The new Chapel of Grace Outdoor Sanctuary

FRESNO, Calif.

Private funding has provided a means of rehabilitation within the prison walls. Just like the words to the hymn, it's a new season at Valley State Prison for Women. The largest women's prison in the world now has lush green grass, trees, and a trickling fountain right in the middle of barbed wire and concrete.

Chapel of Grace Outdoor Sanctuary and Gardens began five years ago when Chaplain Pete Untelon took a trip to Texas.

Untelon said, "I went to Gatesville Texas there at the women's prison with about 1500 women, saw a chapel that was built, and it was built by private funds, and I came back with that vision."

Private donors and the inmates themselves raised $500 thousand over five years to make the vision a reality.

One inmate, Marta Ulen said, "It's unbelievable! Who would think, in a place like this, that we would have such beauty!"

Ulen has been at the prison for 13 years after she was convicted of killing four people in a drunk driving accident. She says it was the faith and prayer she found inside a small chapel that helped heal her inside and out. The chapel holds only 120 inmates. The prison population stands at just under 4000. A wide open outdoor sanctuary can accommodate hundreds of women of all faiths.

In the age of budget cuts and lay-offs, the State Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is grateful for the gift.

Associate Director Debra Herndon said, "For them to feel free and worship in an atmosphere like this it's just an awesome experience for these women. We're hoping they'll find healing, restoration and some comfort."

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