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Miss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and Gumption Hardcover – February 18, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: WaterBrook Press (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307732177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307732170
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #508,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Brenda Spahn is founder and executive director of the Lovelady Center, the largest and most successful nonprofit transitional center for women in the country. It serves 450 women and children every day, providing substance abuse counseling, drug rehabilitation, meals, childcare, career counseling, and job opportunities to women working to establish successful lives outside of prison walls. Brenda is married and has four adult children as well as one young child who lives at home.
Irene Zutell is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Pieces of Happily Ever After and coauthor with Vanessa Williams of You Have No Idea.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Make sure you are doing what God wants you to do—then do it with all your strength.
—George Washington

I was raised in a trailer. My parents struggled to feed and clothe me. Because I grew up without having much, I promised myself one day I’d be very rich.

Decades later, I had built a successful business. I finally had what I could only dream of as a child—a big house, fancy cars, expensive jewelry, and all the material things I could ever want.

At the height of success, I found myself under investigation for a crime I didn’t commit. I faced the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence. All those possessions I had accumulated and cherished I was likely to lose. I had always felt I was in control of my life and my destiny. Once I was at the mercy of the legal system, I realized I was in control of nothing.

I lost my business, but I found another calling. I lost my riches, but I discovered riches of the spirit. I lost my faith in the system, but I discovered another faith—a faith in things that never depreciate or corrode or collapse. I found faith
in God and the indomitable power of redemption—for myself and for a group of incarcerated women who’d been catastrophically abused by the system, by spouses, by parents, and by themselves.

Instead of chasing the American Dream, rehabilitating these women became my career. I learned that within each of them—even the most terrifyingly brutal felons—dwelled an undeniable spark of the divine.

Junkies, grifters, armed robbers, prostitutes, drunks, dealers, and murderers became my new social circle. They were former inmates of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Alabama—another monolithic bureaucracy
that warehoused the forgotten until they disappeared, returned, or died. Its motto could have been “Abandon hope.”

They became the Loveladies. In the beginning, no name would have been more improbable. In time, no name could have been more fitting.

This is my story.
This is their story.
Meet the Loveladies.

Chapter 1: Have I Lost My Mind?

Fear is faith that it won’t work out.
—Elbert Hubbard

Oh my Lord, what have I done!” I gasped. I stared out the kitchen window as six violent criminals stomped up my driveway. Hunter, my four-year-old adopted son, stood on tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of what had me so terrified.

“Your mama has messed up big-time,” I said.

For the last month, I had pictured this moment time and time again—but it had looked very different. In my imagination, the women would skip up the driveway, giggling and talking excitedly. I’d open the door with a loud “Welcome!” and women would race toward me, enveloping me in big, grateful bear hugs. After they’d thanked me profusely for being so wonderful, we’d sit around the kitchen table, have lunch, drink tea, share laughs, and get to know each other. But these women stomping up my driveway didn’t look like they wanted tea. They looked like they wanted blood.

Had I lost my mind?

Jeff, my husband, had predicted this. “You’ll get yourself killed, Brenda,” he said when I first told him my plan to rehabilitate female convicts. “You’ve had a lot of wild schemes in your life, but this is the craziest I’ve ever heard.” Yes, but a lot of my schemes had worked out, and besides, this was different. This time it wasn’t about me.

Now six very scary women, just released from the roughest women’s prison in the country, were in my driveway.

I thought I had figured it all out. After spending months helping female convicts at a work release center, I thought I understood them. I had spoken with the inmates, we had prayed together, and they had seemed genuine in their desire to turn their lives around and start over.

But now I doubted everything. How could I have been so stubborn, so driven, so foolish? How could I have put my little boy in danger?

The night before, I’d combed through their “jackets”—prison files—and discovered with horror that the parole board wasn’t sending me the nonviolent offenders I’d visited at the work release center. Instead, the women who had
just shown up in front of my house had spent, collectively, one hundred years behind bars for crimes such as armed robbery, possession, drug dealing, prostitution, and manslaughter. I found out later that these were the hopeless cases—cases stamped cannot be rehabilitated—that all other programs had rejected. At the work release center, I helped women who were struggling to get their lives together. But the women coming to my home were so hardened, so dangerous, that the system had given up on them. These were not the women I had bargained for.

