Volunteers are honored at Patuxent Institution


After years of bringing spiritual and uplifting messages to Patuxent Institution, about 30 volunteers were honored for the first time yesterday at the maximum security prison in Jessup.

The volunteers from about 20 Maryland religious and self-help groups received certificates of thanks from prison officials. About 75 people offer hours of support, prayer and counseling every month.

"We are so grateful to have you here today. Without your dedication, we could not make this work," Chaplain Lena B. Banks said. "We're helping the downtrodden and those who have gone the other way, and you're helping bring them back." A volunteer herself for 15 years before joining the staff three years ago, she said she had wanted to thank volunteers formally.

Some at the ceremony said they volunteer as part of their jobs as clergy members, and others volunteer under the banners of self-help organizations simply because doing so makes them feel good.

"I've never felt like I gave. . . . You receive far more than you give: spiritual strength, fulfillment," said Ed Brannon, a retired shoe salesman who has offered church service and Bible study to inmates for 18 years.

Volunteer Appreciation Day 1995 began with a tour of the Patuxent Institution, the state's primary rehabilitation facility where inmates can be treated for mental illness.

Prisoners in the "Reasoned Straight" program, in which inmates show others how they live in hopes of discouraging behavior leading to incarceration, led the tour.

While walking past dormitories that house at least 25 to a room, 9-foot cells with bunk beds, and exercise facilities with battered weight machines, some volunteers ran into inmates they'd worked with. "Hi, Carl!" the Rev. Jo West of Heritage Church of God in Severn called to one inmate. Later, she hugged another.

Prison warden Archie C. Gee said many of the 987 inmates have come to rely on the religious services, classes, individual counseling and substance abuse recovery support groups. "I know they thank you," he said during an assembly afterward. "They're looking forward to when you come up."

One inmate who has served nine years of a 40-year sentence for rape, said he depends on the visits of John and Pearl Highsmith of Baltimore, who began coming to Patuxent four years ago to lead a men's choir.

He is one of 15 members in "The Voice of Freedom" choir which sings on Sunday nights. "I guess in here, we all need to be uplifted in some kind of way," the 32-year-old inmate said.

Mr. Highsmith, 62, a retired janitor who was appointed Ambassador of Gospel Music in Maryland, said it took 15 years to start the choir. And now, "they can't wait to get to rehearsal," the volunteer said.

Aisha Pleasant-Bey of the Moorish Science Temple of America has offered character-building classes for 17 years. She felt "very much honored," by the ceremony. It made her feel compassion (( for how inmates live, and made her strive to see that once they are released they don't come back, she said.

Some volunteers said thanks were secondary to the joy of service. But Saundra Lumpkin, 38, who volunteers with Full Gospel AME Zion Church in Temple Hills, said nonetheless, a little acknowledgment goes a long way. "There's a lot of labor put forth in volunteer ministry," she said, "and it's nice when those receiving can stop and say 'Thank you.' That really is a blessing."

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