The following is a summary of the podcast interview above. Many more details are included in the original podcast episode and we encourage you to listen.
An Ordinary Mom
Hannah Overton was just an ordinary homeschool mom. She and her husband Larry lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, and served faithfully in their church. They had 4 children and were expecting their fifth.
Their lives were about to become even happier as they prepared to adopt a sweet little 4-year old boy, Andrew, when everything they knew was turned upside down…
October 2, 2006
October 2, 2006 became a date Hannah would never forget. Andrew came down with what Hannah and her husband assumed was some sort of stomach bug. However, Hannah and Larry became more concerned when Andrew began to have problems breathing, and they decided to take him in to Urgent Care.
From there, Andrew was quickly transferred to the hospital, and, after only a few hours, he passed away. Hannah was heartbroken. Sadly, the nightmare had only just begun to unfold.
An Unjust Accusation
Years later, the cause of Andrew’s death was determined to be hypernatremia, a high concentration of sodium in the blood. A contributing factor was pica, a rare undiagnosed eating disorder Andrew had which causes victims to crave non-food substances such as dirt, paint, glue, or baking soda.
Andrew had most likely found and eaten an enormous quantity of table salt, leading him to die of salt poisoning.
But at the time, none of this information was known. Conclusions were quickly drawn, and Hannah found herself unjustly accused by the County District Attorney’s Office of murdering Andrew by feeding him 23 tablespoons of Zaderan’s seasoning (something that had never happened).
The days, weeks, and months that followed were filled with chaos for the Overton family. Because of the accusation, Hannah was no longer allowed to be alone with her own children, so they were forced to move from home after home of friends from their church, all the while trying to continue homeschooling their children. Hannah was even nursing her 8-month old through the trial.
Hannah’s trial dragged on for months, and she was fighting all kinds of injustice. Andrew’s vomit had been tested when he had been admitted to Urgent Care, and Hannah knew that the results would reveal her innocence. But no one could seem to find it. Years later, she found out that it had been hidden in a bag marked “Overton Home” where no one would ever think to look for it.
The top nephrologist in the world later told Hannah that, because of the nature of Andrew’s condition, there would have been no way for Hannah to have known to seek medical attention sooner. He said that, had Andrew been his own child, he would not have done anything different than what Hannah and her husband did. Unfortunately, he was never given an opportunity to testify to the jury.
In spite of all of these setbacks, Hannah remained confident that God would prove her innocence. On the morning of her verdict, she hugged her children, but never prepared them for the possibility that she might not be coming home. She never imagined that the jury would declare her guilty of murder and that she would be sentenced to life in prison.
Yet the unimaginable happened and Hannah was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Hannah was put into solitary confinement immediately after the trial. Permanently separated from her husband and 5 children (ages 8 down to 8 months), she began to process the reality of her situation and question some of her most fundamental beliefs about God. How could a God who loved her allow such a horrific thing to happen?
Hannah was in such deep shock and grief that her health began to suffer. She wouldn’t eat, and she couldn’t sleep for fear of the nightmares that began to haunt her. She eventually reached the conclusion that she would die in prison from a broken heart.
Glimmers of Grace
In the midst of all the darkness, God was working to assure Hannah of His love and care for her.
Hannah got to make a short phone call to her husband every once in a while, and, before one of these calls, she decided to tell him that she could no longer go on living life in prison. She wanted to prepare him for what she felt was imminent.
What she didn’t know was that just hours before her call, her 8-year old son had been struggling. How could he live without his mom? He cried to his dad that he just couldn’t do it. Not knowing what to say, Hannah’s husband handed their son a Bible to read.
Hannah’s son came back to his dad, no longer crying, but smiling, and excitedly explaining that God says we can do “all things” through Him. (Philippians 4:13) He told his dad to be sure that mommy heard this verse when she called.
That was only one of many instances in which God showed Hannah his love in very tangible ways. On another occasion, Hannah was struggling with self-pity, protesting to God that she was stuck in a prison for no reason and couldn’t even see the flowers outside.
