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Chaplain works with inmates to change lives for the better

Hubbard County Correctional Center program coordinator Bill Devine and Pastor Pat Olson show off the inmate-fashioned jewelry that will be given to Heritage Living Center residents for the holidays. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Pat Olson has dozens of pen pals, of the literal variety.

The Hubbard County Correctional Center chaplain has seen inmates of all types in her long tenure - she's on her fourth sheriff.

"That's where all this came from," she said, pointing to the snowy white hair.

But she's also seen the Lord work in mysterious ways. And some not so mysterious.

There was the meth addict, being sentenced for yet another crime.

"Maybe if I'd listened to you six years ago I wouldn't be here now," he admitted to the judge. "But you see that lady over there?" he asked pointing to Pastor Pat.

"I did listen to her and I'm drug free today."

"He accepted Jesus Christ into his life," Pastor Pat explained.

Like the meth addict, she's seen hardened criminals turn around.

"God is even working with these big tough guys," she said.

Her latest quest has been a jewelry-making venture. A Lino Lakes inmate wrote her about making jewelry. It passed the time for him and he felt his time spent behind bars wasn't for naught.

"I figured why couldn't the guys here do that?" she asked.

She approached jail program coordinator Bill Devine with her idea. He warmed to the idea.

She and another pastor purchased some beads with their parishes' tithing funds, bought fishing line and other supplies and let the inmates use their creative juices to create necklaces and bracelets.

About two-dozen pieces of jewelry will be donated to Heritage Living Center residents. When the men's interest waned, female inmates picked up the slack.

"I keep the clippers," Pastor Pat said.

The result was beautiful, hand-made pieces. Heritage residents can keep them, or give them away as Christmas gifts.

And the inmates, if they chose to do so, could make a piece for themselves that they could take with them when they were released.

"It's good therapy," Pastor Pat said. She asked the inmates to pray while they beaded, so that the beads would be blessed, and in turn bless the recipients.

Pastor P{at mostly lets the inmates design and make their own jewelry. She did intervene once, when a female inmate started making an ankle bracelet. "I didn't think an 80- or 90-year-old woman would want one," she said.

"They utilize their time, knowing it's going for a good cause," said Sheriff Frank Homer of the beading activities. "Pastor Pat has added a lot to our program."

She counsels inmates who need someone to talk to and is always available on an on-call basis, Homer and Devine said.

That's when she's not ministering to her own flock at Mount Calvary Church in Ponsford.

Her dedication to her profession earned her a statewide award for volunteer service in 2007, Devine points out proudly.

Pastor Pat remembers sitting in the awards ceremony in the dark with a room full of sheriffs, stranded without electricity. It was her 60th wedding anniversary.

Seeing all those officers she'd worked with or gotten to know over the years was a real tribute, she said. She thought of retiring, but decided against it.

She tweaked Homer about his jail occupancy rate, which has been the subject of some controversy.

"All these ministers and churches pray for crime not to exist so your cells are empty," she said

But for those inmates that remain on a daily basis, she is looking for donations of beads and beading supplies to keep the program going.

If you have any to donate, you can drop them off at the Enterprise offices, or the Sheriff's Department and they will be delivered to the jail.

"I keep in touch with many inmates," Pastor Pat said. "It's so rewarding."