Dr. Samuel Huddleston visits Deuel Vocational Institution
Public Information Officer II
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Deuel Vocational Institution Warden Claude Finn recently hosted a visit from Dr. Samuel Huddleston, assistant superintendent for the Northern California and Nevada District Council of the Assemblies of God -- and a former CDCR inmate.
Accompanied by a group of pastors and close friends, Dr. Huddleston toured the prison, met with staff and inmates, and discussed ways to partner with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide meaningful programs to offenders.
Dr. Huddleston works for a district that represents 430 congregations in more than 360 cities in Northern California and Nevada. More than 125,000 people led by 1,500 ministers are represented by the district. His responsibilities include oversight of the district's smaller churches, referred to as district affiliate churches, and missions programs including college outreach programs, prison ministry and drug rehabilitation.
In addition to traveling around the world to speak and to teach, Dr. Huddleston also serves on various boards and committees and is an author, pastor husband, father and grandfather.
It's not the first time Dr. Huddleston has partnered with the department. From 1988 to 1994, he was the executive director of Match Two Prisoner Outreach, the largest and most successful prison visitation program in the nation at the time.
But it is neither Dr. Huddleston's history of working with prisons nor his position in the second largest Assemblies of God district in the United States that motivated him to visit DVI.
Dr. Huddleston wanted to visit cell J-136.
"I given a five-years-to-life sentence when I was 17 years old," Dr. Huddleston explained. "I was a disappointment to my father," he said, his voice cracking as the memories come flooding back to him.
He pauses for a long time, his eyes welling up with tears before continuing.
"I was an angry young man, but it was in that cell that God began to talk to me and that was the beginning for me," he said.
Dr. Huddleston, Warden Finn, a group of pastors and friends, and corrections staff toured the prison located in Tracy starting with Receiving and Release, the first stop for incoming inmates and the last stop when they are paroled.
"This is where I was brought in almost 36 years ago," Huddleston recalled. "I have visited many prisons over the years, but DVI always gets to me."
As the group toured the housing units, a heavily tattooed inmate approached to ask who the visitors were.
"This is Dr. Sam Huddleston. He's a pastor and an author and he was incarcerated here when he was 17," a CDCR employee explained.
"That's Pastor Huddleston?" the inmate exclaimed. "I know him! I read his book."
Dr. Huddleston served four years, nine months and one day at DVI and Sierra Conservation Center in Jamestown. During his incarceration, he surrendered his life to Christ. His autobiography, 5 Years to Life, chronicles the story of his youth, his life of alcohol and drug abuse, his incarceration, and his transformation. All of the proceeds generated from book sales and from his non-profit ministry go toward supplying inmates with copies of the book.
"As a taxpayer, Californian, and warden, I am very proud of the fact that Dr. Sam Huddleston left prison decades ago and never came back," DVI Warden Claude Finn said. "I am also honored that Dr. Huddleston has always gone into prisons to assist others in not returning to a life of crime and incarceration," Finn added.
Dr. Huddleston stopped to talk with the heavily tattooed inmate, giving him words of counsel and encouragement. The two spent several minutes talking together, their eyes locked in to one another's, a palpable unspoken bond connecting them.
Many inmates knew of Dr. Huddleston from reading his book. Patiently, the distinguished-looking pastor stopped and spoke to every man who approached him, offering guidance and praying with many of them. On the main yard, Dr. Huddleston conversed with a young 18-year old inmate for some time, giving him a hug and a gentle fatherly slap on his arm before departing. He stopped and spoke with a large group of white inmates and a large group of black inmates. The two groups of inmates at first determinedly kept their distance from each other until Dr. Huddleston encouraged the two groups to come together and pose for a picture with him and the other pastors. They prayed with the inmates before continuing on with the tour in the prison's general population areas, Prison Industry Authority furniture making operation, and Z-Dorm, a large building once used for recreational activities before it was converted into a dorm that now houses hundreds of inmates.
At the end of the day, it was apparent that the visit to DVI brought back many memories for Dr. Huddleston, while at the same time, provided him with a renewed focus and energy into pursuing his mission of reaching out to people, both those imprisoned by bars and those imprisoned by their pain.
"I have been blessed and God has restored my life. I have a wife and a family. I've achieved an education and I travel around the world searching for lost people," Huddleston said. "God has reminded me that this was His purpose for me all along."