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Chapel Creation Coalition

Female inmates see Taft correctional facility’s new chapel
as an opportunity for change


Published: April 4, 2010

TAFT — Tonia Clower, of Tulsa, clapped her hands and swayed to the gospel music pulsating around her.

Taft prison chapel helping inmates Apr 3 Learn how the chapel at a Taft correctional center is helping inmates.

Female inmates see Taft correctional facility’s new chapel as an opportunity

for change.  Her gray shirt marked her as a prison "inmate” — but in her imagination, she soared free.

"Change is comin’!” she sang in a soft alto, her eyes closing briefly.

Change has indeed come to Clower and others serving time at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center, a minimum-security women’s prison.

Today, many of them will experience the first Easter service in a new chapel built just inside the prison’s gates.  It’s fitting because the building represents new life for the offenders, faith leaders said.

"When the women get there, it’s the first thing they see,” the Rev. Joe Wilson said.

"You have hope going in and hope going out. That’s what we’re trying to communicate.”

Chapels fill need Wilson, chairman of the Chapel Creation Coalition, said he has seen women enter the prison in chains and shackles, many looking bewildered or scared. Another

coalition member, the Rev. Mary Lord, said the chapel greets them as a symbol of positive things — and an opportunity for change.

"It shows that they are coming to a place where there is both justice and mercy,”

Lord said. "It is a very hopeful sign.”

The coalition led by Wilson is a group of faith leaders and ministry volunteers from across the state who helped raise funds and build the chapel at Eddie Warrior.

Completed in January, Wilson said, the chapel cost about $290,000. It is a 4,800-square-foot building made of red brick with a white steeple. The chapel includes three classrooms, a chaplain’s office, library, baptistry and a sanctuary that can accommodate about 175 people.  And more prison chapels are coming.

Justin Jones, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said 14 chapels are planned at prisons around the state. Jones said he told Wilson of the need for more when he was first approached with the idea.

"One chapel is fine, but I need 15,” Jones said he told Wilson. "Why stop at one?”

He said part of the need for program space stems from the fact that many of the state’s prisons are overcrowded. For example, he said, Lexington and Joseph Harp correctional facilities were both built to house about 500 prisoners, but each now houses more than 1,000.

"That’s indicative of our whole system,” Jones said.

He said a prisoner’s spirituality, often combined with their education and treatment (i.e drug/alcohol) is connected with their success once they leave prison.

"It’s not the only component, but the one consistent component to an offender’s growth is the spiritual component,” he said.

Kathryn McCollum, the prison’s chaplain, said she and other ministry supporters had

raised about $40,000 in the hopes of building a chapel at Eddie Warrior one day.

McCollum, 62, of Coweta, said she and volunteers prayed about it many times.

"I said if it’s God’s will, the money will come in, and if it’s not, it won’t,” she said.

Looking at the new chapel with pride, McCollum said she remembers hearing the news that Wilson and a team of volunteers were coming to build the house of worship she’d prayed about.

"I’m just proud of God’s people,” she said.

The chapel that God built Wilson, an Enid resident, is the domestic project coordinator for World Mission Builders. The organization’s team of volunteers has built chapels in 88 countries.
Wilson, a retired Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, built a chapel in a small village in Mexico in 2004, then another one at a federal prison nearby. The project came to the attention of ministry leaders at the Corrections Department, who wanted to know if World Mission Builders could do the same for the state prison system.

Wilson said the money that McCollum and her supporters raised was used as seed money for the Eddie Warrior chapel project. However, the effort needed more funding and people to do the work.

He said businesses, community volunteers and ministry supporters poured through the gates of the prison over the next few months, donating supplies, raising funds, installing carpet, building the roof and helping to make the chapel a reality. Wilson said many of the offenders at Eddie Warrior helped build the chapel and they take pride in the fact that they now can worship in a building they helped create.

Mike McKenrick, an ex-offender from Tulsa, helped build the chapel. McKenrick, 52, is a member of the Chapel Creation Coalition and one of the leaders of Oklahoma

Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based recovery program offered at churches, plus 25 state prison facilities and eight jails.  He said hundreds of Celebrate Recovery volunteers helped build the chapel, which he called a collaborative effort whose time has come.

"It’s a phenomenal thing that has become a reality,” McKenrick said. "The Lord just makes it where we have to work together.”

McKenrick said he served almost two years in prison for alcohol and drug convictions. He said he took advantage of the types of programs now being offered at the Eddie Warrior center’s chapel and knows the transformative power of education and spiritual growth.

Tulsan Bob Rubin has led Jewish ethics classes and faith programs at state prisons for many years. As a Jewish member of the coalition, he said it’s important to note that the chapels are interfaith. McCollum agreed, saying that a Muslim seminar was held recently at the Eddie Warrior chapel.

Rubin said he is looking forward to the construction of other prison chapels as he recalls that Jewish offenders have had to have their Shabbat or Sabbath services in barber shop areas due to lack of space.

"We’re very fortunate each of the faith groups is respected,” he said of the project.

Lord, a deacon at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Tulsa, said deteriorating conditions of the former ministry/programs space at Eddie Warrior deterred some offenders from participating. With the chapel classrooms and sanctuary, Lord said volunteers can schedule their services at times when more offenders can attend.

"This gives them a link back to God,” Lord said. "It’s a welcoming place. It’s a healing place. It’s a place to learn, to grow and to change and we need them in every prison in the state.”

A place of peace McCollum feels a sense of relief now that she doesn’t have 300 offenders on a waiting list for classes because there was no room to accommodate them. Instead of a cramped auditorium in the back of the prison, the incarcerated women at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center have a new, dedicated space for sexual abuse recovery classes, parenting programs and other educational programs.

It’s a place where the spirit flows free, offenders like Clower said at the start of a recent Pentecostal church service.

"I feel so much at peace when I’m here,” she said. Clower, 38, said she was convicted on drug charges and is serving a 2 year
Frances Madison, 50, of Oklahoma City, said she was convicted of assault and battery on a police officer. She said she hopes to be released in May, but until then, the chapel services and programs provide a haven.

"I look forward to it,” she said. "Every time the doors open, I’m here. It will have a good impact on my life.”

Bobbi Davis, 46, said she is serving a 10-year sentence for possession of methamphetamine.
She said the chapel seems to symbolize God’s love through the many programs and services offered there.

"I never realized God loves prisoners like He loves us,” Davis said. "There’s something different about this kind of building. I think God honors this.”

Provided for this purpose by The Oklahoman