Chaplain Karen O. Powell

Karen Powell doesn’t just care about peoples’ spiritual well-being; she also cares about their physical health, having taught group exercise classes at the YMCA for the past 22 years. She is currently working on her Doctor of Ministry degree (with a focus on Justice and Peace Building) at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.


A little known fact about Chaplain Karen Powell:  she has taught group exercise to a diverse gathering at the Manchester YMCA (in Richmond) for 21 years.  Weekly, she cheers on her classes as they push through their physical limitations!  Through that, she has found a wonderful community outside the correctional setting.  Chaplain Powell places a high value on life experiences that allow you to get to know people outside your normal routine.

But not everyone’s normal routine includes visiting with 583 incarcerated women.

As the chaplain to Virginia Correctional Center for Women, Karen is a repeat offender.  Serving from ‘86-‘90 at VCCW and ‘89-‘92 with the juveniles and then returning in 2008 to Unit 13 and then 2010 back to VCCW, she has a passion to serve…and to cheer on those pushing through their limitations.

What compels her to continue?  “Justice” she answers.  Chaplain Powell explains that while the responsibility is still on the incarcerated woman for her choices, recognizing that there are many other forces that contribute to the circumstances is essential.  She hopes to provide experiences that provide healing – which could change not only the incarcerated and the prison, but also family dynamics and communities.

Chaplain Powell believes her hands on missions oriented church upbringing led her to social services.  Combining her faith and focus on social justice, she discovered Christian Social Ministry where she interned in the women’s prison in North Carolina and had found her calling.  “Our system is not fair and we know this.  More and more people are crying out about it, now, but we need to provide opportunities to level the playing field.  The ultimate imbalance of our society is found in prison.”

Chaplain Powell is most proud of the progression of growth she sees in the women with whom she works.  “Sometimes I sit there and watch how they have developed.  It is very touching when they step up to the plate in worship leadership to use their talents and gifts.  Anytime the women break through the barriers and obstacles to share or take on leadership roles, it touches me.  I KNOW the potential is there so when they follow through, I sit back and shed some tears – overjoyed.”  Chaplain Powell recognizes this maybe the first time in their lives they have ever accomplished something, most having been told they would never amount to anything. “It matters to believe in someone’s potential.  To see them accomplish that is huge.”

“I can tell them how proud I am of them.  I can be their cheerleader.  And, I’m just fine with that.”