Public donations help build chapel at state prison in Spartanburg County

State prison inmates in Spartanburg County now have a place to worship, pray and spiritually rehabilitate. It’s all thanks to donations from the community and a
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 7:24 PM EST
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - State prison inmates in Spartanburg County now have a place to worship, pray and spiritually rehabilitate. It’s all thanks to donations from the community and across the state.

The new chapel is located at Tyger River Correctional Institute in Enoree. It’s a place inmates have been pushing for and a retired state supreme court justice made it happen.

“I used to come down here before the pandemic, with a team from my church and hold services in the multi-purpose building, which is right across the sidewalk here,” retired South Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice E.C. Burnett III said.

Justice Burnett is the type of judge who got to know the people in the court system. After a conversation with one inmate, he realized a make-shift worship area wasn’t ideal. One day he asked that inmate where he goes to pray.

“The only place that he found that he could pray was a bathroom,” Burnett said. “Still after all these years it’s an emotional thing for me to think about that.”

He knew something had to change and started meeting with people at Tyger River Correctional Institute to build a chapel. Jake Gadsen is the deputy director of programs for reentry and rehabilitation services at the SC Department of Corrections. He says construction like this requires a lot of security checks and planning.

“It’s a very difficult task, you have to account for every tool,” Gadsden said. “You have to make sure every piece of equipment is accounted for and moved out of the facility every night. So it’s not just coming in and leaving like they would say, in building your home.”

But they all knew the impact of a chapel could reach far beyond the walls of the prison.

“There is a lot of research about how faith is involved in someone’s successful reentry into society,” Gadsden said.

Burnett has seen that change first hand. He recalled a man who was in prison for 15 years. When the inmate was released he joined Burnett’s church as a new man.

“If you didn’t know his history you wouldn’t know he ever was in prison,” Justice Burnett said. “You would think he went to the seminary.”

He says no matter where these men come from or what crime they committed the chapel helps show them the light to redemption.

The total cost to build this chapel was about $1 million and leaders say it was all funded through public donations. About $9,000 was from inmates themselves. Leaders say it was a huge community effort.