SAN ANTONIO – Bennie Price got out of prison with a mission to do something positive to change the culture of his neighborhood, which he says is leading too many down the wrong path.
Price remembers growing up in the streets of the East Side in a crime-infested area that matched the mentality of many in the community.
“As young kids, our community was crime-infested, drug-infested, you know? And so that’s what was promoted, you know, and those were our heroes,” Price said. “This is what the community was doing. And if you were going to be in that community, you basically was going to do that. And so the young man gets corrupted in jail or prison. It is not necessarily a bad thing. This is one of the rites of passage. It’s where they tell it that you’re going to go to, you know -- and so when you get out of jail or prison, the community celebrates you.”
At a young age, Price was introduced to guns and drugs. At 18, he was in prison for murder and other charges.
It took some time, even in prison, to see the error of his ways. But Price says at the top of his game in prison, he had a heart-to-heart with God, and he changed. In 2016, he was freed and had a new vision for his life and community ordained by a higher calling.
“Before (God) freed me, He gave me a vision of sending me back to the community that I once used to be the bad guy in,” Price said. “I was considered the worst of the worst.”
The change started with small community gatherings, and in February 2021, Price, along with Mary Williams and a group of volunteers, opened Big Mama’s Safe House at 214 Bluebonnet Street. It’s a safe shelter for domestic violence victims, but it’s more than that, Price said.
The safe house is also a place for mediation, bill and housing assistance, mental health resources, mentorship and crime prevention.
“You don’t stop gun violence when somebody gets killed and somebody goes to jail for it. It already happened. You didn’t stop it, you know? So what’s coming behind that? More gun violence,” Price said.
In the area, the majority of the community members are people of color. The median household income is under $22,000, and most people did not graduate from high school.
Price says the community doesn’t really fear going to jail, but they do fear that their kids will end up making the same mistakes, and that’s where he hopes to get them to listen and change.
Volunteers put their life on the line when they reach out. They’re walking a thin line where trust is everything. Price hopes his late grandmother can help with that.
“Big Mama brings a smile to your face for some reason because you know you can trust them,” Price said. “You know she’s going to tell you right. You know she’s going to love on you, and she’s going to have an even hand. If you have, you know, conflict, her solutions are going to be peaceful.”