Monday, December 7, 2015

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


  1. I'm curious...How does your association believe that a murderer is an appropriate nominee for a Human Rights award? He sounds wonderful in this article. I would support this nomination if he were a person who had committed non-violent crimes and then started supporting rehabilitation of people with developmental disabilities. He is not. He is a murderer. He is a man who killed a good samaritan attempting to help him. He is a man who destroyed a young wife's life. He is a man who left two young children without a father. Those children continue to have serious struggles resulting from their father's death. I cannot possibly describe the pain they feel in their heart. Mr. Vowell is not a Human Rights Hero. He is a stripper of human rights. He took away these rights (as well as many others) from one family: the right to feel safe in the world you live in, the right to spend your life with the man you married, the right to grow up with a father, to get to know who he is and what he believes, the right to feel like a normal child rather than the child of the murdered "Good Samaritan," the right to have your father walk you down the aisle when you get married, the right for your children to meet their grandfather and so, so many more. I know this article is very old. This is the first time I have really started to become curious about the men who murdered my uncle. I was very young when he was murdered. My stomach dropped when I googled his name and found that your organization wanted to honor him while I continue to see the negative impacts that he has had on the lives of my aunt and my two cousins. The work he is doing sounds like a good thing. Tell him that if you want to. Do not honor him as a hero of human rights. Remember the pain and suffering he has caused. Remember that he murdered Larry Ellis. Remember that he destroyed the lives of Larry's children. Remember that my aunt would have likely been murdered if she returned with Larry to take fuel to the two men he was trying to help, the men who shot him in the head for his efforts, robbed him, left him dead on the side of the road and then continued on a crime spree. Remember that he is responsible for my aunt telling her young children "I have to go look for your dad. If I am not back in an hour call grandma." She found her husband dead on the side of the road with bullets in his head.
    This man is not a Human Rights Hero.

  2. What a joke. I am the widow of the man he killed. What right do you have of honoring a man who broke a little boys collar bone was abusive to his parents and girl friends and killed an innocent man who stopped to help him. He sits there in his room all smiling and alive. Larry (we called him)is in a cold dark small box 10 feet under ground and can not smile because he was shot in the head with a rifle after being shot first with a gun. I lost my best friend and my two kids lost their dad not including brothers, sisters and many more people that loved him. His name was Joseph Lawrence Ellis, he was a human he was helping a stranger(because that is what he always done)because he needed help. Maybe he should get that award. Why would you give that to a killer. I read some of your bleeding heart stuff about prisoners and why should they get so many rewards for hurting, robbing, killing, and child molesting. They choose to do those things. This award makes me sick to my stomach and If I had known about it I would have been there to tell everyone what kind of a person he really is. Years can help with the pain but the empty hole in our hearts never goes away. This award should go to someone else worthy of that honor. Not a killer.

  3. I need to let everyone know that Larry ( who died at the age of 36) was wounded in the Vietnam war and had two purple hearts. He survived to come home with 70% disability and pieces of metal all in his hip and back. He still worked full time to support his family. He had two children and he never got to see them graduate, marry have his grand children and go to college just like him. To bad he would have been so proud. He was killed by Kendall Wayne Vowell the man whom you honored at the capital. What a joke.

  4. The fundamental basis for the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

    "Article I - All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

    Mr. Vowell violated Joseph L Ellis Jr's human rights when he killed my father.

    While, Mr. Vowell is entitled to inherit human rights he does not deserve an award for his efforts or his model behavior. Model behavior is how we should act all the time without reward, we must respect human life. Mr. Vowell's actions do not show that he respects human life.

    I am glad he has made the best of his time incarcerated. I do not have a smiling picture of my father past the age of 36 to post on a blog, I do not have the option of nominating my father for an award for his good deeds (like stopping to help two men) who appeared to be having car trouble.

    This award not only disrespects my family, my fathers memory, but also the function of the United Nations as a human rights organization. I have contacted the local chapter, and the national association. How embarrassing for them to have awarded a humanitarian award to such an individual. I am sure that the 12 member of the Greater OKC chapter of the UN had no idea that Mr. Vowell was incarcerated for murder in the first degree and is serving the maximum penalty for that crime and despite his model behavior has not been awarded parole these last 29 years.

    I believe in human rights, I want to see everyone succeed including Mr. Vowell. I know his family has enjoyed seeing his face for holidays, interacting with him and helpling him with his hopes and dreams. He is part of a church community and if that has increased his quality of life then great. It is not my place to take his life from him as it was not his place to take my father's life from him.