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All-Faith Outdoor Chapel and Meditation Gardens Dedicated at Valley State Prison for Women

Chapel is privately funded, including thousands of dollars donated by inmates
CHOWCHILLA – Today nearly 500 inmates and community members attended a dedication ceremony for a new all-faith, outdoor chapel and meditation garden on the grounds of Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW). The first of its kind in California, the Chapel of Grace will be accessible to all inmate faith groups registered with prison authorities.
“We are delighted that women at VSPW will have such a peaceful and uplifting atmosphere as they seek to turn their lives around,” said Debra Herndon, Associate Director of Female Offender Programs and Services, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The Chapel of Grace has been funded by private donors, including thousands of dollars from VSPW inmates, and will be a gift to the State of California.

“This beautiful place where inmates can go for inspiration is a wonderful addition to Valley State Prison for Women,” said Warden Walter Miller.

Chapel of Grace for Women in Prison, a nonprofit organization, worked in conjunction with CDCR to build an outdoor amphitheater that will seat 400 people. The amphitheater is surrounded by five individual component garden settings that will address specific uses, such as meditation, community, learning and solitude. The Chapel of Grace accommodates an additional 1,000 inmates seated in the lawn incorporated in the surrounding meditation gardens.

“The Chapel of Grace will offer women at VSPW a safe, quiet sacred space where they will be able to hear the still, small voice of God whisper to them as they reconcile their pasts, make peace with their present situations and find hope for their futures,” said James C. Vogelzang, the nonprofit organization’s president.

VSPW’s Long Termer’s Association, a group of women lifers and others serving long-term sentences, donated $4,500. The Coalition for Cultural Awareness gave $3,500. One former inmate who has since been released, Cynthia Gonzales, contributed $1,000. Many other inmates at VSPW contributed $10 to $20 on a regular basis.

“The Chapel of Grace will give inmates the opportunity to have chapel services without limitation of space,” said keynote speaker Pete Untalon, former Chaplain and VSPW’s Community Partnership Manager. “More inmates will have the opportunity to hear inspiring messages providing tools to help break the cycle of recidivism. This is a historical dedication in how community partnerships can contribute to this cause at no cost to the state.”

The vision for a new chapel for VSPW began in 2005 when Untalon visited a number of Texas prisons where private donations funded the building of chapels for inmates. The following year, Vogelzang became involved and launched the program after a 30-year career in the investment management marketing business.

Over the past several years nearly $500,000 was raised in private donations for the design and construction, including thousands of dollars from VSPW inmates. The Chapel was built by Truxell & Valentino Landscape Development, Inc., of Clovis. Isabelle Greene & Associates, Inc., of Santa Barbara served as the primary project design consultant.

First opened in 1995, VSPW functions as a reception center and as a general population institution providing education and vocational opportunities for 3,216 inmates.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

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