Newsletter December 2022
From the project’s inception we knew that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) required that we raise 80% of the estimated cost of the project before their review and approval process would begin. We met that goal in October 2020 and began to address TDCJ’s requirements as they presented them. This back-and-forth exchange took 21 months to negotiate and culminated with a written Notice to Proceed on July 25, 2022.
While this was glorious news and allowed us to have our groundbreaking ceremony, it came with the sobering reality that the actual costs would far exceed the estimated costs. There are several reasons for this:
Our original budget of $1,132,000 in October 2020 was based on soft bids in the first year of the Covid epidemic. Also, at that time, we were working with limited information from TDCJ. We did our best to estimate costs for areas which were not yet designed, such as site utilities, elevation, fencing, HVAC, civil engineering, as well as plumbing and electrical tie-ins. During the approval process we saw that TDCJ changes would cost more than a typically constructed commercial building.
Our board increased the estimated cost by $500,000 until we had a finalized set of approved engineered plans to send out for new hard bids. We had $1,600,000 in the bank by the end of 2021, we had paid $44,000 in engineer and design costs, and TDCJ was slowly working on their final changes.
It took seven more months to complete their process. During 21 months of working with TDCJ to uncover and address their specifications, material and labor costs had increased drastically for all building projects. While we hope the slowing economy will work in our favor, we realize that time is of the essence. The Halbert women urgently need a designated place to worship, grow and heal.
- Our most recent October 2022 bids are coming in at $2,352,000, based on the final approved plans. The problem is that this bid will be out of date by the time you read this. To begin work as planned in the first quarter of 2023 we need a miracle. As we write this letter, we have $1,650,500 in the bank and have paid all engineering fees. If it takes longer to raise the necessary funds, we may see even more cost increases.
Your generous financial support has brought us this far. In 2018 when we started this project, we spent the first two years telling the story: “Did you know there’s a women’s prison in Burnet? It’s a Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and the women are there for a 6-month program. These women have an average of 4 children each. Most of them are first offenders. They are desperate for a permanent change in their lives. They are starving for the Word of God. There are women on waiting lists, hoping to attend a Bible study, worship service or faith-based class, but they are often turned away due to lack of space.”
God has shown us that this is His project, and He will see it unto completion. He has also shown us that He is able to nudge hearts to give. We humbly ask you to participate in a big push to the finish line. Please consider providing additional financial support. Tell others about this God-sized mission field in our own backyard and forward our website link to your friends and family. We appreciate your prayers and donations of any size.
Joseph’s Hammer Board of Directors
Actual site of the new Worship Center.
Digging in to mark the spot!
During the 21-month approval process with TDCJ, the cost of the project has risen by $700,000. No bulldozers will begin until additional funds are raised.
Ellen Halbert: "I always envisioned a chapel here."
Notice to Proceed
Please keep Joseph's Hammer in your prayers as we get final bids after numerous changes during a 21 month process.
Paige Lechler speaking
100 Man Give a Damn Highland Lakes, September 30th, Save The World Brewery.
100 Man Give a Damn Highland Lakes, September 30th, Save The World Brewery.
However, today, Joseph's Hammer has raised over a million dollars, hired a general contractor, and completed architectural plans that are currently awaiting final approval from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
If you aren't familiar with this prison, the Ellen Halbert Unit is a substance abuse felony punishment facility where women go for a 6 to 8 month treatment program.
Over a thousand women come through the Halbert Unit each year, but only a handful of these women have the opportunity to participate in worship services and Bible studies due to the limited amount of space in makeshift classrooms.
These women come into the prison having suffered from abuse, neglect, addiction, dysfunctional homes, and so much more. They are lost and broken, angry, fearful and wary of the world. If they leave prison unchanged, then nothing has been accomplished.
However, if these women have a place to worship and are given the opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ, to meet volunteers who can be Jesus with skin on to them, and to open their hearts to the life changing power of our Lord and Savior, then the possibility of change is drastically increased.
When a woman's heart is changed, that transformation can then be shared with her children, grandchildren, extended family, and community.
In one Bible study, I met a 19-year-old who had already attempted suicide because she thought that her arrest for narcotics and jail time had ruined her life. She needed to find redemption and new life in Jesus Christ.
Another woman had no self worth and depended on the prison for a bed, clothes, and three hot meals a day. She needed to find her identity in Jesus, to realize that God had a plan for her life, and that with His strength and guidance, she could survive and thrive outside prison walls.
A mother of 6, a former successful pharmaceutical sales rep, was filled with guilt for failing as a mother -for letting down her children and her mother who was now responsible for raising 6 grandchildren.
This woman needed to know that she was forgiven, that she could be rehabilitated, and that she could go home and create a Christian environment for her family.
