Sam Huddleston’s Roundabout Journey
Samuel M. Huddleston attended his first meeting this week as a member of the 21-member Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery, the top policy-making body of the U.S. Fellowship with over 3.2 million adherents.
His election is a natural culmination for a 64-year-old ministry leader, who has an earned doctorate from Regent University and who has been assistant superintendent of the AG Northern California & Nevada District since 2004.
However, it seems an improbable journey for a man who spent nearly five years in California prisons after being convicted of second-degree murder. At the age of 17, Huddleston faced a potential life sentence behind bars.
Huddleston’s God-fearing, churchgoing father, Eddie, tried to implant values in his young son. Of the six children in the family, Sam was mama’s boy; he found it inconceivable that she would leave the family when he was 8. After his parents divorced, Huddleston blamed both his Heavenly Father and earthly father. He internalized feelings of rejection, which led to rebellion.
Sam turned to alcohol, marijuana, stealing, and brawling. At 15, Sam’s first night in juvenile hall, a cellmate raped him. Shortly afterwards, Sam miraculously survived a suicide attempt when he washed down a bottle of pills with lighter fluid. He became a father at 16, after his girlfriend, Ann Ward, gave birth to their son, Andre.
Sam’s grandfather Bryce Huddleston, a resident deputy sheriff, warned him, “Grandson, I’ve worked hard to make the Huddleston name one to be proud of. So, either change your name, or change your character.” Sam failed to heed the advice.
AN INDEFINITE SENTENCE
In June 1971, Huddleston had been drinking, popping pills, and carousing almost nonstop for six days. In a drunken stupor, he accompanied his older cousin Shep to a liquor store. Shep borrowed Huddleston’s knife and stabbed the shop owner to death.
Most of his fellow inmates never received visits — from anyone. Yet Eddie Huddleston, a Sunday School superintendent, didn’t abandon his wayward son. In fact, Sam kept remembering the first words Eddie spoke to him after the arrest: “Son, we’re in trouble.”
Eddie always hugged Sam when he arrived and departed for regular prison visits. Many of the other prisoners didn’t even know their father’s identity. His father, grandfather, and three uncles all dropped by, imparting wisdom about how to be a man. Eddie modeled forgiveness, never blaming his ex-wife for the marital breakup.
After 18 months in the penitentiary, Sam accepted Jesus as Savior, and took responsibility for his own failures. He read the Bible, prayed, and memorized Scripture.
“My dad instilled principles in me,” Huddleston says. “He taught me how to pray, that real men cry, that real men take care of their families.”
Huddleston had no exposure to the Assemblies of God until hearing Revivaltime evangelist C.M. Ward preach on a radio in his cell. G. Lee Thomas, then an AG pastor in Sonora, visited the prison occasionally, and told Huddleston about the Holy Spirit. Thomas arranged for Huddleston to preach at the church he pastored, even before Huddleston’s release for good behavior (he could have remained incarcerated for life).
Upon being freed in 1976, Sam asked forgiveness of those he hurt. He visited Ann — then raising Andre, nearly 6 — but she had no interest in a continued relationship.
Linda Gail Amey, a single mother with two children, Royce, 6, and Ericka, 4, met Sam the evening he gained his liberty when he spoke at the church pastored by her brother Dwight. Soon, Linda accompanied Sam to different venues where he sang and she played piano. Linda found herself attracted to Sam’s immersion in God’s Word. They wed only four months after being introduced.
However, after five years of being told when to wake up, go to sleep, and everything in between, Huddleston found it difficult to make decisions. Although he only had earned a General Equivalency Development diploma, Linda challenged him to obtain as much education as possible in order to realize his full potential. Huddleston enrolled in Bethany University, unaware that C.M. Ward served as the school’s president.
“Education is important because, initially, it replaced the insecurities that developed while in prison,” Huddleston says. “I realized education would open doors, even though I was an ex-felon.”
DEALING WITH THE PAST
Because of poor study tendencies, Sam wanted to quit attending Bethany. Linda convinced him to stay. While enrolled in an Azusa Pacific University master’s marriage and family class, Huddleston again thought about quitting, this time because therapy techniques brought emotions he never dealt with to the surface. Linda actually left him for a couple of weeks as he ranted and raved. Learning to deal with those emotions proved to be a turning point.
Linda bore the brunt of that misdirected harbored anger in the early years of their marriage. Only when his mother, Mattie, read the manuscript for Huddleston’s book 5 Years to Life did he come to understand that she always loved him. Now Huddleston talks to his 82-year-old mom two or three times a week on the phone.
Andre eventually came to live with Sam and Linda permanently, and Sam legally adopted Royce and Ericka. The Huddlestons, married for 41 years, have 13 grandchildren.
Huddleston has become a much beloved figure around the district. He’s an affable, irenic leader, who nevertheless is unafraid to challenge others with sometimes unpleasant truths.
Char Blair, his executive administrator in the district office the past 13 years, says Huddleston has a Christ-like quality of putting people ahead of anything else.
“He is a kind leader, mixing grace with sincerity,” says Blair, a credentialed AG minister and evangelist. “He is a great mentor for so many people.”
Huddleston these days certainly is more of a peacemaker than a rabble-rouser.
“He’s a lot more confident in who he is than when we married,” Linda says. “Sam is at his best when he is dropped off in chaos, because he brings order to it.”