MCLOUD — Inmates and volunteers worked side-by-side Tuesday to build a new prison chapel at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
The chapel construction project at the state's maximum-security prison for women is funded through private donations from churches and individuals across Oklahoma and other states. The project, coordinated through a faith-based group called World Mission Builders, took several years to bring to fruition.
The Rev. Charles Freyder, a chaplain at the prison, said many inmates wanted to help build the chapel and they could hardly contain their excitement.
“To watch the walls and the rafters go up within a two- or three-day period has been awesome,” Freyder said.
“It's a beautiful sight.”
Inmate Nina Walker, 39, of Altus, agreed.
“It's the most amazing experience for many of us here in Mabel Bassett,” she said. “It just makes our hearts soar.”
The Rev. Joe Wilson, domestic coordinator for World Mission Builders, said the chapel project is ahead of schedule thanks to the diligent work of more than 50 volunteers and a group of dedicated inmates. Groundbreaking for the chapel was held on Aug. 22 and the foundation was poured Sept. 3. Wilson said the walls were erected Monday. The trusses were raised Tuesday.
Wilson, of Enid, said the chapel will include classrooms, offices, a library and baptistery. He said the prison at Mabel Bassett is the fifth built through an “old fashioned barn-raising” effort, costing about $500,000 in funding and in-kind goods and services. He said the project lacks $100,000, and he is seeking a brick layer and donations of red brick and a roof.
He said he is not worried about donations because numerous people have already come together to see the project get this far. Wilson said the volunteers building the chapel will live out of their recreational vehicles parked near the prison's maintenance area until the project is complete. He said he has been impressed with the dedication of the inmates who have worked alongside volunteers to see the chapel take shape.
“They have been willing to get dirty, to help clear the ditches, to pour the cement and carry the walls,” Wilson said.
Tom Harper of Oklahoma City's Forest Hills Christian Church and Ron Boyer of Community Christian Church in Durant were among the volunteers who worked on the chapel framework Tuesday.
“This is an example of how you can demonstrate your faith rather than just talking about (it),” Boyer said of the project.
Inmate Walker said she is serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking. Prison officials said she is one of the inmates who has helped with religious and educational programs now held in the prison's gymnasium, and one of the many inmates who contributed to the more than $5,000 raised for the chapel from inside the facility.
Tuesday, she said the new chapel will be a welcome sight for women new to the prison.
“As they come into the facility on the bus, it's going to give them something different to see,” Walker said. “It's going to give them hope. It's going to give them life.”
Chaplain Freyder said as excited as the inmates have been since the foundation was poured, he expects even more enthusiasm from them at a critical point of the project.
“To me, the crown will be when they put the steeple on it,” Freyder said. “Right now, it looks like just another building on the compound, but when that steeple goes up, everyone will know what it is.”