by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Becky Artrip is a former Coffee Creek Correctional Facility inmate who now works with the state's oldest prison ministry group, Freedom In The Son.For Freedom in the Son founder Fran Howard, the stories of former inmate Becky Artrip and others like her are precisely what she envisioned in 1984 when she began searching for a new way to minister to incarcerated women.

Only it was a matter of the search finding her first.

“It all started with us playing softball,” Howard said.

Having just resigned from her coaching position at Willamette University in Salem, where she headed up the women’s softball program, Howard wasn’t in much of a mood to revisit that life. But when a friend at church insistently asked her three weeks in a row to take the reins of the church team, she finally relented.

“A friend said, ‘Well, did you ever think to ask God what he thinks?’”

“I said ‘No,’ and finally I said ‘Yes,’” said Howard.

Upon accepting the position, such as it was, Howard learned her new team’s first opponent would be a team of women inmates at the former Oregon Women’s Correctional Center, located adjacent to the Oregon State Penitentiary.

“We just got invited to go and play the women’s prison team,” she said.

That was the beginning of a 30-year journey that has taken Howard farther than she ever thought possible. Prior to her departure from Willamette, for example, she had never been inside a jail or prison.

As softball coach at the university she sponsored a Fellowship of Christian Athletes group that hosted U.S. Olympian and gold medalist Madeline Manning-Mims. After speaking at Willamette, Howard and Mims stayed in contact.

“Little did I know she had a prison ministry in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” Howard said. “That’s what really started me in prison.”

Through Mims, Howard was able to visit the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor. She spent an entire weekend visiting the inmates.

“It was the first time I had ever been in a prison or a jail,” Howard said. “She went in in her Olympic uniform, all tall and slender, carrying her tapes and her books, and she went into the chapel to warm up her voice. And I sat down outside the chapel on the floor and the women just started coming up and talking to me; before I left I was really hooked.”

Today, Howard gets the same satisfaction from her work at Coffee Creek Correctional Center outside of Wilsonville as she did during that first visit.

“It’s like a community all its own,” she said. “I love the honesty of the women, I was touched by their hopelessness and apathy.”

“All they see is what and who you are, not what you’ve done,” added Artrip. “And that, believe it or not, that makes all the difference in the world.”

At A Glance:

FITS 30th Anniversary Fundraising Dinner and Auction

5 p.m. Friday, April 25

Broadway Commons

1300 Broadway Street N.E., Salem

For more information on this event or about FITS, contact Fran Howard at 503-585-7362 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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