Spirituality flourishes in Kingman prison - East Valley Tribune: Spirituallife

Spirituality flourishes in Kingman prison

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Posted: Saturday, June 7, 2008 6:15 pm | Updated: 11:29 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

LAKE HAVASU CITY - Wayne Bayse, 59, isn't your typical prison chaplain. Then again, the Arizona state prison in Kingman isn't your ordinary prison.

"There's prisons, and then there's this place," Bayse said. "I'm here because this is not your standard prison."

When trying to win over skeptical prisoners to a life of faith, Bayse has something of an edge over other chaplains.

"I don't just preach this, I eat, sleep and breathe it," he said.

Bayse is a former inmate, a former drug addict who served hard time in California after a botched robbery of a Coco's restaurant in Los Angeles.

"I took four hostages and was captured by the SWAT team," Bayse said.

Then 38, Bayse was booked into Los Angeles County Jail and placed in a cell next to Richard Ramirez, the notorious serial killer known as the "Night Stalker."

"I looked out, and I knew who he was, but I didn't know who I was," he said.

Locked up in a California state prison, Bayse turned to religion, which helped him stay clean after his release.

For the next 15 years, he worked as a volunteer chaplain in some of California's worst prisons.

Now, as if coming full circle, he recently found employment as a chaplain at Arizona's newest state prison in Kingman, a minimum-security facility mostly filled with nonviolent offenders.

With a stated goal of providing the treatment and training inmates need to rebuild their lives after release, the Kingman facility offers a wide variety of educational and rehabilitation programs, from high-school equivalency classes to alcohol and drug treatment.

"This is a psychological, spiritual healing ground," Bayse said.

The facility's inmates, many of whom have served time in a wide spectrum of prisons, call it a special place, where dozens of volunteers from a wide spectrum of religious faiths interact with prisoners every week.

"There's no prison like this in Arizona," said inmate Jose Orlando Cordero, 48. "They're touching minds and they're touching hearts."

During his time in Kingman, Cordero became an ordained minister, leading prayer groups within the prison. After his release, he plans to continue his ministry work.

"I was criminally minded. I was a gang leader," Cordero said. "Now I'm working for the Lord."

Inmate Ivan Owens, 48, has done time in some of the country's toughest prisons, including California's notorious San Quentin. He called the Kingman prison a unique place, where prayer and faith was breaking down racial boundaries.

"Don't get the wrong idea, this isn't a perfect place. This is prison," he said. "But there are people from different walks of life and cultures who come to me in my pod and sit on my bunk. This is taboo in prison - a Mexican isn't supposed to sit on a black guy's bunk. But people respect me because of the Lord."

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