Coconino Jail builds sweat lodge at inmate's request - FOX Carolina 21

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Coconino Jail builds sweat lodge at inmate's request

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In the shadow of razor wire atop a chain link fence sits the skeleton of the structure. (Source: CBS 5 News) In the shadow of razor wire atop a chain link fence sits the skeleton of the structure. (Source: CBS 5 News)
James Bret  (Source: CBS 5 News) James Bret (Source: CBS 5 News)
FLAGSTAFF, AZ (CBS5) -

It would be easy to give up on life if you spent the day locked away in a cell.  

When James Bret came to Coconino County Jail five years ago, he was determined to change that way of thinking. The detention services coordinator is in charge of religious, educational and recovery programs.           

With more than half the inmates of Native American descent, the sweat lodge has been a long time in the making. 

"It's something that we get a request for fairly often that they want to experience their spirituality," said Bret. 

In the shadow of razor wire atop a chain link fence sits the skeleton of the structure. 

"The opening faces to the east. When we do the sweat those that are participating in it will actually help put the blankets on and the canvas to be a part of the whole service and ceremony," said Bret.           

Believers say those ceremonies can change people's lives. 

Kenneth Lewis didn't always have a job where he wore a suit to work. 

"I was an IV user," said Lewis. 

Now eight years clean, he's the community relations manager with a recovery program in Phoenix called Native American Connections.             

Lewis credits a large part of his recovery to what he experienced inside a sweat lodge. 

"It was new but it was a way that I could connect with myself and with a higher power and once I made that connection I began to make huge strides in my journey.  It's a time to make things right.  To be able to discuss those things, to ask for forgiveness," said Lewis. 

Inside the walls of the Coconino County Jail Bret hopes the fire that will burn in the pit outside the sweat lodge kindles hope.  He wants it to be an experience that will keep inmates from again wandering down the wrong path. 

"Recidivism is a big problem and so any program is always instrumental in helping those people not recidivate and come back," said Bret. 

All total the sweat lodge cost about $2,000.  The majority of that money came from profit made by the commissary and inmate telephone calls.   

Bret told CBS 5 a trained medicine man will lead each ceremony.  Security at the sweat lodge will be tight. There will be extra guards and the ceremony will be under supervision of an armed officer.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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