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Inmates at Oklahoma women's prison donate to chapel fund

Inmates and volunteers are trying to raise funds to build a chapel on the grounds of Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud.
by Carla Hinton Published: November 23, 2012

Her voice rising and falling in a preacher's cadence, Marsha Travis held up her Bible as she spoke about the importance of forgiveness.

Her audience of about 35 women seemed to listen intently.

“When the enemy comes in to roar in your face, you think ‘I've got this.' No, you don't. If you don't have this down in your spirit, you don't have it,” Travis said to a chorus of “Amen” from her audience.

Travis, a member of The Gate Church, shared faith lessons in a weekly Bible study at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. She said the regular sessions are well-attended and held in a room on the correctional center compound.

Travis and a host of other faith group volunteers are hoping she will be conducting the church-like sessions in a new chapel one day soon. The women's prison is poised to become one of the next Oklahoma prison facilities to have a chapel building constructed on prison grounds by the nonprofit organization World Mission Builders.

The funds raised through private means, the group already has built chapels at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy and the Charles E. “Bill” Johnson Correctional Center in Alva.

Travis, 61, and another longtime faith group volunteer Virginia Brendle, 69, said the Mabel Bassett prison chapel effort is only lacking one thing: Money.

The volunteers said about $500,000 is needed to build and furnish the 5,000-square-foot chapel. The Rev. Joe Wilson Wilson, of Enid, said World Mission Builders has teamed with the architectural and engineering firm Frankfurt Short Bruza to plan the Mabel Bassett chapel's construction. Wilson said the project needs $250,000 in cash donations. Another $250,000 in volunteer labor and in-kind services is expected. The use of volunteer labor for what organizers call an “old-fashioned barn-raising effort” also is a key component in the chapel construction project.

Travis and Brendle said the project kicked off last December and efforts to raise money are continuing. They said they were pleasantly surprised to see Mabel Bassett inmates donate more than $3,000 to the chapel fund and more are coming forward with additional monies.

The volunteers said in the last few weeks, they have sent out numerous information packets to churches across the state, asking that congregations will donate money for the project.

Brendle, who attends several Shawnee-area churches, said the chapel will be built in an area so that it will be one of the first buildings newly arrived inmates see when they get to the prison. She said this strategic placement is part of the chapel project's motto: “Hope going in, help going out.”

“This chapel is going to do it — it's going to give these women hope,” Brendle said.

Filling a need

The longtime volunteers said the new 5,000-square-foot chapel isn't just for aesthetics. They said it is needed to deal with overcrowding and climate-control issues.

Sheila Hargis, 40, an inmate from El Reno, said she heard the chapel project might be postponed so she spoke to other inmates about donating their money to the effort. She said large faith services and other classes are generally held in the prison's gymnasium which is not climate-controlled. She said sessions have to be canceled in extremely hot or cold weather.

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by Carla Hinton
Religion Editor
Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide...
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