Upbeat and unrepentant, the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. was released from jail Saturday after serving a three-month sentence for the whippings of two boys in church.
"Jail, it was bearable," the pastor of the House of Prayer church said in an interview at his home. "What really bothered me the most was the injustice of being there."
He said that instead of carrying the label of convicted criminal, "I should be congratulated. Given a medal."
In October, a jury convicted Allen and four other members of the small, northwest Atlanta church of cruelty to children for the severe whippings.
The five adults served time in the Fulton County Jail, but Allen got the stiffest sentence: 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation. If he violates the terms of his probation -- which allow him only to hand spank his own children and forbid him from encouraging others to punish their children -- he could be sent to prison. Charges against six other House of Prayer members were dropped in December.
Allen and the others, who represented themselves at trial, have hired prominent Atlanta attorney Ed Garland's firm to appeal the conviction. Allen, who says his belief in practicing and preaching corporal punishment is rooted in the Bible, contends his constitutional right of religious freedom is at stake because of the probation terms.
"It doesn't allow me to preach all the Bible, so that's just ungodly," Allen said.
Allen took his Bible with him to jail and held Bible study nightly, he said. "I didn't belong there except to do what I did, which was to minister to them." Sometimes as many as 15 men would gather around, he said.
"The were very willing to learn, very anxious to learn," he said. "Quite a few" prisoners will join the House of Prayer, he said, "when they get out."
To keep fit, Allen, who's 70, ran up and down the aisles near the inmates' dining area. "I was the oldest, but I didn't look the oldest," he said, laughing.
He said he played cards with other prisoners, but insisted on no gambling and no cursing.
As for the food, "it was something to make you appreciate home cooking and make you want to get back home."
On his last evening in jail, Allen said he preached about obeying the Ten Commandments. "I was an eyewitness there to them using profanity and using God's name in vain," he said ruefully.
Allen was released from jail late Friday night. His wife, Trina, and close friends picked him up. He said he was eager to see his children, but instead of going straight home, he and the others went to an ailing church member's house to lift her spirits, Allen said.
In all, Allen and his wife have seven children, including five from her previous marriage. "They've been swarming around me all morning," Allen said. The jail wouldn't allow the children to visit him, he said, and he had feared his 2-year-old daughter would forget him.
"It's hard to find words to describe it, being here with my wife, being able to hold her, and not having to look at her through a screen, and to hold my baby and the other children," Allen said.
While Allen was away, a deputy from the jail who's a preacher filled in for him at the House of Prayer, Allen said. He wouldn't name the deputy, saying he didn't want to cause him any trouble.
Allen planned to be reunited with his congregation of about 130 today, when he resumes preaching at the church on Hollywood Road.
"I'm going to preach the Bible," he said.