I was supposed to rehabilitate them? For the next nine months to a year? I wrapped my arms tight around Hunter. I should have dropped him off with the nanny, but I had been running late. My heart pounded so hard I was sure Hunter could hear it beating. I didn’t want to scare him, so I took a breath and tried to find a portion of calm.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. I’d hired a housemother, a cook, and a driver. I owned a six-thousand-square-foot house with seven bedrooms and six bathrooms on ten acres of property that no one lived in. Hob Hill was perfect: it would become my “whole-way” house for parolees as they transitioned into the real world. This is a good plan, I reassured myself.

These women would learn a skill and receive counseling, therapy, and, if need be, treatment for addiction. Since my program was faith-based, I’d teach them about Jesus, His unconditional love, the power of faith, and the reality of redemption. Then I’d get in my Cadillac Escalade and hightail it back to my new home in a gated community a few miles away.

I reminded myself that I was just supervising this program. You see, I’d be able to supervise it without really getting my hands dirty. I wouldn’t give up my whole life. This would be more a hobby than a vocation.

And this is how I’ll be able to keep that promise I made.

Much of my family had been understandably furious with me for pressing forward with my plan, but Melinda, my twenty-eight-year-old, caught my passion and crazy vision. She and I had spent the last month preparing for the women’s arrival. I bought couches, chairs, and tables for the common areas and beds, comforters, dressers, and night tables for the seven bedrooms. I painted the rooms in calming colors—blues, yellows, and every shade of purple. Each bedroom was named after a fruit of the Spirit—joy, peace, self-control, love, patience, kindness, goodness—which I’d carefully painted on the bedroom doors. Each room had color-matching comforters and thick bath towels. I’d decorated the rooms with paintings—many of my favorite getaway, the beach—and supplied them with empty frames so the women could fill them with photographs of their children and families.

I put the word out to churches that I was looking to hire a cook, a driver, and, most important, a housemother who would run the program in my absence. I soon found the perfect housemother—Claudia. She was forty-eight, single,
big, and strong with a gruff, no-nonsense attitude. She had spent time volunteering at the work release center. When I met with her, she told me that God had called her into prison ministry and she was ready to get started.

I asked if the thought of working with female ex-cons frightened her. She laughed as if I’d asked the most insane question. “I’ll take tigers by the tail,” she said. “This is the work I was meant to do. I’m not afraid. It’s my calling. I know I am going to change lives. The Lord sent me to do this.”

I hired Claudia on the spot. She was so excited that she hired a moving company to haul all her bedroom and living room furniture into the upstairs master suite and office area. After she surveyed her new home, she nodded. “This is
where I’m meant to be.”

Likewise I’d hired a cook and a driver.

I could make this work. I had to make this work. For months I’d pleaded with the parole board to release women into my custody so I could help them get their lives back on track. I had told the board their system didn’t work and needed an overhaul. After all, 30 percent of the women released from Alabama prisons returned to prison within the first six months.

They laughed at me. “What do you know about rehabilitating these women?”

“I know that giving them ten dollars and a bus ticket is just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I know I can do better.”

In Alabama, there were only two options for newly released prisoners: They’d get their ten bucks and transportation back to where they committed their crimes. In a short time they’d go back to old ways with old friends. Or they’d spend a few weeks in a halfway house, where they’d receive food and shelter but little else, then be put back on the street.

No matter their destination—bus ticket home or halfway house—once they were released, these women had one thing in common: they had no hope. And they had no hope because they couldn’t envision a future outside of prison.
To me, the solution was obvious. My whole-way house would be a place where they could change their lives by learning skills and receiving counseling. We would give them a picture of a future they themselves could create, one in which they could succeed.

I have always considered myself visionary, but the parole board used a different term—delusional. Ultimately I wore them down and they finally agreed, probably just to make me go away.<...

