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Prison Ministry: Do not pass go, do not collect $200. - Chronarchy

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March 27th, 2007


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11:14 am - Prison Ministry: Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
A few folks already know this, and there have been some hints in my LJ about this work, but because it's becoming something that is becoming important part of my vocation, my work in ADF, and (above all) my life, it's time I mentioned it here.

Over the past three months, I've been spending a lot of time doing prison ministry. Prison ministry is not, for me, what it is for so many other religions. It's not me in there with tie and rolled up sleeves, a copy of the Principia in hand, winning souls for Esus. I'm there by invitation of a member of ADF who has been incarcerated, who cannot find another spiritual outlet within the system.

I find a lot of deep joy in this work, actually. Every time I make the trip (and it's a long drive for me), I find myself going through an interesting range of emotions, but most particularly, I feel privileged to be there for this inmate. I can tell, when I walk in, that this hour I spend will mean more to this individual than the same amount time would mean to any other person I know.

Aside from the occasional other clergyperson (none of whom share the inmate's faith), guards, other inmates, and the occasional visit from a lawyer, I'm the only person who is allowed to be in a room with the inmate, close enough to have physical contact. Even spouses are not allowed into the same room: the movies aren't joking when they show those glass windows and telephones. That's all the contact inmates are allowed with their spouses at the county jail.

The days, as they become warmer, allow for some outdoor exercise for inmates, but the outdoor space at this jail is four very tall walls that open to the sky. The ground is blacktop. Both the inmate and I find that this is an issue for someone with a nature-based spirituality, so I have found a lot of mental exercise trying to figure out how to introduce nature to the prison situation. I decided last night, while picking up flowers for another person, that next time I go up, I'll find the most fragrant and beautiful flowers I can and take them with me. When I come back from Greece, I expect to go up that week and bring in some sort of fresh fruit that we can snack on while we talk. If the experience of the natural world is limited, and I'm a priest in a gosh-darn nature religion, I ought to be able to introduce some nature!

One of the most fulfilling things, though, combines this newest manifestation of my vocation with my oldest: teaching. Completing the DP is going to be problematic, I know, because the books are hard to get (most prison libraries don't stock these). But what the inmate is most interested in is any sort of "mental stimulation" I can offer, so I've been seeking out all sorts of scholarly articles (some of which go far over my own head) and sending those in. So far, I've just been sending 8-or-fewer-page articles (standard rate for postage only allows for about 4 sheets of paper, and I copy or print front-to-back) on a variety of subjects, from rune poems to Hittites to psychological warfare in Vinland. But often I'll receive a specific request, and thus have to do some real deep research to find something (an interest in vampires has led me to looking up all sorts of odd things) and I find myself learning in the process.

I'm currently working on sending Plato's Timaeus out because of an academic interest in Atlantis and where all those odd myths come from. I haven't read that dialogue in years, and it was exciting to go back to both that one and the Critias again.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I've noticed is that being clergy is at least 90% perceived legitimacy. How you dress, how you speak, and how you hold yourself all make interactions with guards vastly different. When I arrive in a suit, I have never been asked even to go through the metal detector: they take me on my word that I'm not doing anything untoward. When I stand there in jeans and a nice shirt, I'm sometimes asked through the metal detector. The one time I was there with jeans and a t-shirt, I was sent through the detector, grilled about what I had on me, forced to lock my personal effects away, and left waiting in the room almost an hour before they let me go home. It's an intersting thing, what affects clergy legitimacy, and this entire process has shown me just how important it is to be perceived as clergy in order to best serve those you're there for: the ordination and the certificate just aren't good enough. I recently bought two new ties because of this perception issue.

But I love to sit across the table, and to hear the intelligent questions about Irish mythology (to which I usually have to say, "I don't know, I'll get back to you on that one."), do divination for things I never thought I'd have to actually think about, and schedule out workings for the inmate in addition to the workings I would normally do for myself. And, once again, knowing that this hour means more to the inmate than any other hour could mean in any other context makes it all worth it.

Three months ago, I signed my name with "Rev." in front of it for the first time at this prison. I used my credentials for the first time. I learned what it was to be "official" clergy. This is my first real clergy "assignment", and while it's been a frightening and dangerous "trial by fire", it's also been one of the most rewarding things I could possibly do.

