Freedom Shrine opens at prison

July 02, 1997


Staff Writer

At first, a Freedom Shrine within prison walls might seem like the ultimate irony.

But when inmate/veteran Phillip Branch looked upon the 30 documents in the shrine Tuesday at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, he had an insight.

"This shrine can be a deterrent since men who live here can value and cherish their freedom so much more," Branch said.

A U.S. Army veteran who served three years in Europe, Branch and other incarcerated inmates spent the past few years working with the Antietam Exchange Club to bring the Freedom Shrine to MCTC. It is the first in a prison in Maryland.


"I've been president of the Veterans' Outreach since 1994," Branch said. "We submitted our proposal for the shrine that year."

With the help of the MCTC administration and volunteer activities coordinator Sharon Rucker, Veterans' Outreach contacted representatives of the Exchange Club and the work began.

The Exchange Club provided the documents as they have done for previous shrines in schools and other public buildings in Washington County, according to Exchange member Scott Paddack.

But that was just the beginning.

Also contributing to the project were:

  • Richard Hershey Post 41, Veterans of Vietnam, emblems of the major wars with U.S. flags.
  • Webster Harrison Post 26, American Legion, Hancock, emblems of the five branches of the service.
  • John Kroschinsky provided the wood for the display cases and plaque backings.
  • MCTC maintenance, installation of shrine and lighting.
  • Inmate maintenance crew, display backs for major war emblems.
  • Veterans' Outreach membership, POW/MIA flag and dedication plaque.
  • MCTC inmate population, U.S. and Maryland flags from money earned through sub sales.

"We researched all the documents," said Veterans' Outreach member Randy Jones. "It was a lot of labor but we finished the assembly last month."

Another member, Charles Thomas, said the shrine is especially important to him since he is a Vietnam veteran.

"It means patriotism and duty," Thomas said. "It's for those who gave the ultimate for our freedom."

The shrine is on the west wall of the MCTC visitors center. The fact that it dominates the room where inmates visit with family and friends is no accident, Branch said.

"We receive the gift of freedom automatically because we are Americans," Branch said. "All who venture through these doors can now see how that freedom was purchased for us."

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