"I usually say, why not? What are we here for? What is our purpose? Aren't we here to help our fellow man? What better place to do it than at a prison? Most of the guys here, they're people like the rest of us," she said. "Sure they have made some bad mistakes, bad choices, but most of them are coming into the chapel for activities because they want to better themselves."
Without volunteers, Webster suspects, many of the programs offered to inmates would go away because they are ancillary to the Department of Corrections' main offender services.
The crocheting program, she said, is an example where everyone benefits. Inmates fashion scarves, blankets and hats from donated yarn and the items are then given to Primary Children's Medical Center, Shriners Hospital or homeless shelters.
"You'd be amazed if you saw some of the items they have done. They are master crocheters. You see these men covered with tattoos with big fat fingers doing these cute little baby blankets. It's great."
Prison officials say it is volunteers like Webster who fill an inspirational role to inmates — both secular and spiritual — that the prison employees can't.
About 80 percent of the prison's volunteer pool donates time in activities involving religion, which keeps the state out of the thorny First Amendment entanglement of mixing religion with government business.
Beyond that, however, is the value of humanity that volunteers bring with them through those prison doors, said Lt. Bryan Taylor, director of the prison's Division of Programming, Religious and Volunteer services.
"There is a difference between staff and volunteer. The volunteers can be a strong role model. They bring a different air about them, a different way of interacting with these guys. The offenders know they would not be there if they did not care."
The majority of the Draper volunteer pool also comes from the Salt Lake Valley area, and Taylor speculated aloud how relocation to a more remote spot would play out.
"I imagine it would create quite a disruption."
In many ways, inmates are like light bulbs who need to be turned on to the possibility of a better path, a better way through life that is full of good, not bad. Taylor said volunteers are often the "switch" that illuminates that possibility.
"They're able to catch a vision of what their life would be if they put the right things into play. I truly believe everybody has it within themselves to overcome their issues. Sometimes they just don't realize how to tap into that internal ability," he said. "It is about getting in contact with the right person at the right time. We help them on a vision of self-discovery."
Volunteers, he said, light that way by reaching out to the hardened, the lost, the hopeless or the bitter by simply giving of themselves.
"That is who these people are, is their faith," he said. "When it comes to volunteers actually changing people, it really has to do with why we do what we do, and that's faith."
Taylor and the previous supervisor over the division, Lt. Jeff Koehler, firmly stand behind the conviction that a life changed inside becomes many more lives changed on the outside, like one domino tipping to a cascade of others that follow.
"The ultimate goal of volunteer service is stronger, safer, healthier and happier communities, that is their goal," Koehler said.
A skeptical public may wonder at the effort to help those whom the justice system has deemed are in need of separation from society because of their criminal behavior.
"I view every success that we make as the way to lessen the potential for future victims. The role of volunteers is essential to recidivism," Taylor said.
"The inmates learn how to give back, give to the community. They learn selfless behavior," Taylor said. "If we do nothing, these people will eventually get back out — there is only 5 percent of the individuals who won't get out. And they will learn in prison how to become better criminals, slicker, more crafty."
A relocation of the Draper prison to another remote section of Utah would take it out of the heart of the Salt Lake County community and possibly result in the heart of the volunteer community being taken out of the prison.
"We have a couple of volunteers who have volunteered out here at least 25 years," Koehler said. "They are dedicated and committed and some already drive long distances to give just a couple hours of time. What keeps them coming back is they realize the importance of their support to our offenders."
- Better than a raise: The smallest thing you...
- Many Mormon missionaries who return home...
- Utah husband wins 'Most Memorable Moment'...
- Supervolcano hidden in plain sight in Utah...
- Nurse threatened to kill patient after...
- Doug Robinson: We are in the midst of an era...
- Skier rescued from Alta avalanche by...
- Charges: Naked man bites dog
- Many Mormon missionaries who return... 123
- Legal analysis supports Utah's law on... 36
- As winter takes hold, needs increase... 29
- Expelling Santa from school? Holiday... 17
- Martin MacNeill cuts self with razor in... 15
- Do Utah high school students need four... 15
- Rare snowstorm traps I-15 motorists... 13
- John Swallow lost computer hard drive... 12