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Customer Reviews

I read this book in one sitting as I couldn't put it down.
Louise Jolly
Miss Brenda and The Loveladies by Brenda Spahn and Irene Zutell follows the story of Miss Brenda through some of those trials.
You too will be inspired and moved by *Miss Brenda and the Loveladies: A Heartwarming True Story of Grace, God, and Gumption*!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tammy Porter on February 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Please know that this place changed both mine and my husband's life. Through The Lovelady Center, we both have a RELATIONSHIP with our LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By G. S. Cook on February 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Brenda Lovelady Spahn was a successful businesswoman in Birmingham, Alabama, but an unexpected brush with the law opened her eyes to a need: women released from prison were given $10 and one set of clothes and a ticket back to where they came from…and got in trouble in the first place. There was no rehabilitation or half-way system to ease these women back into the current day society. Brenda saw the need for a “Whole Way House” and fought the system until they allowed her to take in seven ex-cons from the most dangerous women’s prison in the country.

Brenda recognized what these ladies needed was hope. She prepared her large and beautiful home, hired the staff she knew she would need and with her daughter’s help, prepared to welcome a group of women who she just knew would be happy and appreciative – NOT! Brenda had no idea of what the reality would be like, but recognized God’s call as she kept moving forward.

I laughed and cried my way through this story of how God used Brenda and her daughter, as they realized the enormity of the task they had chosen; teaching women the basics of life, how to boil water, shop at Walmart, eat in a restaurant and so much more. This was a truly entertaining and inspiring story, and the amazing success of that first step in faith is staggering.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By melissa martin on February 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I thought it was an amazing story of an amazing women that is following the call of JESUS!!!! I would recommend this book to both Christian and secular groups.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tiffany Malloy on February 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This is a story about a woman (Brenda) who finds herself too close for comfort to landing in a prison cell, and how God used this to open her eyes to a totally forgotten group of people. What does it look like to serve them, love them, know them, help them? Brenda is a woman of courage, determination, and love– she used her resources, passion, and time to establish the Lovelady Center, which is today the largest nonprofit transitional center for women. This book tells of Brenda’s crazy adventures, mistakes, fears, and successes as God used Brenda and many others to build this incredible center. The story takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, and is hence rich with southern culture. I laughed. I cried. I got angry. I read it in less than a week. :)

Why did I choose to read this book?

Love the widow. Yes.

Love the orphaned. Yep.

Care for the poor. Mmhmm.

To be honest, my heart doesn’t race when I heard about prison ministries. It’s not really of interest to me, so I decided that perhaps it is because I haven’t been exposed to the realities of being in prison and then trying to figure out how to successfully enter the “real world” upon release. I wanted my heart to soften for this group of people.

My Takeaway:

God deeply loves those whom have been imprisoned. Unfortunately, America hasn’t aced the rehabilitation process, so many ex-convicts find themselves back in the place where their crimes were initially committed…and then quickly find themselves back in prison. These women (and men) need the hope of the gospel. Their children children and family members that are hurting need the hope of the gospel. Many of the crimes are drug-related, and often times the drugs were initially used to try to make the present feel better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By mamastiks on March 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Would you let a stranger sleep in your house? What about a stranger who was just released from the worst women’s prison in the United States after serving a sentence for attempted murder? What about 6 strangers - parolees who had been imprisoned for selling drugs, prostitution, armed robbery, and more? Women whom “the system” declared could not be rehabilitated. This is exactly what Brenda Spahn did. After being accused of a crime which, if convicted, could have landed her in jail, she felt called to help women turn their lives around. She tells her story in Miss Brenda and the Loveladies.

I rarely give a book 5 stars – a book has to be pretty darned good to get a “perfect” score from me. I’m also not a always a huge non-fiction, memoir fan. This book changed my mind, and I have no problem giving it as many stars as I can. I absolutely loved it. The tale of a self-confessed money addict drew me in from the first page. Miss Brenda was obsessed with possessions – houses, clothes, jewelry. Her life goals and desires changed, though, and she became “Mama” to some pretty hardened criminals. As I was reading, I assumed that the store would just be from Miss Brenda’s view, so I was pleasantly surprised when I turned the page to see a change in voice. Some of the Loveladies added their stories to give their “side” of life with the crazy redhead they came to love. Their stories touched my heart and really convicted me – how often have I looked a someone in jail and just assumed they were bad to the core? I cried as I read the Loveladies recall horrible childhood abuse which threw them into a cycle of drugs, prostitution, and other crimes. (A side note – some of these stories are really hard to read.
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