That night, a friend of Hannah’s woke up with an impression that God wanted her to buy flowers for Hannah. She knew it was a crazy idea, but, in spite of that, she got out of bed, drove to the store, and bought flowers.
When she arrived at the prison, she had no idea what to do with them since she couldn’t visit Hannah in her cell, so she left them sticking out of the top of a “No Parking” sign. When Hannah looked out her window in the morning, what she saw was not only a lovely bouquet of flowers, but an even lovelier evidence of God’s love.
Purpose in the Pain
Eventually Hannah was transferred to a maximum security prison where she was introduced to a whole new way of life. She was put with women who were angry, violent, and difficult to live with. Over time, though, Hannah came to see that she had something these women did not have, and that was hope.
It all clicked for her one day when the leader of the Wiccan Circle in prison, whom she had been assigned to work with, became angry with Hannah for crying so much. “This is your home now,” the woman told her angrily. When Hannah protested that prison was certainly not her home, the woman responded, “If the God you believe in is so powerful, then He has you here for a reason, and this is your home.”
Hurt, Hannah opened her Bible later that evening, seeking comfort. When she looked down, she read that God “determined…the boundaries of [her] dwelling place.” (Acts 17:28 ESV) Convicted by this truth that God did indeed plan exactly where she lived, Hannah began to look for opportunities to minister to those around her.
She started a small Bible study, and, before she knew it, there were more women (over 100 of them) participating in Bible studies than she could keep up with herself. As Hannah saw women surrendering their lives to Christ and being changed by the Gospel (including the inmate leading the Wiccan Circle), she came to embrace the fact that God had a good purpose for her being in prison.
Still, Hannah struggled with the idea of forgiveness, particularly toward one of the people involved in her prosecution. She felt that God was calling her to write a letter of forgiveness to this woman, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.
One time she wrote the letter, then stuck it in her box of belongings, telling herself that was good enough. Another time, Hannah felt conviction from God to actually send the letter, so she bought a stamp, addressed the envelope, and even made it to the line to mail it, but ended up ripping it up.
Eventually, Hannah heard that the individual had been promoted and at last she was willing to mail the letter, reasoning that the individual would never be given mail from a convicted felon. The letter was not only delivered, but it impacted the individual so much that she showed up at the office of Hannah’s pastor in tears. God used this letter of forgiveness to lead this woman to salvation.
While Andrew was in the hospital, before Hannah had ever been accused of murder, she had received this verse from a friend: “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:6 ESV)
At the time, she had no idea what it meant for her, but as her story progressed and person after person felt led to share the same verse with her, Hannah came to believe that God would one day prove her innocence. And one day He did! After spending seven years in prison, Hannah was finally released.
Hannah’s story didn’t end with her release though. After she left prison, she wanted to continue sharing the Gospel and ministering to her friends in prison. So she and her husband started a ministry called Syndeo (https://www.syndeoministries.com/) dedicated to helping women in prison. Today, Syndeo reaches out to thousands of prisoners.
For His Glory…
Hannah’s story speaks to the trustworthiness of God, even in the most hopeless of circumstances. He redeemed a tragic story for His glory and the good of Hannah and the women she serves today.
To hear Hannah’s full story we encourage you to listen to our podcast episode at the top of this article or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.
Featured episode photo courtesy of Dan Winters.
Syndeo Ministries (the website of Hannah’s ministry)
“Until Proven Innocent” (Documentary about Hannah)
- You can buy a copy from Hannah’s ministry here
Detailed articles about Hannah’s journey
- Hannah and Andrew (Texas Monthly)
- How Hannah Overton Is Spending Her First Week Since Prison Release (ABC News)
- DA to declare Texas woman innocent in salt-poisoning case (USA Today)
Key verses from Hannah’s story
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;” – Psalms 37:5 – 7a (the verse that many people sent to Hannah while she was in prison)
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. ” – Hebrews 13:3 (theme verse of Syndeo Ministries)