Last year at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies I spoke about PTSD, what it was like coming home and what many of us are dealing with. While my dealings with some of experiences in Iraq may be rough and troublesome, the hardest part was coming home and returning to civilian life.
After everything that I had been through, and strangely enough, everything I have become accustom to, I had a much more difficult time integrating back into "normal" life and relating to "normal" people (civilians). I soon discovered that most people had equal difficulty relating to me. There were many awkward silences because they didn't know what or what not say, and neither did I.
Years ago I started a little blog called The Ink Blot Tarot, and most people know me from that blog as WitchDoctorJoe (all one word, please just humor me.) It started as a publicly-private journal of one of my second degree CraftWork projects. I may not a good writer, but I know I'm not very good at writing. I'm very self-aware that my spelling is a borderline disability, that I am punctuationally impaired and that I drive the grammar Nazis completely insane. Mostly because I tend to make up my own words, which I enjoy, because somehow you always know what I mean when I do it. My favorite thing is to take a few words, capitalize them, and then smash them together into one word like CraftWork. Regardless of how bad of a writer I may be, I am in fact extremely comfortable writing.
Or at least I was until I realized how many people were reading my blog, then I became nervous, uncertain and uncomfortable. I became very careful and very guarded with my words and feelings; and my interest began to wane. I am simply not the guarded type. I have no problem spilling my guts, sharing my intimate thoughts, feelings and fears. For example, I love chick flicks like My Big Fat Greek Wedding and I wet the bed until I was almost ten.
Back in July 2012 I wrote a piece announcing the establishment of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Since then the association has accrued a decent number of members. Considering how few Pagan Chaplains there are, we're looking pretty good. A little over a week ago we held our first annual forum at PantheaCon and again I was pleasantly surprised by the turn out. Among those in attendance were Patrick McCollum, Selena Fox, Macha Nightmare and Glenn Turner. I personally felt honored by their presence.
Our presentation consisted of a brief introduction to the association; its mission, vision, membership, structure and development plans. I gave a short instructional vignette on essential texts related to chaplaincy within the field of corrections. This transitioned into an open discussion forum which covered a wide range of topics. Both Patrick and Selena shared valuable experience and insight on the past, present and future of Pagan Chaplaincy. The highlight of the evening for me personally was Patrick's heartfelt expression of support for the success of the association. And in the interest of full disclosure, I got a little misty eyed.
Gandhi said "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and it has become my own personal mantra. It has been almost six years ago since I first sat across the table from Rev. Patrick McCollum in a roadside diner as he told me the story of how he became the first Wiccan chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He had a way of telling a story that kept me on the edge of my seat as he recounted the relentless onslaught of religious discrimination he personally experienced trying to provide religious services to Wiccan inmates.
I was shocked to hear that the first time he attempted to enter a prison to provide religious services he was spit on by a uniformed correctional officer. The frustrating irony was that it was institutional staff that had called him and asked for his help. Wiccan inmates had won a legal suit and the prison was required to provide them with religious accommodations, so officials requested that Patrick volunteer his time and money, make the long journey to their somewhat remote location to assist them. But when he did, they did everything they could to stop him.
He warned me about the various challenges of the mission, should I choose to accept it. But I had just moved back home after almost ten years in the United States Army, including a tour in Iraq. So I was more than confident, I was cocky. I remember Patrick saying he thought I had what it took to do services at Corcoran State Prison, I always took that as an enormous compliment and hoped I would someday live up to that impression.