‘Mama Betty’ shares mobile ministry with those visiting Pitchess Detention Center

Betty Peters drives the route she takes when she picks up and drops off families visiting their loved ones at Pitchess Detention Center on weekends. Every weekend throughout the early morning and afternoon, women visiting their incarcerated family members pile into the back of Peters’ white, four-door sedan in Castaic. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Editor’s note: The following is the second installment in an occasional series from The Signal newsroom looking at influential women throughout modern Santa Clarita Valley history.

Every weekend throughout the early morning and afternoon, women traveling to Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center to visit their incarcerated family members pile into the back of Betty Peters’ white, four-door sedan in Castaic.

“Mama Betty,” as she is affectionately called by those she helps, offers support to the women and sings to their young children as she takes them on the 1.2-mile journey from the Hasley Canyon Road bus stop to the all-male county prison.

“I pick up the girls and they come running, most of the bus drivers know it’s me,” Peters said.  “I drive almost every weekend I’m available. The word gets out because a lot of the time people get in who have never ridden with me.”

As an unsung hero in Castaic, Peters dedicates her time to the women for five hours on Saturday and for one hour on Sunday.

Led by her Christian faith, Peters felt called six years ago to help the population of women and provide them with resources, “Our Daily Bread” devotional books and assurance of God’s love.

“The women say, ‘Betty why do you do this?'” Peters said.  “I look at them and say, ‘Because God loves you and he sends me to tell you that he loves you. You’re not alone, he knows what you’re going through, he’s here with you.'”

Betty Peters on the balcony of her Castaic home. She can see Pitchess Detention Center from her window, which is what started her on the path to helping family members get to the jail for visiting hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

A Calling to Pitchess

When Peters’ family moved to Castaic in 2000, they settled in a house on a hill with a panorama view of the mountains, the valley and Pitchess’ 50 one-story structures that housed inmates.

“I started looking out the window upstairs and I’d open up the curtains and think how awful it must be to be confined on a gorgeous day like today,” Peters said.  “So I said I’m going to start praying for, ‘my boys,'” as she calls them.

Shortly thereafter, Peters’ church, Grace Baptist, became involved in prison ministry and partnered with Awana Lifeline, a ministry effort that offers spiritual guidance to inmate fathers and families through programs like Malachi Dads.

As a 40-year employee of Borax, Peters acted as one of the company’s first woman managers and volunteered with organizations like the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, SCV Education Foundation, School and Business Partners and Women in Mining.

However, it was her involvement with the prison ministry and its “Returning Hearts” program that compelled her to devote her time to the inmate families, pray for “her boys,” and ultimately offer weekend rides to their loved ones.

The First Drive

“Mama Betty” was born six years ago on one 100-degree day when Peters saw a woman traveling along The Old Road and up a steep dirt slope while carrying a baby in her arms.

“I asked her, ‘Where are you going?’ because she was beyond any shopping and she was heading to the bridge.  And she said, ‘off to the jail,'” Peters said.  “I asked her if she wanted a ride, so I drove her up there and my heart was just called to help.”

Following the trip, Peters found the drop-off point for the Castaic bus stop and was shocked by the trek the women would make in the hot sun.

Peters also noticed that if the women were pushing baby strollers, they would be forced to walk in the dirt and in the road as they traveled up a loop-around and crossed over a bridge.

“Initially, that jail had busses that went up there and it’s not pedestrian-friendly,” Peters said.  “It doesn’t have a walkway from The Old Road and up and over the bridge to the check in.”

After learning of the long trip many of the women made to get to the Hasley Canyon bus stop—traveling on upwards of two trains and three buses—Peters knew she could make a difference by offering her love and car to the women.

Mobile Ministry

Since she started began driving the women six years ago, Peters has driven dozens of women each weekend as they wait to spend 30 minutes with their loved ones, husbands or family members.

Oftentimes Peters is pulled over by Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies who ask her where she’s going and who she’s transporting.

“Fortunately, I’ve become involved in Family Outreach, which has a little cubicle (at the visitor’s center),” Peters said.  “When they pull me over, I show them my Family Outreach ID and they say ok.”

During the eight-minute drive, Peters also provides the women with a list of websites full of research and resources to help the women and “their men.”

“I encourage them to find a church that has a ministry for former prisoners because it will be a place of accountability,” Peters said.

After their drive down The Old Road and up the loop on Biscailuz Drive, Peters says goodbye to and the prayer for the women who she knew only for a brief moment.

“I tell them ‘I want you to know that all these boys in here are mine, I pray for them everyday,'” Peters said. “’But, because they’re mine, you’re mine, too.'”

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