PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- Nearly 800 inmates call the Pender Correctional Institution home. Although it's just a temporary stop for most, prison leaders and the community have come together to build what they hope will make a lasting impression.
"God couldn't get our attention out there, so what did he do? He sat us down, and this is a very good place that you can get to know him," inmate James Hill said. "If you didn't do what he had you do out there, then in here, he can talk to you because you can't run."
Hill was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced in 1999 to life without parole. He says he knows he was disobedient to God and is paying the consequences, but he's making the best of it. He says he knows he's at Pender Correctional Institution for a reason: to encourage the other inmates.
He's been working as the chapel clerk at the prison since 2001. He is excited ground has been broken on the project five years in the making.
"We don't want them leaving out of here the same way they came in," chaplain Jimmy Joseph said. "If they go out the way they came in, they are going to be a problem. They are going to be doing what they were doing before, and so we are trying to change their hearts."
Right now, the prison's religious center is housed in a 20' by 24' classroom, but in about six months, it'll move to its new home: a building that's more than 4,000 square feet.
"The community has done this," said the prison's assistant superintendent Bryan Wells. "This didn't come from taxpayer money. It came from taxpayers, but they donated. They gave their time, they gave their money, they gave their services."
Hill said, "They're like God. They look past our faults and see our real needs. We all need a new beginning in life."
Seventy-four area churches and 88 individuals across the country donated to the chapel effort. The North Carolina Baptist Men are providing all labor free of charge.