Inmates Build Chair for Pope's Visit to Philadelphia Prison

Pope Francis had a nice place to sit when he met with Philadelphia prisoners on Sunday.

Inmates in the city's correctional system worked for more than a month on a stately chair they hand-carved out of walnut. Another group of prisoners sanded, oiled and refinished the piece, which stands nearly 6-feet tall.

Rameen Perrin, who said he's spent 13 months behind bars on drug charges, said it meant a lot to be chosen for the papal project. Prisoners were picked based on work ethic, skill and reliability.

"It made me honored because I'm one of the ones that work hard, and they noticed," said Perrin, 21.

The chair was made and refinished at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, one of six jails in the municipal system.

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Next, it was upholstered at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. The pontiff met with about 100 prisoners and their relatives at the Northeast Philadelphia facility Sunday.

Francis has made prison ministry a focus of his pontificate. He meets frequently with inmates and has washed prisoners' feet during pre-Easter rituals. In July, he visited a notorious Bolivian prison where he urged inmates to help one another and exhorted staff to rehabilitate prisoners, not humiliate them.

Anthony Newman, assistant director of a vocational program in the Philadelphia prisons, designed the gift for Francis and oversaw its construction. He hoped to see the pontiff enjoy the finished product, but wasn't sure how the chair would be presented to him.

"The fact that I got the privilege to do the chair is good enough if I never see him sit in the chair," Newman said last month. "So I'm happy."

Some of the prisoners who made the chair met with the pope, officials said.

Prisons Commissioner Louis Giorla said previously that good behavior was one factor in the selection process. Many faiths were represented, officials said.

Giorla has said he's especially glad the pope asked to meet with inmates' families because "we feel that community ties, family reunification is one of our goals."

In January, inmates also made a special chair for Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput when he celebrated Mass at the facility.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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