N.C. Department of Correction--Correction News--October 1997


Frank Shirley leaves the Western Area

Asheville - Nineteen years ago, Chaplain Frank Shirley entered the old Craggy Prison. Western Area prisons haven’t been the same since.

Friends, family, co-workers, and former inmates gathered at the Merrimon Avenue Baptist Church for a good-bye tribute to the man who made a big impact on many lives.

When Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis was Western area administrator, he was part of the team which hired Shirley. At the time, Jarvis said, the prisons had no structured religious programming, Sunday services were held in the dining hall and prison staff exhibited a lot of turfism. "Frank was persistent," Jarvis said. "Frank Shirley built a chapel in the basement of old Craggy and he was the moving force in getting a chapel at every prison in the Western Area." (Except for Wilkes Correctional Center).

"When you look at George Holley, George Smith, Charles Pickens and Jerry Gibbs (former inmates who attended the luncheon), it makes the job all worthwhile," Jarvis said.

Holley, current chaplain at Craggy Prison and master of ceremonies for the luncheon, said, "I hope the rest of us chaplains can keep up with the shadow Frank Shirley cast. No doubt North Carolina is a safer place because of the impact of Chaplain Shirley’s ministry."

Holley told how one superintendent was showing a display case of weapons taken from inmates years ago. Alexander Superintendent Fred Watkins said, "We don’t find weapons like this anymore." When asked why, he said, "Because of you chaplains, they now have someone to talk to to work out their frustrations."

Holley told how one inmate walked into Shirley’s office, locked the door behind him and pulled out a long shank. He set it on Shirley’s desk and told him it had been his companion for many years. He pulled out a pocket Bible and said, "This is the only weapon I need now."

George Smith thanked Shirley for what he had done for him. "A lot of officers here know what I used to be. Chap. Shirley would always talk to me and put something on my mind, to say, George, the Lord isn’t finished with you yet," Smith said.

Chaplain Jim Cannon from the Marion Minimum Security prison said, "Frank Shirley is one of Western North Carolina’s religious icons. He’s right up there with Billy Graham and Elvis Presley."

Shirley said, "The years here have been the richest times of my life." He quoted Milton who said you can make your life a heaven or you can make your life a hell. He told one complaining inmate to look in the mirror and see the cause of most of your problems. "We create our own problems," Shirley said.

The gathering ended with a stunning solo by Rev. Charles Pickens who sang The Lord’s Prayer.

NC DOC Correction News- October 1997
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