Finding hope in the hopelessness of prison

Debborah Mosby

Eleven times Deborah Mosby had been before the state parole board – and eleven times she had been denied.

“I knew on that eleventh time going into the hearing that I wasn’t going to be paroled,” Deborah said.

And she was right.

Feeling hopeless, she sat on her 3’x6’ rack knowing she had to do something to keep her sanity. It was that night before her eleventh parole hearing that she wrote out the plan for the program “Angel’s Eyes” which would later be implemented at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.

One of the notes that was brought up at Deborah’s parole hearing was an RVR she had received. An RVR is a rule violation report.

“I was an A custody prisoner,” she said, “but after receiving an RVR for having a mechanical pencil, it cost me everything. I lost my A custody status.”

Deborah was devastated.

“Those were the kinds of things that the parole board looked at and when they saw mine, I was denied,” she said.

Hope in the Midst of Despair

“I realized that I was never getting out of prison and began to accept that this was my life. I had to find a purpose in life and that’s how Angel’s Eyes was born. It was born out of desperately wanting to find a way to give purpose to so many like me who had lost that behind bars.”

Deborah began outlining in detail the program which went to the superintendent of the prison.

“I had no idea if they were going to let us do it,” she said, “but I knew I had to try.”

Angel’s Eyes, named for Deborah’s late daughter Angel who was born with spina bifida and died at age 36, was an art program for the ladies at CMCF. It was designed to be a safe place where the ladies could go and create pieces of art that would be sold to benefit the program. In Deborah’s plans, she knew she was going to have her students come out of B building.

“That was the throw-away building,” she said. “Those women did their time their way. There were a lot of fights in that building and a lot of slave treatment there. People were forced to do things for those prisoners in power in that building. That’s where I chose to get our students.  They needed this program like I did.”

Deborah outlined the strict rules of Angel’s Eyes and participants had to sign a pledge to Christ. They were not allowed to miss a single day.

“They accepted it as it was,” she said, “and we went to work. Everything was donated to us, and we walked through miracle after miracle getting the program up and running.  It felt so good to be trusted. Despite my number and crime, I was trusted to run the program.”

Deborah called the approval of Angel’s Eyes in 2019 a miracle.

Angel’s Eyes Begins

The program welcomed 32 women from behind the walls at CMCF. It was a safe haven where they could come, learn art, express themselves and find peace.

“Those women found the love of God in that sanctuary. We had special permission to put up curtains and have a rug in that space. We also were allowed to have coffee and play music and, most importantly, to give hugs,” she smiled.  “We felt human.”

That light of Jesus Christ pierced the darkness within the walls of CMCF, and, as Deborah explained, there were times where the darkness could be so thick that it felt as if there was no value for human life.

“It was very hard,” she said. “It’s hard to remember a lot of it because I’ve tried to block it out, but you can’t imagine a worse psychological beating than that of prison, and those who continually get denied for parole are losing their minds.

“The only hope that we had was the volunteers from the faith-based community who came into the prisons,” she said, “but they aren’t even allowing that anymore. It was through the volunteers and a Godly way of thinking that I was able to survive. Through suffering and affliction, I discovered joy in the Lord.”

Freedom after 29 Years

The Lord heard her cry and Deborah, after 29 years was paroled in 2021. Upon her release, Deborah was frozen with fear as she stepped into a world that she had left in 1992.

“Things in 2021 looked a lot different than they did in 1992,” she said. “My first year free was the hardest time I ever did.”

Deborah went to the Buried Treasures Home, a transitional home for women leaving prison, outside of Byram.  She spent the first six months after her release at Buried Treasures.

“Buried Treasures was for women who were dealing with drug addiction – something I had not struggled with,” she said. “I was used to being able to have my blood pressure medicine in prison, but when I was released, I had to ask for my medications. There was a lot that I had to figure out and it was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to articulate it.”

Deborah said that if it had not been for the Christian volunteers she met while in prison who kept in touch with her, she was not sure how she would have survived.

“They were there for me,” she said. “I couldn’t even explain what I was going through, but they stuck with me.  People coming out of prison need those kinds of volunteers.”

As those behind bars began nearing their release, it begins to stir hope and excitement, but the reality is that once they are released it can, again, be some of the darkest times.

“There’s no one there to help you with the simplest tasks that help you move forward,” Deborah said. “Those early months after I was released were the closest I came to thinking about suicide. I cried so much.

“The volunteers were critical because they knew me in prison and knew something was wrong,” she continued. “They were with me through it and I’m confident I couldn’t have made it without them.”

Life on Her Own

When Deborah was released from the transition home, she went to Meridian to be closer to her daughter and her family.  What she found was that 29 years after incarceration, rent was much higher.

“I got social security which was $854 per month and had applied for food stamps,” she said. “I was able to rent a little house in a terrible part of town for $650 per month.  I’d hear gunshots going off through the night.”

Deborah found a job working in home health, but because of her age she was not able to keep the demanding and sometimes unrealistic schedule. She was discouraged and not sure how she would survive. That’s when she found out about multi-community services in her area.

“There are resources, but trying to find them is difficult,” she said.

Little by little Deborah was able to step her way into owning her own home.

“The multi-community services group put me in touch with the USDA Rural Development. I applied and was able to purchase my own home and it’s costing me much less per month than the rental house in Meridian.”

Today, Deborah lives on a quiet street in Quitman with a lamp post in her front yard.

“Can you believe I have a lamp post?” she laughed. “I never dreamed I’d have this life. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish since leaving prison is because of God.  It has not been easy at all.  In fact, it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but people who are leaving prison need to know there is help out there.  It’s often difficult to find, but it’s there.

“I’m so thankful that it is because I knew I was not going to be swallowed alive by the system.

“Today, I’m a successful part of society, involved in my church, my daughter’s family and on a vocational journey,” she smiled.

Looking to the future, Deborah has decided she wants to do “redemptive work”.

“I have felt so much shame in my life, and I want to do something serving God in the community,” she said as tears welled in her eyes.

That’s why Deborah has begun the six-year process of becoming a third order Carmelite – a calling that began while she was in prison.  That redemptive work is also ongoing at CMCF through the hope of Angel’s Eyes.

Deborah continues to leave hope and peace wherever she goes.