Eddie Hill has an undeniable passion for helping others. His faith encompasses his life. He lights up when he talks about his family and he loves his job. He’s the Chaplain at J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Horry County.
Eddie Hill says he felt that God always had a plan for him, but it wasn’t always crystal clear. He went down several paths before he landed in Horry County. After working as a search-and-rescue swimmer in the Navy, he moved to Florida and went back to college. He landed a job with Sam’s Club and worked his way up the corporate ladder. “I thought I had life by the horns, so to speak. I had even accepted a position at Sam’s Club in the corporate office,” Hill recalls.
At the same time, the pastor of the church he attended suddenly quit, and Hill was asked to be the full-time pastor because he had been to seminary. So after 12 years with Sam’s Club, he accepted the position as pastor. While serving in this role, he became a volunteer at local jails. He says he felt God was calling him to jail chaplaincy. He got involved with Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, a nationwide program. Nine years ago, he and his wife decided to move to Horry County.
The chaplaincy position didn’t exist when he arrived at J. Reuben Long Detention Center, so Hill had to raise his own funds to support the program. Horry County was in the process of a $50 million building project at the time and Hill used his infectious personality to convince the Sheriff’s Office that a jail chaplain was needed.
During his tenure, he has helped bring several programs to the jail. He not only ministers to the inmates, but also to the staff. Corrections officers work 12-hour shifts and endure unpleasant and dangerous situations. According to Impact Publications, about a third of them suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, so Hill helps facilitate anti-stress classes as well as safety and wellness programs for staff members.
Inmate programs include recovery, re-entry and education. Many of the inmates at J. Reuben Long are addicts, so addressing drug and alcohol abuse is a big step in helping them move forward in a positive direction. Of the 700 or so inmates, about 600 are awaiting trial. The rest have been sentenced to 90 days or less. They are put to work doing laundry, cleaning, landscaping and cooking.
Some of the programs that Hill oversees are done with the help of grants. For example, the re-entry program, done in cooperation with the South Carolina Department of Corrections, doesn’t cost Horry County taxpayers anything and has a huge success rate. Hill said one inmate who had been arrested 57 times has not been arrested again since going through the program.
Another success story involved a young man in his late 20s who was arrested for killing someone in a bar fight. While awaiting trial he was ministered to behind bars and found Christ. Hill said the young man owned up to his crime, accepted his fate and is currently serving 40 years. The inmate told him that coming to J. Reuben Long was the best thing that happened to him. “He knew the lifestyle he was living would have led to his own death,” says Hill.
Whether it’s a prayer service, Bible study, handing out a Quran or ministering to an inmate who needs spiritual care, Hill does so with the help of nearly 140 volunteers. Some of the volunteers are other chaplains and some are lay people who share a desire to help. About a dozen of the volunteers are teachers. Education is key with many of the younger inmates. Education gives them the skills they need upon release. The goal of these programs is change. Offering them a path that leads to employment can mean more productive lives.
Detention Center Director Tom Fox describes Hill’s personality as contagious, as well as a calming influence on the inmate population. “The more time they have to spend on positive programs, the less time they spend on negative behaviors,” says Fox. “Eddie has a Christ-like presence that motivates him to develop new programs, and he also has a positive influence over the volunteers.”
Hill says he and his family love many aspects of living on the Grand Strand, including outdoor activities, restaurants and being able to enjoy the countryside as well as the amenities of the big city. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to help people and to live in an area that wants to help people,” he says.
Community service runs in the family. Darlene, Eddie’s wife of 24 years, also works at the Sheriff’s office. Their oldest son, Tyler, a Coastal Carolina University graduate, is a Myrtle Beach police officer. Their younger son, Jacob, is studying international studies at Greenville University and will be doing mission work.
Hill is gearing up for the holidays when the detention center collects toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap and other items for the inmates. They also collect paperback books for them all year long, since reading is something many of the inmates enjoy.
Thanks to the volunteers who selflessly give their time, the generosity of the community and Hill’s tenacity, the programs he’s coordinated have helped change lives.
J. Reuben Long accepts applications for volunteers in religious, education and recovery programming. To request information, email Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.