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Great State: Prison Church

HOMINY, OKLAHOMA — There are walls that give shelter and walls that hold us in. Victor Howard has experience constructing both types of walls. He still has at least 3 years left on a long drug sentence that landed him behind the walls of the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, OK. “I probably have three and a half to four years left,” he says.

Shawn Arant lives behind these walls too, here on a manslaughter conviction that won’t have him up for parole until 2017. But both of them jumped at the chance to build this particular wall, “Because it’s a chapel wall,” says Victor. The construction is taking place on what used to be a tough prison yard. “It’s a good thing,” says Shawn.

Joe Wilson is a retired Oklahoma preacher who likes to build things. A few years ago he helped construct a prison chapel in Mexico. “963 inmates,” he recalls. He brought that same idea back home. Joe and architect Glenn Short helped start a non-profit organization called Prison Chapel Inc. to build sanctuaries and classrooms at every state run penitentiary. Short explains, “we like to take these and sight them so that inmates can see the building, see the steeple, see the traditional church look.” Joe adds, “They have hope on the way in and they have help on the way out. That’s become our organizational motto.”

There is no state money at work here, only permission to build. Joe estimates the cost of building all 17 chapels at around $4 million. 2 of them are already complete. 2 more in Hominy are under construction. Some current inmates are on the list of donors along with some corporate sponsors and the usual generous church goers.

Building more walls might seem like a funny idea for inmates who would like nothing more than to get out, but these walls are specially designed says Shawn Arant. “These aren’t walls for keeping people in. They’re for setting people free.”

If you have any interest in donating to Prison Chapel Inc. the non-profit has a website. http://www.prisonchapelinc.com