By Brian Blackwell, Baptist Message staff writer
ANGOLA, La. (LBM) – Robert Hyde, the immediate past pastor of Grace Baptist Church in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, is now a free man after he recently was granted parole.
Hyde, who from 2019-2021 pastored what is believed to be the first fully recognized Southern Baptist church inside the walls of a prison, learned of his verdict by the parole board on March 29, and he was freed the following day. The first person he met when he stepped outside the front gate of Angola was Paul Will, a long-time mentor and pastor of Grace Baptist (2006-2019) who was granted parole in 2020.
“I never really knew what friendship was until I came into Christian fellowship with Paul and the others at Grace Baptist,” Hyde told the Baptist Message. “I never knew what Christian brotherhood was like until Paul and I became brothers. We hit it off and have had a really good relationship since.
“Seeing his smiling face at the gate goes beyond words I can describe,” he continued. “My story of life change began with Jesus and then Paul was willing to be a part of that story as he spent a lot of time with me and helped disciple me. We leaned on each other for a lot while at Angola and I look forward to continuing the good work now that I am free like him.”
Hyde grew up in a home in Baton Rouge with an abusive step-father and the domestic violence eventually led to his mother dying 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 homicide in 2001 of another man at a party in Rayville at age 28.
While in Richland Parish Detention Center in Rayville, the Holy Spirit brought him under conviction and in his cell Hyde turned to Christ.
“Because of my domestic violence history I realized I had become the very thing I hated: a violent man,” Hyde said. “It broke my heart. I was completely ashamed and at the end of my rope.
“It was right there I felt the voice of the Lord and I then asked the librarian to bring me a Bible where I read in Proverbs 5 where God, via Solomon, calls out to His sons. I had never heard anyone call me ‘son’ in the house I grew up in. The Holy Spirit let me know I had a father and was a son. Right there I wept like a baby and learned who Jesus was. I was ashamed of who I had become but I knew I was forgiven. I knew the atonement didn’t just apply to me at the moment of conversion, but that I had to stand and walk in the cross and be the man the Lord wanted me to be.”
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 where he began classes at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Extension in 2012.
Hyde earned associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees at NOBTS’s Extension, 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 Washington Baptist Association unanimously voted to accept the congregation into its fellowship in October 2015. He served in that role until 2019, when he succeeded Will as pastor.
“I met Jesus in that cell in Rayville but Angola is when things really changed,” he said. “For the first time in my life I learned what real ministry was and quickly latched onto Baptist church. I was extraordinarily impressed with the involvement and mission of the Southern Baptist churches and their investment in prisoners like me.”
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 saw 150 inmates turn from an addiction to drugs to a changed life with Jesus. First Baptist Church, Saint Francisville and the Washington Baptist Association provided the materials but the inmates have paid for uniforms of mentors, the speaker system and most other costs.
“It’s 100 percent because of Jesus,” Hyde said. “We tell everybody before they come in that this isn’t us but the Lord delivering people from this mess.”
Hyde spent his first Sunday of freedom in worship at Jefferson Baptist Church, Baton Rouge, where he now is a member. Once he completes several weeks of reentry classes at the Louisiana Parole Project (a nonprofit organization that helps former convicts that served long sentences re-enter society), he will begin work as an HVAC repairman and also hopes to work part time at churches in the Baton Rouge area.
“I feel this absolute joy now that I finally have paid a debt I owed to the Lord and the community I hurt,” Hyde said. “It felt like coming from under a thousand pounds of debt and being able to breathe. I feel free, loved and supported especially by brothers who helped me in all those years of prison. I want to thank everyone in the Baptist world for everything they have done and continue to do for me as I transition to this life of freedom.”