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Arts & Life

Singers Gather Outside Pennington County Jail To Pray For Those Behind Bars

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On Christmas morning, members of a Rapid City Lutheran church gathered to sing outside of the Pennington County Jail.

The 8-member group gathered to share prayer with those behind bars.

The Woyatan Singers stand in the plaza between the Pennington County Building and jail on a frosty Christmas morning. The elk skin drum—donated by state’s attorney Mark Vargo--reverberates off the frigid concrete walls that line the plaza. They’re singing to those who are incarcerated inside the jail.

Chris White Eagle is with the Woyatan Singers. He says they’re singing to let those behind bars know they’re not alone. The tapping in the background is applause by the audience behind the thin sliver of windows in the jail.

“Yeah, they’re in jail, but at the same time they’re somebody’s kid. They’re somebody’s dad. They’re somebody’s grandpa,” White Eagle says. “Everybody makes mistakes, but at the same time everybody should be forgiven. We’re trying to tell them ‘Hey, don’t give up on yourself. There’s people out here praying for you.”

Pennington County Jail does not list race in current inmate information. According to a recent profile by the Prison Policy Initiative, Native American’s make up nine percent of South Dakota’s population, but 29 percent of those in prison.

Natalie Stites-Means is a community advocate and former candidate for Rapid City mayor. Stites-Means says a lot of relatives are incarcerated in the Pennington County Jail.

“We’re going to have to fight this mass incarceration every way we can,” Stites-Means says. “Part of that is a spiritual battle. Offering songs to our relatives is part of that. I hope that the people are comforted. I hope they’re spiritually uplifted and they know a lot of us are thinking of them here on the outside and that we hope that they’re free one day.”

Singing could be heard coming from inside the jail as the Woyatan Singers drum group wrapped up the drum and headed for home.