[Yes, I realize there might be some grammatical no-nos up there, but while I don't mind talking about my prison ministry experience, I have to work hard not to detail anything about the inmate, so I have to find creative ways even to get around pronouns. That's why I haven't mentioned this, even though I've been doing it since late 2006: it's hard, very hard, to maintain confidentiality and still talk about this stuff. I have kept this as a major chunk of my life that isn't shared with anyone except very few ADF clergy members, particularly because this inmate hasn't gone to trial yet, and thus is technically innocent until that point.]
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: "It's My Job", -JB

(30 comments Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:road_trip_judi
Date:March 27th, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
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Even spouses are not allowed into the same room: the movies aren't joking when they show those glass windows and telephones. That's all the contact inmates are allowed with their spouses at the county jail.

Actually, I think that varies by jail. When a relative of mine was in jail (Orient and Mansfield were two of the ones he was at), and I visited, it was in a big room that looked a lot like a hospital waiting room. Lots of inmates with one or more visitors, couches arranged in three-sided squares with tables in the middle, that kind of thing. Never had to do the glass window and telephone thing at all.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 03:36 pm (UTC)
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It does vary by jail. This one is a county one, and they do it differently (or so I understand) than state ones, too. I get the impression that an inmate has fewer rights at that jail than might be available at a state jail.

I think this is largely because of facilities and manpower.
[User Picture]
From:wylde_chylde99
Date:March 27th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
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I think that is awesome, frankly! What did this guy do to go to jail anyway, or is that confidential too?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
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I would generally prefer not to say what the inmate is in for, mostly because no hearing has been had and plea bargains haven't been worked out, and if anyone finds out who this person is, I don't want that to color views if the verdict is "innocent" or "time served" if there's a guilty plea.

But thanks for the "awesome" comment :) It's something I've been interested in doing for a long time, but I don't think I ever could have imagined just how difficult it really is. I also don't think I ever could have imagined just how rewarding this has been.
[User Picture]
From:suicidekttn
Date:March 27th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
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If this person is doing the DP and wants a buddy, I'd be willing to volunteer. I don't know if it's allowed or not, but I just though I'd let you know. Even if it needs to wait, or if it's not allowed send them my best wishes.

Back in Highschool we did a big section in one of my Theology classes on prisons and prison ministry and I was always really into this. Despite my family having a fit because of how dangerous it is.

But I think what you're doing is awesome, definetly cool to see the tie-ins from my old faith to the new too.

Two ideas sparked from your post about what nature to bring as well: Water, from a stream. And maybe have them plant something? Not sure of what you're allowed to bring, but if you could bring a pot and dirt and some seeds. The most likely can't keep this, but maybe you could? Or plant something for them and take pictures and bring them in to show them. Like a piece of them planted in nature?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
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Mail correspondence might be welcome, though it'll probably go through the ADF office (rather than through being mailed directly to you: this prevents inmates from getting personal info).

I did think about water from streams and such. Planting is difficult in the current situation, but possibly if a transfer occurs to another institution on a permanent basis, that'll be different. I like the idea of keeping something for the inmate, except that I'm no good with plants (an amusing fact I've come to terms with, being a Druid).
[User Picture]
From:anivair
Date:March 27th, 2007 04:46 pm (UTC)
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I think you can get away with he either way, so long as you make clear that you're not necessarily talking about a man. The word is gender neutral, despite what hardcore feminists will have you believe.

I'm not suggesting that the fact that it's gender neutral isn't a subtle anti-woman poison in our minds. It probably is. but the fact remains.

That said, I'm most impressed that you're doing prison work. My father was in prison A LOT growing up and I saw him very seldom, but I have a good understanding of what that can be like, so bravo to you.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
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You're probably right. I also thought about just alternating pronouns at random, but that's too much work.

And thanks for the bravo. It's rewarding, and the smile I get and the letters of thanks are more than enough for me.
[User Picture]
From:moonlitmusings
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad you shared this. It's inspiring in a way and it's always great to hear about people doing things like this that mean so much to someone.
I agree with the others... you are awesome...
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
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I'm not awesome. I just play awesome on TV. ;) Thanks.
[User Picture]
From:ardgruntler
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:18 pm (UTC)
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I'm very happy for you:)

(I don't really have much more to say. Thank you for sharing this and . . . I just know how important it is to be there for someone who feels lost. And often the person who gets the greatest benefit is you.)

So . . . I'm very happy for you.

(I'm also happy for the lucky prisoner who's able to give you this first gift of Clergy:>)
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
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Well, in the whole scheme of things, I suppose I'd prefer never to have to do prison ministry, because that would mean that there are no prisoners to go minister to, and that would be nice, indeed.

I don't know that I could do this for a lot of prisoners. One is both time-consuming and energy draining enough. And I can definitely see how most clergy aren't called to this *at all*.

