I Went Back to Prison Today
Several years ago, a retired Episcopal priest who is a friend and ally came into the bookstore where I worked and asked me a favor. He looked a little haggard and the favor he asked was something I would never have considered in a millionbillion years--he asked me if I would help him out by creating a Wiccan ministry at the prison where he was a volunteer chaplain.
Honestly, if someone had told me ten years ago that I'd be working with incarcerated Pagans, I would have laughed in their faces. I had plenty to do working with a Pagan faith-based charity I had helped found years before and dreaming of a Goddess-focused temple in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains. I had a teenaged daughter, a job, a demanding garden that included kept bees.
I can't tell you why I even considered it--except he obviously needed help and it seemed a wonderful challenge. Somehow I ended up doing all the necessary volunteer training and developing a Wiccan program in a medium-security NC Department of Corrections facility. I stayed with that program for almost two years--and saw a class of seekers through their dedication (including cords, I might add)--and finally left it in capable Wiccan hands. I had the opportunity to do the same thing at a women's facility and figured it was time for my "guys" to get a little more info on traditional Wicca, since I practice mixed-gender Dianic Wicca.
The women's facility is a little farther afield and is a minimum security camp. I was struck at once with how truly welcoming both the chaplains were. My initial meeting with them was informative, pleasant and very helpful. The other facility had merely suffered a Wicca program because they couldn't legally deny the prisoners access. But they didn't need to be helpful in any way--and they weren't. We were never allowed to use the chapel--not because we were Wiccan, you understand, but because it was just so darn busy with all the Christian volunteers.
Whatever. We made good use of our time together and most of the guys went on to other camps and a few got out into the world.
There were a couple of glitches at the women's camp but they were all bureaucratic and not religiously-motivated. I did some volunteer work and took some training and signed some paperwork, etc. As I was waiting for my blue volunteer card--yes, I needed another one of those, even though I had one for a facility within the same system--my book on Appalachian folk magic got published, I guided the first cohort of Mother Grove clergy through the ordination process and dealt with a death in the family.
That meant I was away for a few months. But today I went back. I remembered how to get in--two IDs, no phone, don't forget to sign in!--and started almost from scratch.
If any of you are considering being a volunteer Wiccan chaplain in a state prison, I encourage you to check it out and do it if your temperament and schedule permit. It's weird work--and wyrd work--and there are many rules and sometimes it's frustrating to have new or different people every time you come to camp.
But it is good work. Really good work.
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