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An answer to inmates' prayers. (Best in the Business).

Chaplain Earl Bell, a pastor from 1979 until 1992 -- first in Kentucky and later in Virginia and Arizona -- began working part-time at the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) Frankfort Career Development Center (FCDC) in 1997. "I have a belief that everyone needs at least a second chance," says Bell. As prison chaplain, his main objective is to ensure that when inmates leave FCDC to re-enter society, they have had a chance to take Jesus with them.

FCDC is a 205-bed minimum-security male facility located in Frankfort. The majority of inmates are assigned to the Governmental Services Program work detail to provide a supplemental labor force for governmental agencies in the state capital. The prison employs inmates in a variety of jobs in the hopes that they will use those skills and work habits after finishing their prison terms. Bell coordinates the center's Christian worship and discipleship programs. "We've found that inmates who participate in some kind of non-self-centered programs like regular worship are 70 percent less likely to return to prison," he says. "They're better able to cope, to rebuild broken bridges, to handle the guilt when they return to life on the outside."

Before the completion of FCDC's chapel last August, "our worship area was very poor and inadequate," Bell says. In 1999, he received permission from the warden to raise money for erection of the chapel and also secured written permission from the DOC commissioner with the provision that the inmates build the chapel. "We agreed that construction would not begin until funds were completed," Bell explains. "It took 10 months to raise the money and then the construction of the chapel began." Through churches, individuals and foundations, more than $85,000 was collected.

Attendance at worship services and educational activities has more than doubled, Bell points out. "From 2000 to 2001, I averaged 18 inmates per service," he says. Since the construction of the chapel, he now averages 44 inmates. Bell's greatest source of satisfaction at FCDC is when an inmate makes a public decision to ask God to come into his life and help him find a new way to live. "Also, being there to comfort [him] when there is a personal crisis," he adds.

Bell's day begins with a period of time for prayer and Bible study. "I make myself available to counsel with inmates and to be there for them if they have questions or problems," he says. A lot of time and prayer go into the preparation for the services, Bible study and choir rehearsals, says Bell. And FCDC has 24 Christian groups or preachers who assist with worship on Friday and Sunday evenings. He spends approximately eight to 10 hours each week counseling men who are dealing with sickness or death in the family, or having adjustment problems. "Their problems are just like those of others, but the difference is they're incarcerated -- and that's quite a difference," he says. "My biggest challenge is helping men to mature in their faith through Bible study and improving their bad 'street' language," Bell says. He also would like to complete the chapel library with adequate books and religious videos.

"Chaplain Bell is an extremely dedicated and committed individual," says FCDC Warden James B. Mitchell. "He is concerned not only with the religious programs, but also the well-being of staff, inmates and the community. His tireless efforts recently resulted in attendance records being surpassed at Easter sunrise services. Eleven inmates were baptized Easter night with their parents and families in attendance. The Kentucky DOC is very fortunate to employ the services of a man so committed to positively changing lives."

Jennifer L. Harry is associate editor of Corrections Today.
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Title Annotation:Chaplain Earl Bell, Frankfort Career Development Center
Author:Harry, Jennifer L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Words:613
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