Hutchinson — Natural light now trickles into the second story auditorium at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility.
Boarded up for decades, workers recently broke through the encasement and limestone. They are preparing for new energy-efficient windows to be installed in the Spiritual Life Center at HCF, which will be a place of worship for inmates of all faiths and creeds.
Since plans for the center were first announced in November, deconstruction and fundraising have been happening at a steady clip.
A choir of minimum-security prisoners has visited area churches sharing their talent in an effort to raise funds. Moreover, inmates have raised $12,738 through special fundraising events that allow them to order out meals on certain occasions.
A local musical church group is making a CD to sell as a fundraiser for the center, with their efforts funded by a recent Tri-Catholic community garage sale.
The next big event is Saturday, when the Spiritual Life Center will host a poker run. Registration is at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of HCF's main facility, 500 S. Reformatory Road. Participants will travel around Cheney Lake, to Kingman, Arlington and Nickerson. Back at the prison, lunch and tours inside the facility's rotunda will be offered. The tour will include the space being transformed into the Spiritual Life Center and prison living quarters.
"People are curious what goes on behind those limestone walls," said Jim Reeves, chief of security and organizer of the poker run. He encourages those interested, even if they aren't participating in the run, to come tour the facility on Saturday.
Other fundraising continues.
"We have an anonymous donor who agreed to match dollar-for-dollar of his own money up to $125,000, making the total $250,000," said Sam Cline, HCF's warden.
Every dollar coming in helps the estimated $1 million project and is derived totally from donations. Cline said 70 percent of the amount will go for renovation and toward the focal point of the center, an original 6-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a grieving mother, wife and daughter of an unnamed inmate. It will serve as a reminder for the inmates of how their actions have hurt others in their lives. "The Heart of the Hurt" was created by Sondra Jonson, an award-winning secular and liturgical artist.
Despite the progress made in the past six months, Cline wishes things were happening faster.
"We're getting more people involved. But I would love for someone to hand us a bucket of money," Cline said. "You have to be patient with what God sends you. I'm used to having things on my schedule. I am learning some virtue myself."
On a recent hot afternoon, several inmates worked on tall scaffolding on the outside of the open window high above the prison yard. Columbia Windows of Lindsborg has taken measurements and is currently building the four large arched windows at a cost of $7,500.
"I can see over the wall," John Neu said, happy with the assignment that allows him a rare view beyond the prison.
The rundown auditorium, which once drew crowds for Golden Glove boxing matches and basketball games, has been gutted. The stage and balcony have been torn down and cleared out of the room, all by prison laborers.
"It's like opening a cave," said Berry Larson, deputy warden of programs, as she surveyed the work in progress.