John Breland sat in the DeKalb County Jail facing life in prison on Feb. 10, 2005.
If he thought that moment was tough, his situation became far more difficult a little more than two weeks later.
On Feb. 26, 2005, his daughter, Anita, was born.
“At that moment, I realized that my daughter’s future was in jeopardy,” Breland says. “That she would possibly grow up without the loving care and influence of me being her father. You see the battle for the Kingdom of God and the battle for our children’s future, their hopes and dreams, begin the moment that they are born into this world. And it’s up to us as men to become fathers to our children, to love them, to lead them and to keep them from making the same mistakes that we made.”
Breland shares these words, shares this story Saturday, with a group of nearly 50 fellow inmates, along with prison staff and a group of volunteers, all within the walls of Valdosta State Prison.
He shares this message with several of the inmates’ children who sit within the Valdosta State Prison compound.
Breland is the keynote speaker in the graduation ceremony for a program called Malachi Dads.
The biblical Malachi 4:6 reads: “And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
Malachi Dads strives to show inmates that they can still be fathers despite being behind bars. That they can still have a positive impact on their children even if some of the inmates will spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Malachi Dads’ roots stem from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, about an hour northwest of Baton Rouge. Establishing a Christian ministry in the prison, officials created a program through the Awana Lifeline with the aim of “equipping fathers to build a legacy of faith in Christ.”
Valdosta State Prison Chaplain Pat Miller learned of Angola and hoped to bring the Malachi Dads program to Georgia. Miller, an Air Force veteran, has served as Valdosta State Prison chaplain for 15 years.
“As chaplain, I know the goals and the philosophies of the (Georgia) Department of Corrections,” Miller says. “I was not going to bring something to the table that would cause trouble. I’ve had the benefit of having good administrators and wardens who trust me.”
Miller also knew a man he trusted to help him establish the first Malachi Dads east of the Mississippi.
Bill Newcomb has long volunteered through the Kairos Prison Ministry. Newcomb is something of a missionary’s missionary. He’s shared his Christian witness and helped arrange corrective surgeries for children suffering cleft palettes in India. He’s served as a missionary in Russia. He’s worked with South Georgia migrant workers. And he’s developed a strong ministry in Valdosta State Prison.
Ask most of the volunteers what brought them to the Malachi Dads Returning Hearts Celebration Saturday and they answer, “Bill.” “I know Bill through church.” “I know Bill through the Exchange Club.”
Together, Newcomb and Miller make an imposing team. Miller, the tall, black man known by hundreds of inmates as “Chap.” Newcomb, the white fireplug dynamo, everyone seems to call Bill.
Together, they brought Malachi Dads to Valdosta State Prison.