You know how sometimes you’re thinking about topic A, you start to move to related topic B, and then you quickly run through the alphabet, and end up somewhere only distantly related to A? That’s how this entry came about.
There’s been so much in the Pagan webosphere lately about predators and safety in our community: Robin Fletcher here in Australia, the arrest of Kenny Klein for possession of child pornography, debates over the Frosts presenting at Florida Pagan Gathering, and child sex abuse allegations surrounding fantasy novelist Marion Zimmer Bradley.
I’m really glad to see ongoing conversations about safety and consent in the Pagan community. It’s a good and much needed conversation. How do we set and maintain boundaries within our groups and at our festivals? How do we respond to allegations of abuse? How do we support victims? In thinking of all this, I eventually got to wondering about perpetrators.
I don’t know how many Pagans there are in prison and I don’t why they are there. Like many people, I struggle with ideas about what rights or privileges prisoners ought to have. It’s easy to think a person should just be locked up and the key thrown away, but I also know that the criminal justice system is imperfect and not always all that just. And what happens when they are released? Is there a place for them in the Pagan community? What does that look like? How do
I’ve never been moved to do prison ministry so I thought I’d ask someone who is.
M. Macha NightMare (Aline O’Brien) is an American Witch and Priestess. She has a long list of accomplishments including being among the founders of Reclaiming Tradition and NROOGD, a well-known member of the Covenant of the Goddess, and involved with Cherry Hill Seminary. You can learn more about Macha at her website and her blog Broomstick Chronicles. She has also been writing more on Creating Sacred Space with Pagan Prison Inmates over at Witches & Pagans. You can read parts one, two, and three here.
How long have you been doing prison ministry?
About a year.
Why did you get involved with prison ministry?
Because I was asked and the prison is close enough to my home for me to do it.
What are the goals of your ministry?
My goals are several. One is to assure that Pagan (in this case, Wiccan, tho I myself am not Wiccan, per se) inmates are allowed to meet. Another is to give them some knowledge and skills that they can use anywhere they find themselves — in a cell, in a stress situation, out in the world if they’re paroled or released.
Why should Pagans support Pagans in prison and/or prison ministry?
Well, I’m not so sure they should support it — I resist ‘shoulds’ — but I do know that there are Pagans in prison and that they need support they’re not getting, for the most part. In California, religious groups need to meet under supervision. So if they need someone and no prison chaplain is available, I can help. I’m supervised by the Native American chaplain.
One thing I do know is that, unlike Xtians and other Abrahamics, Pagans don’t have institutions to provide study materials and tools (rosaries, for instance). I’ve received donations of tools, supplies, books, and other items from private individual Pagans who trust that I’ll use the money for that purpose (if they give me money) and/or who have some compassion for the inmates and want to see them well served. But we have no system. We have no institutions. I, and by extension the Wiccan circle at San Quentin State Prison, have received monetary, books, and other donations from ppl who know me personally and feel that this work is worthy of their support. For instance, one prominent supporter does so because his father was incarcerated for much of his childhood and I suppose he knows how grim prison life can be. That supporter is Pagan, but not Wiccan, and I doubt his father was Pagan.
What place do former inmates have in the Pagan community?
This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot. I don’t have an answer. What I do have, however, is one inmate just released to a halfway house in Los Angeles who asked me if he could email me when he got out. I said yes, but didn’t give him any contact info. That said, I’m easy to find. Another is due to be released in the SF Bay Area in a matter of weeks, and he’s very interested in seeing who’s out there in Pagandom. I’m guessing he’ll find open circles to check out. I like both of these men, but I don’t know them outside of the inmate circle. I don’t know what crimes they were imprisoned for. We volunteers are not permitted to be personal with inmates. In other words, I don’t feel I can vouch for any of them if someone were to ask. Of course, they can use my name and say they know me, and ppl can take that as an endorsement or not, without checking with me. Nothing I can do about that.
So you see, Cosette, more questions than answers.