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Spirits soar through the bars
Inmates serenade church members at holiday worship service
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A group of inmates sing a cappella at the Hall County Correctional Institute Saturday during their annual Christmas program with First Baptist Church. The vocal group is, from left Marshall Britt, Samuel James, Ulysses Turner and Lamar Reddish.

The inmates of Hall County Correctional Institution had special presentation for the members of First Baptist Church at their annual Christmas worship service.

Marshall Britt, Samuel James, Lamar Reddish and Ulysess Turner formed an a cappella quartet and honored First Baptist Church's continued support with song.

The group opened the service with two pieces, followed by the men presenting associate pastor Bruce Fields and the volunteers from the congregation with a card signed by the inmates.

"We have Sunday morning services every week, and we just started singing during those services. When we found out that First Baptist was coming, we went to the warden and asked permission to just say ‘thanks,'" Turner said.

The group practiced for two months in preparation for the event.

Warden Avery Niles welcomed to the congregation and introduced the members of the quartet. He was impressed by the performance.

"They would practice during their chow time, and they came to me asking if they could try something. They wanted to get and do something special for First Baptist Church," Niles said.

In five years, this was the first request Niles had from the inmates to sing for the service.

"I think any time you can give back, it's wonderful," Niles said.

For the members of First Baptist Church, the Christmas Mass at the Correctional Institution is part of a 30-year tradition.

"A vast majority of the church provided sandwiches for the inmates. Even though the children couldn't come, they enjoy participating and giving back to the community," Fields said.

Fields was equally impressed by the four men. In the 18 years Fields has participated in Christmas service, only a handful have been accompanied by performances.

In his own musical contribution, the associate pastor broke out his guitar and sang a rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas," accompanied by inmate and congregation volunteers.

Brooke Morters continued with "Where Are You, Christmas?" and "Not Guilty," the latter earning a chuckle from the crowd. Chris Burns read a passage from the scripture, and Fields closed the evening with "Silent Night" and the benediction.

A party began following the service, with volunteers serving the inmates sandwiches, chips and drinks. Several of the church members had participated in multiple Christmas services and the first-timers gladly proclaimed their support.

"It really shows the message of the season," Fields said.

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