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Faith-based prison ministry helps Oklahoma women

TAFT — Sitting in her blue graduation robe, Heather Sisson feels more free than she has ever been.
BY JACLYN COSGROVE, Oklahoma Watch, jcosgrove@oklahomawatch.org Modified: December 12, 2010 at 11:44 am •  Published: December 12, 2010

TAFT — Sitting in her blue graduation robe, Heather Sisson feels more free than she has ever been.

Her newfound freedom might puzzle some because she is one of about 770 female inmates at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center.

Sisson hasn't had a steak and potato in 14 months, and her physical boundaries are defined by barbed wire and a chain-link fence.

But the restrictions that come with incarceration haven't stopped her from working to escape the demons of her past.

Sisson took another step in her recovery process Thursday as she and 21 others became Oklahoma's first female prisoners to graduate from the Victory Bible Institute, a faith-based prison ministry program offered by Victory Christian Center in Tulsa.

The women started the voluntary program in May, attending class from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday in a new chapel built by a group of about 40 volunteers from six states.

The 4,800-square-foot building, financed with private funds, includes classrooms, a library, computer lab, card shop, offices and large auditorium with stage.

Sisson said attending Victory Bible Institute taught her what she didn't understand as a child.

“When I was little, growing up, I went to church, but they didn't make Jesus that real to me,” she said. “He just seemed like a figment of my imagination. I didn't understand the depth of what God truly is, and how he can free us from bondage.”

Sisson said she was abused as a child for 13 years and had an unstable home life.

That instability continued to adulthood, culminating in January 2009 when police came to her home with a search warrant and found about 100 ecstasy pills and drug paraphernalia.

Sisson was arrested on complaints of drug trafficking, possession of a controlled drug in the presence of a minor and attempting to acquire proceeds from drug activity.

She was sentenced to four years in prison, but may serve only a year having been unanimously recommended for parole by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday. To become official, her parole must be approved by Gov. Brad Henry.

“It was God that showed me favor in the parole boardroom,” Sisson said.

Gaining women's trust

Kathryn McCollum, chaplain at Eddie Warrior, said the concept of God for some of the women can be hard initially because of issues related to abuse and authority.

“Mentally, they feel that they know that God is real, and they should love God, but because of the authority figures they may have had .

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