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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Woman of Achievement: Courage

Photo by Women of Achievement, Inc.
For 22 years, Women of Achievement, Inc., has every year honored seven Memphis women for their achievements, each representing one of these seven qualities: initiative, determination, courage, steadfastness, vision, heroism, and heritage (women from the past).

In 1997, Novella was recognized for her courage in exposing the ignorance and mismanagement of the HIV/AIDS problem in the County Jail. Here is the full text of the essay that was delivered in her honor:
For more than 18 years, Novella Smith Arnold has been dedicated to a single mission: chaplain for the men and women in the Shelby County Jail. In her own words, Novella works with those whom no one else wants: the criminals, crooks, creeps – the disenfranchised and throwaways. But she believes everyone deserves the love of another and it is her calling to provide that love.

As director of the Calvary Episcopal Church Criminal Justice Ministry, called “We Care, Inc. / Kids Care,” Novella ministers to the forgotten of society.

Many were outraged when, in 1989, then-Sheriff Jack Owens declared Novella and her work with Shelby County inmates to be a “security risk,” and she was banned from ministering in the jail. But Novella stood her ground and, backed by a petition from the prisoners and the public support of many, she was able to return to her ministry.

And then a new affliction began sweeping the jail. Novella found that prisoners with AIDS were often isolated, harassed and abused. Just as AIDS began to turn into epidemic proportions, Novella was again banned from her work in the jails. Today, she continues to minister to inmates even though she is not allowed in the jail.

Novella now has an even more personal reason to continue her work: Her [foster] daughter, adopted at age 13, is now fighting full-blown AIDS at age 32.

God said “feed my sheep” and Novella continues to follow His direction no matter what the odds. Since she began her career in broadcasting, Novella never dreamed she would end up ministering to criminals. But she believes that wherever God calls, we must go.

Novella’s work takes courage, with an ample amount of caring, to go among the prisoners, and an ample amount of bravery to face up to the uncaring who would like to send her away.

Novella is outreach ministry chaplain at Calvary Episcopal Church.
[Essay and photograph reproduced from the commemorative book, A Legacy of Achievers: Women of Achievement 1995-2004, edited by Deborah Clubb, copyright ©2004 by Women of Achievement, Inc., Memphis, Tennessee.]

To learn more about Novella's struggle with the County jailers, please read the March 31, 1997 Commercial Appeal feature story, "What she wants is to get back in jail".

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