Brenda Steen felt her world turn upside down when her youngest son, Hollan Steen, was sentenced to prison in 2013 for drug possession and burglary charges.
For years, Brenda Steen, of Apex, did her best to protect her three sons from bad influences. She wanted them to do well in school, play sports and attend church.
“I was a little neurotic at times,” said Brenda Steen, a member of Apex Methodist Church.
Brenda and Hollan Steen have come to the end of a nightmare that lasted 29 months. They are sharing their story in the hopes of helping others.
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“We have a pharmaceutical epidemic here,” said Hollan Steen, now 23. “Kids don’t realize how much a small pill can hurt you, and they take handfuls.”
Hollan Steen said more could be done to let teens know how harmful opioid abuse can be.
“If you do these drugs, there are three things that can happen,” he said. “You will end up in prison, an institution or dead.”
Brenda Steen said she wants others to know there is support available for families who have a loved one in prison.
“There is so much shame and people don’t want to talk about it,” said Brenda Steen, who joined a Family Support Ministry organized through Pardoned by Christ.
Up until Hollan Steen’s first arrest in 2011 for possession of marijuana, he had lived a dream life in Apex.
“Hollan was a model student until 10th grade,” said his mother. “He was athletic, played on the soccer team and ran track.”
Hollan Steen, who lives in Apex with his family and attends Summit Church, said he started drinking socially in high school. He traces his risk-taking behavior to getting a driver’s license and having access to a car. Playing soccer and getting good grades didn’t compare to being the life of the party.
“I fell in love with the feeling and discovered that buying drugs is easier than buying alcohol,” he said.
The next arrest for drug possession came in 2012. Both times, he had the opportunity to try rehab and work off his time on probation instead of in prison.
Brenda Steen didn’t know what to do.
“It’s like a switch flipped, and Hollan had no interest in sports or school,” she said.
The family and Wake County Public Schools staff tried every available program to keep him in school and on track for graduation.
All of the efforts seemed to have failed when Hollan Steen slipped back into his old ways.
In 2013, he was arrested for attempted burglary. Because he was still on probation from the 2012 arrest, those charges were activated and added to his sentencing.
Hollan Steen was out of second chances. He knew he was going to prison. That wasn’t the worst part.
“They showed me the video of the attempted burglary, and I had no memory of doing that,” he said.
Brenda Steen, surprisingly, felt relief.
“I was so tired and worn out,” she said. “I didn’t know what else to do. At least Hollan would be away from drugs in jail.”
Life in prison puts everything in stark contrast. Connections to family and friends are lost. Time passes slowly.
Hollan Steen tried keeping in touch with life outside prison by reading obituaries. He was surprised to learn that almost a dozen young men his age died of overdoses. A few of them were friends.
Despite the challenges of prison life, Hollan Steen said he realized he was lucky to be alive and needed to make some changes.
“People like me need to go to prison,” he said. “When your mind is clouded with drugs, you can’t see the truth.”
He found his turning point when he started going to the Yokefellow Prison Ministry Monday evenings at Wake Correctional Center.
Yokefellow volunteers meet with inmates in small groups to share encouragement and support. Often, the conversations shift to talking about God.
Mike Shank, a volunteer at Yokefellow Prison Ministry, remembers the first time he met Hollan.
“I could tell God was working on his heart,” said Shank, who also is the founder of Pardoned by Christ Ministry.
Hollan Steen remembers the encounter, too.
“I met Mike, and he helped me find God and see that I have value,” Hollan Steen said.
After Hollan Steen made a profession of faith, others started to see the changes.
“He was more upbeat, looked you in the eye and had more self control,” Shank said.
Through working with the ministry group and Shank, Hollan Steen found a purpose for his life that he could carry out of prison.
Hollan was released in November 2015. Since then, he has reconnected with his family and works hard to follow the probation rules.
“It’s a big deal to just go through a normal day and not let the little stresses in life pull me off track,” he said.
He is doing more than just getting through his days. He is taking classes at Wake Tech Community College and working toward a Social Science degree. He has a job, attends church and stays fit.
“God has a plan for Hollan,” his mother said. “I want others to have hope, to feel like they can reach out and know they will get through this time.”
Hollan’s tattoo with a verse from Colossians sums up his next steps: “When Christ who is life appears, then you also appear with him in glory.”
▪ Pardoned by Christ Ministry restores lives affected by incarceration through family support groups, mentoring and transitional homes for ex-offenders. pardonedbyChrist.org.
▪ Yokefellows Prison Ministry is an interdenominational, interracial Christian ministry with volunteers who lead small groups inside correctional facilities. yokefellowprisonministry.org