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1.800.720.8574308.697.3493sjonson@swnebr.net

Making room for a moral message

As a place in which HCF inmates can honor their mothers, a spiritual life center is proposed.

 

Up above the rotunda of Hutchinson's Correctional Facility Warden Sam Cline is planning a beautiful space where his inmates can honor their mothers.

 

As prisoners listened Thursday night to the plan to pay homage to the women whose hearts they have broken tears streamed down some of the men's cheeks.

Every man incarcerated at Hutchinson Correctional Facility is a mother's son, Cline said.

 

"The women who miss you, the women who do your time with you, we want this room to have a moral message," he said.

 

He told the inmates how natural light would stream into the spiritual life center, to be located in the current second story auditorium in the central unit of the prison.

 

The plan is to renovate the run down space where over the years basketball games were played and Golden Glove boxing matches were held.

 

Cline hopes to raise $1 million to pay for the project. He estimates that 70 percent of that would go for the renovation and toward the focal point of the center which would be an original 6-ft-tall bronze sculpture entitled "The Heart of the Hurt," created by Sondra Jonson, an award winning secular and liturgical artist.

 

The remainder of the money would go for an endowment through Hutchinson Community Foundation who will manage the funds. That money would support future efforts in theatre, music and inmate performances that could be hosted at the facility and made available to the public.

 

But, Cline cautioned that plans are for Hutchinson Correctional Facility's spiritual life center to be built at minimum cost to taxpayers and a maximum benefit to prisoners. He envisions the space returned back to its original stonewalls by early spring. From the bare shell the center would be recreated into a welcoming space for the 13 different faith traditions represented at the prison, plus include office space for chaplains and classrooms. It will be a huge task to raise the money, but Cline knows it's doable without using any state funds. He wants the inmates to help raise money by hosting fundraisers as well as getting the word out to family and friends, through the Website www.theheartofthehurt.org

"We are hoping the beauty of this room will be a contrast to the stark prison world of bars and brick walls," the soft-spoken Cline said. It would become a symbol of where the men have been with their past mistakes moving into a much better place. "This room is for you. Would you like that?"

Third in state

 

When completed, hopefully by Mother's Day 2012, it will be the third spiritual life center at a Kansas prison. But, what will set this apart is the theme of dignity of women.

 

"The mother is the first victim in a life of crime, as she brought the child into this world. This is the first time this level of fine art will be used in prison to convey a moral issue to the men who live there," Cline said.

 

The first spiritual life center was completed at Ellsworth Correctional Facility in 2004.Herbie Harris, a prison chaplain has watched, as the freestanding, 16-sided structure has become the hub of the facility.

 

Harris said Hutchinson's center could be dreamed into reality just as Ellsworth's center was. It's the calm at the center of the prison.. Everything in the prison revolves around this 16-sided building which was what Ray Roberts, warden at the time, had envisioned.

 

Roberts has gone on to be warden at El Dorado's correctional facility, which opened their spiritual life center this past spring.

Harris arrived at Ellsworth in 2002 and saw a couple block walls and cement floor for the center and began raising funds through church presentations and visiting with businesses, he also wrote for grants, and noted one person made a donation of $100,000.

 

"Prison is a chaotic place," Harris said. " When they come over here it's a place of solace. We treat them as human beings and we do a lot, we encourage them. We want to transform their hearts and their behavior will change. We have had tremendous results because of it."

 

"This center makes prison a heck of a lot more bearable, not just for the inmates but the staff, volunteers and even provides safety for the community," Harris said. "I can watch inmates and know the men who dedicate themselves over, very few of them come back compared to the revolving door we hear about. I get letters and phone calls from guys from all over the country who have gotten out telling me they are doing well.

In both projects the prisoners were actively involved in the fundraising and construction and that will be the same in Hutchinson's remodel, said Lynn McBride, executive director of Central Kansas Prison Ministry. He just worked hard to complete El Dorado's center and is ready to help tackle the job in Hutchinson.

 

"This will be a remodel taking a building built in 1885 and will be tearing out the stage and balcony, making it energy efficient and adding a handicap elevator," McBride said.

 

At El Dorado the cost of the center was cut from $3 million to $1.1 million because of the inmates construction work.

 

"Inside the prison walls you'll find some of the best contractors," McBride said, but they get involved with drugs or some other crime and end up in prison. "We don't want them to get paroled until we get the project finished. The guys who do the labor take real ownership."

 

With 108 different churches donating to the El Dorado center, McBride believes Hutchinson's churches and businesses will want to be a part of the new center.

 

Warden Johnnie Goddard, at Ellsworth Correctional Facility said the spiritual life center is the first thing inmates see when they come out of the cell house. Programs are held there regularly.

 

"In the evening it's better for security," Goddard said. "There are 1,000 great things about it. And it was all built 100 percent by inmate labor and donations. The people in Hutch understand the need. You have a warden willing and the need is there and you already have a building. It's a wonderful project."

 

According to research completed on prison fellowship programs in several New York correctional facilities inmates who attended at least 10 Bible-study sessions during their prison term were 66 percent less likely to break the law once they returned to the "free -world." Research by Byron Johnson of Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas, also revealed fewer returns to prison, and inmates gaining hope and meaning in their lives because of prison fellowship.

 

Inmates will have ownership

 

Back in the auditorium Thursday night at HCF, inmates were examining Jonson's clay model of three generations of women broken by a son in prison. They marveled at the detail of Jonson's work down to the laces on the mother's shoes as she hugged her daughter-in-law while a small girl hung onto the mother's skirt - a family minus its man. The sculpture spoke to Phillip, who didn't have permission to give his last name.

"All the things they go through to comfort us kids," Phillip said, shaking his head as he thought of his mother. "They are always with us."

 

Jonson told the inmates she, too, was a mother of three sons.

"A mother is never far from her child's pain," she said. "You're still your mom's babies."

 

Exuding passion for "the Heart of the Hurt," this is the artist's first prison commission. She was so amazed when she first met Cline at a church conference and he explained his idea of hurting women and having a concern for the spiritual welfare of his inmates. As Cline spoke the image of the sculpture came into Jonson's mind.

 

"The mother is grieving so much, but she is comforting the daughter-in-law and the little girl is lost," Jonson said. "Each is suffering."

 

Recognizing there aren't a lot of outlets in the prison to create, an inmate named Joseph said he would love to work on the renovation.

 

Cline said renovating the room would be an opportunity to host public events, where the prisoners have concerts, plays and even speech contests.

 

"This room is meaningless unless we're busy," he said.

 

The Hutchinson News
November 20, 2010
By Kathy Hanks

(Travis Morisse/The Hutchinson News)

 

Sondra Jonson talks to the crowd about her inspirations for “The Heart of the Hurt” sculpture

 

Thursday during a presentation at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

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Sondra Jonson

www.sljonsonstudios.com

716 Nelson St

Cambridge, NE 69022

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