Billings Gazette: Spirituality in Montana prison

"For those who are looking, there is an entrance to the sacred red road from inside the Montana Women's Prison.

It's through the corner of a narrow, barren courtyard where, a few times a year, inmates erect a traditional sweat lodge and hold American Indian prayer ceremonies.

"It's the Native American way for church," said inmate Tiffanie Fitzpatrick, a member of the Crow Tribe.

"It's good for us in here to do it because some of us don't believe in the regular church services they have here. For us, it's the way we were brought up."

With the help of community members who provide supplies and lead prayer rounds, the prison began permitting inmates to hold sweats last year.

"We allow every other religious group to come into the prison," said Annamae Siegfried-Derrick, the facility's operations manager.

About 27 percent of the prison's inmates identify as American Indian, Siegfried-Derrick said. American Indians make up only about 6 percent of Montana's general population.

Ceremonies held in the makeshift sweat lodge are not limited to inmates with native heritage.

"It's unity," said inmate Alverna Plenty Hawk, who is also a member of the Crow Tribe."

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Spirituality behind bars (The Billings Gazette 3/1)