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Inmates In Philly Prisons Work To Complete Special Gift For Pope

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - When the Holy Father visits the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility next month, he'll be presented with a very special gift.

It's called a Bishop's throne. It's nearly six-feet tall and made with wood from the American Walnut tree. It's ornate, with a tall back with "Pope cross" accents on both the right and left side.

Yet it's design is simplistic, with a single engraved emblem specifically created to signify Pope Francis' Jesuit beginning.

"This chair is unique -- it is one of a kind, it's original," says Blanche Carney, Deputy Commissioner for the Philadelphia Prison System. She runs restorative and transformative programs, including PHILACOR, a program that provides vocation training for inmates.

"We train inmates with viable skills that transfers out into the community," says Carney. "Look at the craftsmanship -- a lot of time and thought went into this."

Learn more about the Bishop's throne on this CBS Philly podcast (trt: 4:50)...



Carney says designer Anthony Newman, who is the assistant director of PHILACOR, studied the Pope to pattern the chair and then supervised ten inmates who cut the wood, created accents, finished the wood and will upholster the seat, back and arms of the chair with white fabric.

"This is a highlight of being incarcerated because I can wake up and say yeah-- I built the pope's chair," says Evan Davis, one of the inmates working on the chair.

Davis, who is from West Philadelphia, is serving time for third degree murder, but he has spent the past two years learning carpentry skills that earned him the job of sanding and staining this special gift to the Holy Father.  He called the task 'heartwarming,' but also a lesson to the world.

"Not everybody that comes to jail one way will leave the same," he says, "they change if they want."


pope chair 3
(Credit: Cherri Gregg)


The chair is expected to be completed in about a week.

About 100 inmates of many faiths will be selected to attend the visit by Pope Francis at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Sunday, September 27th. Five Catholic families of selected inmates will also be in the audience at the request of the Holy Father -- an opportunity Carney says could change lives:

"This is an opportunity that they would never had. In the darkest places sometimes you receive the enlightenment of your faith to say 'maybe this is the sign I need to move on'."

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