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Extreme makeover


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POSTED: Saturday, November 08, 2008

People may attend services tomorrow in cozy chapels, magnificent churches or multimedia-enhanced auditoriums, but none will be happier about their worship space than the residents of the Women's Community Correctional Center.

Donors, volunteers and inmates contributed to a $100,000 extreme makeover of the prison chapel, a 30-by-70-foot room amid a quadrangle of classrooms at Maunawili Cottage on the Kailua grounds.

Two air-conditioning units, state-of-the-art sound equipment, keyboard and video screen, 70 padded folding chairs, tall storage cabinets—they're all new.

So are the desks and computer in the chaplain office, 200 Bibles, a wooden cross, office supplies—and the list goes on.

The walls are glowing with fresh coats of paint, the work of the women in the Total Life Recovery program.

The ceramic tiles on the floor were donated and installed by a contractor, as was the electrical rewiring.

There's a story behind the tiles, and several people told it to each other at the dedication celebration Oct. 29.

Before the tiles were laid, many of the women wrote their prayers and favorite scriptural passages with ink markers on the floor surface. "Now when we are in the chapel, we are standing on His word," said Maanaima Utu, one of several prison residents to participate in the festivities.

The new chapel was "unveiled" at a party at which about 50 volunteers, donors and supporters were thanked by the inmates and prison officials. A gourmet dinner—crab wonton, shrimp Nicoise salad, chicken bouche, peach flan—was prepared and served by inmates training in a culinary arts program offered by Kapiolani Community College. The crowd was entertained with hula by women in the Hina Mauka program, Christian interpretive dance by women in the Total Life Recovery program and testimony by several inmates.

"This chapel says to the women, 'God and somebody else care about me,'" said the Rev. Bonnie Holcombe, who has been chaplain at the women's facility for eight years and a nondenominational Christian missionary for 38 years. "It tells them they are not out of sight, out of mind, that no one cares about them. When they see this, it touches their lives.

"This is an accumulation of community effort."

Holcombe said people from many churches come in to conduct religious services, lead Bible studies and minister to inmates. "We minister to the women and to their families. When there is sickness or something that happens in their families, I am the one who gets to love them."

The energizer behind the makeover project was Tammy Turcios, a chaplain with New Hope Windward Christian Fellowship, who came to the prison as a counselor with the Total Life Recovery program, a faith-based rehabilitation program that teaches parenting, life skills, budgeting, financial training and other skills to live—and stay—outside the prison fence.

Turcios formed a New Hope WCCC branch last year and now packs a crowd into New Hope services at the facility. The Windward church made a video of the prison ministry that was shown throughout the New Hope network in what Turcios calls "casting the vision to the church." Donors came forward and contributions began to flow.

Holcombe told the crowd about how it all started three years earlier when "God sent us an architect": Marisol DeNunzio, wife of an Army officer, drew up the plans that gave the contractors and the state Department of Public Safety something solid to work with.

Rita Hall, a professional counselor who has volunteered at the prison for 10 years, paid for the paint. She is part of the prison ministry of St. Anthony Church in Kailua, which comes in for weekly Bible study and rosary.

Working with the WCCC women "is a great joy and a great blessing," Hall said. "You get so much more back than you give when you volunteer. This is one of the most rewarding things I've done."

Christina Riley said she has attended services at the prison since 2000, and said, "I remember sweating in the chapel, sitting on chairs that were ripped and dirty."

"You volunteers are the answer to many prayers," Riley told the crowd. "Behind these walls, you feel lost and alone. God loves us through you. We see God through all of you."

Riley told of a service at the chapel after her father died. "We had a healing and closure service here. My family was awed and amazed at how beautiful it is. The feeling when you enter the chapel, the energy is so awesome, so much positive, powerful energy."

Warden Mark Patterson told the visitors: "We want to put a face on WCCC, to change the stereotype and the label people put on us. This place needs to have a vision of transformation and the love of the community. It's important for the women to see you here. They know someone cares about them."