These women are paying their debt to society, but if they have not changed by the end of their sentence, it is highly likely that they will return to prison. Without God, prison is nothing but time and punishment.
Only God can stop the power of addiction. Only God can stop the cycle of neglect and abuse. Only God can restore lives, families and relationships. Only God can change hearts.
If you have followed Joseph's Hammer on Facebook or visited the website, you have probably read some of the ladies' testimonies whose lives have been changed, but we need to reach as many women as possible as they pass through these prison doors.
Psalm 142:7 says, “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.
Joseph's Hammer is so close to breaking ground, but we still need money to cover the increased cost of building materials caused by Covid over the past year and a half.
We are so close - so close! You could help us meet our goal so that we can break ground this year and give the women at the Halbert Unit a place to meet their Heavenly Father who can change their lives forever.
Thank you! We appreciate your prayers and support.
Prison Worship Center being reviewed by State engineers
The State of Texas built the prison in the 90’s but ran out of funds before a Chapel was built. For over 25 years, volunteers have been gathering in cramped classrooms to worship, offer Bible Studies and lead faith-based classes for these women.
Joseph’s Hammer, the non-profit formed in 2018, is nearing their goal to break ground on the new worship center at the Ellen Halbert women’s prison in Burnet. “We are extremely grateful for the generosity that we have already experienced,” said director Paige Lechler. “Of the $1,100,000 proposed for the project, $200,000 is still needed.
Thank You Jerome Rugen and Delineations Design!
Joseph's Hammer board members stop by to thank Jerome Rugen of Delineations Designs. Rugen, his partner Curtis Fish, and engineers Ron Kruhl and Henry Romo gave generously of their time and resources to complete the final plans for the Ellen Halbert Women's Prison Worship Center in Burnet.
"This project will impact thousands of women for years to come. We want it to be functional but beautiful," said board member Helen Smith. "The worship center, which will include a sports court/worship area plus classrooms and a chaplain's office, must look similar to the other prison buildings on the outside. But when the women walk through the doors to worship and learn, we want them to know they are entering a safe place where hearts can heal."
Joseph's Hammer had to raise over 80% of the projected cost of the worship center before they could submit the final plans to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and start the building process. The estimated cost of the worship center is $1,100,000.
The plans have been sent to TDCJ, but approximately $275,000 is still needed to complete the project due to the rising cost of construction and building materials. The organization hopes to secure these funds as soon as possible to keep the final cost of the project at a minimum. To donate or find out more, go to www.josephshammer.org.
Hill Country Fellowship Ministry Fair
Joseph's Hammer has now raised over $621,000 for the project and still has $150,000 in matching funds available.
Hill Country Fellowship Ministry Fair on September 20th and 27th 2020
Dan S. Britton
Hill Country Fellowship
Pastor of Equipping and Apologetics
200 Houston Clinton Drive
Burnet, TX 78611
512-756-8796 (Church Office)
Joseph’s Hammer Reaches Half Million Mark
The Fall Graduating Class and Teachers - December 7, 2019
Joseph's Hammer presented to a room full of ladies who braved the sleet for the Delta Kappa Gamma in Burnet on November 11, 2019.
Bobbie Sue Petrick (left) and Vicki Morrison checked out the plans for the worship center at the Halbert Unit in Burnet.
Epsilon Pi Chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha
First Baptist Church Marble Falls Ministry Fair
“Yeah, I guess that’s right,” Stevenson said with a laugh.
Joseph’s Hammer’s only goal is to raise enough money to build a chapel at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Ellen Halbert Unit, a women’s prison in Burnet. Each year, approximately 1,100 women pass through the substance abuse felony punishment facility.
100 Man Give A Damn Picks Joseph's Hammer as its Latest Charity - September 25, 2019
Volunteer Appreciation Dinner for the Ellen Halbert Unit Volunteers on August 23, 2019
Pictured are: Pam Stevenson, Warden Moore, and Helen Smith
Helen Smith on KBey – July 16, 2019
Helen Smith with Joseph's Hammer stopped by the KBEY studio this morning to tell us about their effort to raise $600,000 to build an 8,000-sqft chapel facility for faith-based classes and related activities at the women's prison in Burnet.Listen to "Joseph's Hammer needs your help" on Spreaker.
Sip, Pop & Shop Fundraiser - June 6, 2019
Be The Light: HUB Radio Network June 5, 2019
Randall and Janett Parsons interview Pam Stevenson of the Joseph’s Hammer prison ministryListen to "Joseph's Hammer" on Spreaker.
Building Bridges and a Chapel - November 15, 2018
Ten years ago, Horseshoe Bay residents Dave and Helen Smith were invited to attend a graduation at the Ellen Halbert Women's Prison in Burnet by John Sage, a high school friend of Dave's who created Bridges to Life, a faith based program designed to bring healing to victims of crime, reduce recidivism, and help make communities safer.
