HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) – Twenty-four pairs of shoes line the narrow corridor – white Nikes, heavy black boots and several pairs of dusty Crocs.
A voice flows through the hallways of the old education wing, booming with the rhythm of a seasoned orator. For the briefest moment, the rhythm breaks, then re-emerges in new language, foreign, but just as fluid its English version.
In the white-walled classroom, the shoes’ owners, dressed in variations of faded blue, sit on the floor, facing the speaker. Kevin Loggins, wearing periwinkle and several shades of ink, calls to his congregation, not once glancing down at the scratched podium.
This is Jumu’ah, or Friday prayer, at Hutchinson Correctional Facility (HCF), where a community of “brothers” celebrates Ramadan in spite of, or perhaps because of, incarceration.
PLANNED FOR MONTHS
Ramadan, which began July 8 for many, includes 30 days of fasting for Muslims worldwide. For the month, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. The result is purification and self-restraint, said Loggins, Muslim inmate liaison at HCF.
“This is to remind ourselves, for a portion of the day, of the people that go without,” he said.
“Going without” takes coordination at HCF, where inequality is usually discouraged. Among HCF’s facilities there are about 60 inmates participating in Ramadan, some of whom are in segregation, according to Chaplain Oscar Gomez.
Food services provide participants with a small meal before daylight, as well as a meal after the sun has gone down. Those who are able pray together four of the five times during the day, according to Loggins, and the chaplains do their best to provide the space, time and security to allow them to do so. Members of the Islamic Society of Wichita donate food to HCF for the Eid al-Fitr celebration, which breaks the fast at the end of the month.
“We met months before (to plan Ramadan),” Gomez said. “Everybody gets on board, because it’s very important.”
But Ramadan doesn’t mean an automatic green light for every request.
“Sometimes we say no,” Gomez said. “This is a maximum security facility. Security is number one. Security overrules.”
Feb. 11, 2005, Kevin Loggins took the name Abdullah, which he said means Slave of God. After spending his first 10 years in prison as a self-described “knucklehead,” Loggins said the close-knit brotherhood of Islam taught him life exists beyond gang politics. In the years that followed his conversion, Loggins’ name grew to Hassan Yeru Abdullah Al-Wasi.
“It changed my heart, it changed my whole life,” Loggins said. “You get nearer to God, and it lets people open up to you.”
Originally from a Christian background in Wichita, Loggins has never practiced Islam outside of prison. But he said it’s difficult at HCF, simply by the nature of the environment.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “We’re dealing with dysfunctional men, coming from drugs and abusive homes.”
Gomez said that Loggins became the Muslim population liaison because he has a level head and good rapport with both inmates and chaplains. Loggins often brings angry or upset inmates to the chaplains to talk through their needs.
“I try to quench gang violence and keep the peace,” Loggins said. “It’s my duty.”
‘NEARER TO GOD’
Dirk Moss, HCF public information officer, said he remembers Loggins’ misbehavior when he was first incarcerated in 1995, 18 years ago.
“He’s changed quite a bit,” Moss said.
Chaplain Brian Viel described himself and Gomez as “facilitators” for each of HCF’s 24 recognized religions. They work carefully with each liaison, like Loggins, to hear the needs of the religious populations, as well as determine their validity.
“There are men trying to pull the wool over our eyes, using religion to justify their actions,” Gomez said. “We ask (the liaisons), ‘Are these really the tenets of the religion?’”
Loggins said Gomez and Viel have made huge strides in nurturing inmates’ spiritual growth, as well as collaborating with volunteers from local mosques. 0
“A lot of years we hardly got to do anything,” he said. “You couldn’t just write to the chaplains and get a Quran like we can now.”
At Jumu’ah, Loggins continues his sermon, interspersed with Arabic he’s memorized through years of study.
“Some of you brothers wouldn’t even speak to one another,” he said to his congregation. “But out of the power of love, His grace has brought us together.”
A series of quick syllables in Arabic prompt the two dozen men, with stories as varied as the colors on their woven prayer rugs, to kneel together.
“With unity comes responsibility,” Loggins said. “And we have to be an example to humanity. Collectively, brothers have a duty to show the world what Islam is really about it.”
And Jumu’ah ends, the brothers retrieve their shoes and shuffle down the sterile hallway, joining the rest of Hutchinson Correctional Facility.