Kendall Wayne Vowell

Kendall Wayne Vowell
Lexington (Joseph Harp Correctional Center)
Nominated by Fr. Paul Zahler, O.S.B., Ph.D. 

In 1990, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on “Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.” The 1990 resolution expanded upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, clarifying the values of our global civil society.

The principles for the treatment of prisoners include:

  • “All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.”
  • “Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, all prisoners shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights….” 
  • “All prisoners shall have the right to take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality.” 

Kendall Wayne Vowell is an inmate at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.

He was nominated for the 2015 Human Rights Award because of his participation in a personal development program for inmates with developmental disabilities. For the last 29 years, Kendall has been a model student in the program called, the Total Family Development Program.

Currently, there are approximately 1 billion persons living
with disabilities in the world, or 15 per cent of the global
population. In both developed and developing countries,
persons with disabilities are often negatively stereotyped
and are often labelled by their disability or condition – visible
or not. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
prepares the way to change perceptions of
persons with disabilities and promote their abilities as
full and equal participants in the societies in which they live. 

The program was originally started by Kendall and his parents. When it began, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections did not have a rehabilitation program of this kind.

The program is an outgrowth of the Family Living Center on the campus of St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee. In order to get the program started, Kendall’s parents — Don and Joann Vowell — attended classes at St. Gregory’s to learn about developmental disabilities in children and adults.

Writing about the program shortly after it was launched in 1987, Kendall Wayne Vowell wrote:

“I have done everything in my power to get this program started. Father Paul Zahler, my parents, and I feel that  this will be a successful and worthwhile program to inspire rehabilitation. I am trying hard to rehabilitate myself.”

“I am going to help myself, and others if possible, because I’m tired of being used.”

Father Paul Zahler writes about Kendall Wayne Vowell:

“Every human being has the universal right to feel as a worthwhile person,” and “Every human being has a developmental right to be part of all humanity.” Kendall feels very strongly about the above statements. 

Kendall Vowell dedicated himself to building and promoting the Total Family Development Program — a special initiative designed for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections system — not only for himself, but for all men and women with developmental disabilities. He was the role model for the program. 

Kendall proves that the Total Family Development Program is a successful and worthwhile program for inspiring individuals with developmental disabilities in the Oklahoma Correctional system, to rehabilitate them back into society. 

The Arc, a national advocacy organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, reports that, “Individuals with with this disability… constitute a small, but nonetheless growing percentage of suspects / offenders within the criminal justice system. While those with intellectual disability comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population, with an even greater number of those in juvenile facilities and in jails.”

According to The Arc: “Some people with intellectual disability commit crimes, not because they have below-average intelligence, but because of their unique personal experiences, environmental influences and individual differences.”

“As suspects, individuals with this disability are frequently used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities without understanding their involvement in a crime or the consequences of their involvement. They may also have a strong need to be accepted and may agree to help with criminal activities in order to gain friendship. Many individuals unintentionally give misunderstood responses to officers, which increase their vulnerability to arrest, incarceration and possibly execution, even if they committed no crime.”

The vulnerability of this population makes it even more essential to ensure that their human rights are understood and respected. By being a leader in the Total Family Development Program, Kendall Wayne Vowell is contributing to human rights in our state. He is inspiring his fellow prisoners to understand and embrace their inherent dignity and value as human beings.

On December 10th, the Oklahoma Universal Human Rights Alliance will honor human rights heroes from around our great state. A recognition program will take place at the State Capitol. Among those to be recognized will be Kendall Wayne Vowell. More information about the program can be found here: “Celebrate Human Rights.”

“Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.”
–Article 11 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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