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Spreading religious tolerance.

Gayl Edmunds wears two hats: he's the lead volunteer of Native American activities at the El Dorado Correctional Facility (EDCF) in El Dorado, Kan., and he's director of Indian Alcoholism Treatment Services, a community drug and alcohol treatment organization, in Wichita.

Edmunds began volunteering at the facility in 1994, at which time he led a group of volunteers in the establishment of a sweat lodge at EDCF's North Unit. A sweat lodge is a small building with a pit in the center, usually built in a private area, in which Native Americans worship together. The ground is always blessed by a spiritual leader.

"This has been a big deal because Native Americans have not always experienced religious tolerance, particularly in correctional facilities. In fact, we were not considered American citizens until 1924," says Edmunds. "Now with the assistance of understanding administrators, Native Americans can practice the ceremonies and rituals of their religion in Kansas facilities."

The sweat ceremony consists of prayer, reverence and purification, and includes fire, air, earth and water, which are the primary components of life. "Here, native people pray and celebrate the circle of life. It's a connection between the spiritual and physical worlds," says Edmunds.

After the lodges were built, Edmunds provided workshops for staff to help them understand the Native American religion. Since then, Edmunds also has assisted in the placement of sweat lodges at four other correctional facilities.

"Gayl is a workaholic," says Ron Dow, senior clinical chaplain at El Dorado. "We have worked very closely and he has been very valuable to the practice of the Native American faith - not just through resources such as opening sweat lodges - but with helping us to understand the theology and customs."

Edmunds also has helped to organize EDCF's Central Unit's Pow Wow, which is a festival-like celebration of culture filled with song and dance. He serves as a consultant to the Kansas Department of Corrections on Native American issues, and was named the 1997 Volunteer of the Year. Edmunds is humbled by the attention. "I really am pleased, but I'm just one man and so many other people were involved in these accomplishments," he says.

While his Native American activities may seem like a full-time job, Edmunds actually has another one - director of the state-run Indian Alcoholism Treatment Services. As director, Edmunds has accepted several paroled Kansas inmates into his treatment programs. "They get to know us and feel comfortable with us," he says. According to Edmunds, however, treatment is open to all, including those of other religious faiths.

"In treatment, we attack alcohol and drug abuse as well as criminal behavior for those with a criminal history," says Edmunds. He notes that there is a lower recidivism rate for ex-offenders who participate in the treatment programs than for those who don't. For those interested in joining Native American religious ceremonies, Edmunds says there is a sweat lodge less than two blocks away from the center. "We deal with the spiritual, emotional and the physical; it's a holistic approach." In other words, he says, they support habilitation, not just rehabilitation. "This lets them know that people really care about them."

Susan L. Clayton is senior editor of Corrections Today.
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Title Annotation:Best in the Business; corrections Native American services volunteer Gayl Edmunds
Author:Clayton, Susan L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jun 1, 1998
Words:533
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