Privately-funded church being built at state’s largest prison

Published 6:48 am Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The first new building in years is going up at Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman in Sunflower County.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were held Tuesday at Mississippi’s oldest prison but not for a new cellblock. For the first time in the prison’s 120-year history, a church is being built inside prison walls with private funds and inmate labor. The nonprofit Mississippi Prison Chapel Foundation is providing construction money.

The nondenominational, 6,000-square-foot sanctuary will be constructed at Unit 30 and hold 250 people. Services will be conducted by inmate pastors and attendance is voluntary.

The church is part of Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain’s “Moral Rehabilitation” initiative, a 20-year-old program to instill values along with vocational education.
“This is tantamount, very important to real, true rehabilitation with skills and trades and equipped to get a job,” said Cain. With morality in your heart, you’ll be a successful citizen.”

“It gives us inmates hope, something to look forward to,” said inmate Henry Dennis, who has been behind bars for 17 years. “A lot of us come in here thinking all of us has been forgotten, that everybody did away with us. So this is hope for us, new life for us, and this is a symbol of that. With the church being here, it brings that.”

Parchman’s inmate carpenters have their work cut out for them. They’ve got 70 days to finish construction. Commissioner Cain has challenged them to open for Easter morning.