But in the current situation, I'm all about this, really.
[User Picture]
From:suicidekttn
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and if books are a problem I may be able to donate one. I don't know how that would work with the prison, but I'll extend the offer and if you know or find out you can always let me know.
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 06:51 pm (UTC)
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I'll let you know if this situation becomes permanent for this inmate, and may take you up on it.
[User Picture]
From:viedansante
Date:March 27th, 2007 07:30 pm (UTC)
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It really makes me happy to know you are making such difference in someone's life. I am proud of you (and no, I won't take that back, I said it, it's out there now :-).

There's a very fine line with confidentiality. It can be hard to tread (for me, I am reminded of the assistance I offered my father when he was writing his book. I cataloged, ordered, and filed the images and reports of a lot of people. I never, ever breathed a word about any of those reports (even when my teenage self really wanted to talk about it), and I never intimated who those individuals are - and I never will. It's been years since I worked on that project, but those people still have as much right to their privacy as they did then). The line cannot be liminal at all. There have to be absolutes with regards to that. Otherwise, there can be no trust, and with not trust, the client-clergy relationship is moot.

Wow, I really went all out there. Anyway, see you in a little over a week!
[User Picture]
From:chirael
Date:March 27th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)
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Good post - thanks for making it, and sharing it - and of course, doing it.

And the pie chart was awesome too, must have taken you some time to do and put up there! (surprised no one else mentioned it :)
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 27th, 2007 08:03 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I didn't do it. If you follow the link the pic goes to, you'll come to the artist's site. He's got some pretty darn good comics on there. From what I gathered (I found it doing a Google Image Search, of course), the guy is both an artist and an Episcopal priest.

Here's his cartoon blog.

One of the ones that most amused me was this one:



I think next time I update one of the Grove pages, I may have to use it in my post. . .
[User Picture]
From:ariansdreams
Date:March 27th, 2007 08:57 pm (UTC)
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I think that what you are doing is totally awesome as well. I'd also be willing to donate a book, should the need arise.

I am sure that you are a light in the darkness for that inmate. It must be a very intimidating, but rewarding experience. I wish you the best of luck.
[User Picture]
From:wishesofastar
Date:March 28th, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC)
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So, why aren't you being paid as a clergyman, considering that's now your primary profession? I know nothing of church funding, but I'm curious. Why doesn't ADF pay their clergy?
[User Picture]
From:chronarchy
Date:March 28th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
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I suspect that a major reason is that there's no tithing in Paganism.

Also, we (as Pagans in general, not ADF in particular, as ADF is more amenable to the idea in general) have a feeling that paid clergy are somehow "corrupt" and that they don't need it anyway (consider the Gardnerian prohibitions against charging for teaching the Craft).

I suspect, too, that there's just not enough money to pay clergy an annual salary. ADF only has one paid position, and it's a part time one: the Office Manager. We pay him because he does all that stuff that office managers need to do, and it's really just that time-consuming: he works about 20 hours per week.

But Paganism in general lacks both the support structure needed and the funds to start such a thing. Add to this that most of us don't have buildings (though some do) that the Grove owns and can provide to their clergy to live in for free, and every clergyperson would need enough of a stipend to afford a mortgage, or at least rent.

Most clergy get the following things from their churches:

  • An annual salary, starting about $25,000/year
  • A rectory or house for the clergy to live in
  • Occasionally, a car to be used when visiting congregants (or, more likely, a gas stipend or mileage reimbursement)
  • An office with complete office supplies
Unfortunately, of course, that all requires startup. The above annual starting salary is about half, I think, of what ADF has in the bank total. We're not really, I'm afraid, what one might call a "money-making-venture".

So, the priests have dayjobs. This isn't really a big deal: mine pays for all my continuing education that gets applied to ADF, I have access to my email all day, and I can get a lot of stuff done after hours.

And I wouldn't really want a cut of the Grove's income, especially not at the level it is now. First, it wouldn't actually help me much to get, say 10% of the dues and donations or something like that (we just don't ask for or get enough). Second, at our current bank accounts level, the Grove couldn't support me for more than one month.

I can always charge for things like weddings, funerals, and stuff like that, and the IRS reimburses me for mileage now, as well as anything that becomes a donation to the Grove or to ADF. In the end, I do this clergy thing because I love it, not for the cash. I'd do it even if I were paying for the privilege. Heck, sometimes I am :)

I think that my position on it all comes down to, "Well, there's just some stuff I gotta swallow." And the opportunity cost of being clergy instead of a clerk at Blockbuster is something that I gotta swallow.

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