Helen Smith recalls that first visit to prison. “I went into the prison scared. All I knew about prison was what I had seen on TV. When I saw the women open up with such sincerity and hope for a future of transformation, I was hooked.” Helen facilitated her first BTL program the next year. Dave joined the team a year later. The Smiths have been the backbone of the BTL program at Halbert as facilitators with the participants and mentors to new volunteers.
Five years ago, while HSB resident Laura Koby was looking for meaningful work “outside her comfort zone,” she ran into Helen Smith at the grocery store. As Smith told Koby about her work as a BTL facilitator, Koby knew she had found her calling. Over the years, Koby has seen the transformation that occurs when “the light turns on” for BTL participants as they take responsibility for their actions, and their future. Now the team leader for BTL at Halbert, Koby says the BTL facilitators at Halbert have a camaraderie with one another and the inmates in their groups. “We hear gut-wrenching stories and meaningful feedback from the ladies in a confidential, trusted setting.”
Each session of the 14 week Bridges to Life program focuses on a single word and its meaning to the life of offenders and to crime victims. With their study guides in hand and their homework completed, the inmates and their volunteer leaders, called “facilitators,” engage in conversation about the topic of the week. From accountability to confession, from repentance to responsibility, from forgiveness to reconciliation – the weekly gatherings enable the ladies to learn from their past and prepare for their future re-entry into society.
Bringing victims of crime together with offenders in the presence of a facilitator is core to BTL. The Ellen Halbert Unit is a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility housing female offenders with six to nine month sentences for drug or alcohol related crimes. According to Deborah Hartman, Central Texas Regional Coordinator for BTL, “there are no victim-less crimes, every crime has a victim.” Even low level drug dealers and repeat driving while intoxicated offenders “hurt society and often harm specific individuals, including themselves.”
Hartman said most of the women at Halbert have been abused and view themselves as victims of abuse. BTL brings in victims of violent crimes, such as the prison's namesake Ellen Halbert, to talk to participants in the Halbert program “to show the women that if victims of horrific crimes can forgive those who harmed them, then perhaps they too can forgive their abusers.” And once the women quit seeing themselves as victims because of their past lives, they can move on to becoming responsible members of the community.
Hartman describes the weekly programs as “supportive confrontation” as facilitators “gently listen, hear their pain, share their pain and then hold participants accountable for not only their past, but also for their future.” BTL provides an intellectual and emotional set of tools that inmates can utilize to “do it right this time” rather than make the same bad steps that landed them in prison. The women at Halbert take this intangible but memorable set of tools with them once they are released from custody, so when they find themselves at a crossroad, they are strong and able to chart a better course in life.
BTL is a private non-profit organization that brings its message to prisons under the Chaplaincy Program of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Mark Cartwright, Chaplain at the Halbert prison, says BTL is the “flagstone” of Halbert's faith based dorm program. More ladies want to join the life changing faith based programs than the facility can accommodate due to lack of space. Cartwright said more of Halbert's 600 women are also opting to attend traditional church services.
The original plans for the Halbert facility included a chapel/gym building with classrooms, security office and a large area for worship events and sports. When the prison project ran out of funds, the chapel/gym building was excluded. Consequently, Chaplaincy programs at Halbert compete for the same space with educational programs, and the educational programs are given priority when allocating use of the 98 person capacity space. Since 2017, the Chaplaincy programs have had to cut back evening Bible study classes and faith based programs such as BTL due to lack of space.
HSB resident Pam Stevenson owns Network Mortgage with her husband, Glenn. About a decade ago, Pam got a “nudge” to volunteer at a prison. She answered that nudge by teaching Bible studies at the Halbert unit. “When the Chaplain asked me to lead the Beth Moore Breaking Free Bible study, we initially ran a 12 week program three times a year, but as the faith based programs lost space and priority, we had to cut back,” Stevenson explained.
The same spiritual nudge that had moved Stevenson to facilitate Bible studies at a prison revisited her as she saw faith based options at Halbert dwindle for lack of physical space. That second nudge led Stevenson to establish Joseph's Hammer, a 501(c)3 non-profit, earlier this year to raise funds to build a chapel at Halbert. “We see the ladies leaving that place with confidence, returning to their families completely transformed, all because volunteers shared a powerful message of hope with them.” The board of Joseph's Hammer is working with an engineer and the TDCJ on plans for an 8,000 square foot multi-purpose chapel at Halbert for the sole use of the Chaplaincy programs. Although Joseph's Hammer has just recently begun a fund raising campaign, it has already received a grant from the Wayne and JoAnn Moore Charitable Foundation and several substantial individual donations to help launch its goal of building a chapel at Halbert.
