciate it and I will never take it for granted again.”