Chaplain Cartwright says TDCJ reports one of the lowest overall recidivism rates in the nation (21.75%) and credits faith based programs for playing a large role in this accomplishment, as the TDCJ. Inmates work, attend class, and participate in substance abuse therapy as part of their rehabilitation, but they also have the option to worship in prison and to open themselves to receiving God into their lives.
Hartman said there are no available recidivism rates for Bridges to Life graduates for the Halbert unit, but the latest three year study of BTL graduates from a diversified group of 35 prisons (not just substance abuse facilities) showed an overall recidivism rate of 14.5%, of which only 2.5% were returned to prison for committing a violent crime.
TDCJ offers ten different religious services across the prison system. While all religious services, educational classes and volunteer programs vie for time to use one sparse room at Halbert, Joseph's Hammer is at work on building a suitable place at Halbert for inmates to worship, learn about God, and grow into productive members of our society.
The Woman Behind the Prison Name - November 8, 2018
In 1986 she was brutally raped, stabbed and beaten in her Austin home. Last week, she spoke to women inmates at a Texas prison named after her about the power of restorative justice and the ability to forge a better life after prison.
Ellen Halbert found her voice on the steps of the Texas Capitol when she first spoke about her experience as a rape victim while she was still recovering from her physical and emotional wounds. And that voice led her to a life of public service dedicated to improving the Texas criminal justice system for both victims and perpetrators. In 1991, she was appointed by Governor Ann Richards as the first victim to serve on the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and she served as Director of the Victim Services division of the Travis County District Attorney's Office. Due to her dedication to crime victims and tireless advocacy for rehabilitation of offenders, the 600-bed female substance abuse treatment facility in Burnet was name for her in 1995.
On October 30, 2018, Halbert recounted the night of the rape in a quiet voice to the inmates who are participating in the Bridges to Life program at the Ellen Halbert Women's Unit in Burnet. A man in a ninja suit surprised her as she was walking from her shower to the closet to get a robe. The only thing she could see were his eyes. He grabbed her hands, threw her on the bed naked and ran a knife across her feet. While he tied her feet he talked. He was a drifter, he wanted money. She wrote out an $800 check. Over the course of two hours, she was raped, stabbed multiple times and repeatedly hit with a hammer, the assailant finally hammering a knife into her head. He put his foot on her head so he could pull his knife out and left her for dead on the floor of her bathroom.
Halbert dragged herself to a phone and called her parents. Help came. At the hospital, Halbert told her father, “Don't you tell anyone I'm going to die because I'm not going to die!” (When Halbert delivered this line last week, the inmate audience snapped their fingers in support.) Recovery from such violence was not easy. She cried for many months. She wanted to lock herself in a closet and drink. But she had two teenage children at home to care for so she reached out for help. Her first goal was to release the anger and rage she felt inside. When she spoke on the steps of the Capitol, she received so much love back from the audience that she found her path. “I started talking and I couldn't shut up.”
Shortly after the attack, the police arrested the man who raped and beat Halbert. He was at a bank trying to cash the check he forced her to write. He is serving a life sentence.
While serving on the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, Halbert educated herself about the criminal justice system. She visited prisons and sought to understand what treatment or punishment works and what does not. Halbert found that although it is not appropriate for all offenders or victims, restorative justice (rather than punitive justice) is often a better option to prepare offenders to return to society. Restorative justice gives victims the chance to meet or communicate with their offender to explain the real impact of the crime, empowering victims by giving them a voice. It also holds offenders accountable for what they have done and helps them to take responsibility and make amends. Twenty years ago, Halbert joined forces with Bridges to Life, a program begun in Houston by John Sage after the brutal murder of his sister, to bring restorative justice into prisons across Texas. Last week, the 39 women enrolled in the Bridges to Life program at the Ellen Halbert Unit were excited to have their photographs taken with Halbert. The photographs will be presented to them when they successfully complete the program.
The Ellen Halbert Unit is a Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on 223 acres of state owned land behind the Burnet airport housing female offenders with six to nine month sentences for drug or alcohol related crimes. It also serves as a pre-release for women who have been in prison and must complete a drug and alcohol treatment program prior to release on parole.
After Halbert's speech, the women were allowed to ask questions. Why did you choose to help women in prison? “Not everyone belongs in prison.” Did you forgive the man who raped you? “Yes, I couldn't have that kind of hate inside me and live a meaningful life.” How did you deal with the emotional pain? “Lots of crying.” (This answer brought a round of knowing laughter.) Many in the audience thanked Halbert for coming to talk with them, including one woman who said she “would have been dead” without the Bridges to Life program Halbert brought to the facility. They all offered Halbert their condolences on the recent loss of her mother.
Halbert ended the powerful evening with a prayer, thanking God for “bringing us together.” Her audience responded, “Thank you!”