When I first entered the extraordinary world of Pagan prison chaplaincy there were literally only a hand full of us. My first year at Pantheacon I got to meet them. Each of them distinctively diverse, sharing only a few characteristics. The one I noticed right away was the conspiracy theory.
They seem to spend the majority of their time speaking about all the discrimination, and the conspiracy by the Man to keep them down and out of the prison system. I accepted them at their words and payed close attention, because I was told to, because "I had no idea what I was getting myself into and what we chosen few were up against." Now I'm not saying there is no religious discrimination, but I had yet to see any myself. And on several occasions what was identified by them as discrimination towards us (myself included) I recognized as protocal and priority.
We had got in to do a service early one morning, but it was canceled because the tule fog was so thick you couldn't see five feet in front of you, much less the whole yard. "This kind of passive aggressive deterrence tactic is a perfect example of what we were fighting against, get used to it." But as a combat veteran, I recognized the serious breach of security. If you cant see it, it's not secure, the military taught me to used conditions like that to attack, evade and escape. No conspiracy, just common sense.
I was eager to talk to the others at Pantheacon about their more positive experiences. I wanted to talk shop, I wanted to talk about how they handle certain challenges with inmates, how they ran their rituals, what worked for them and what didn't. But there was not much to talk about there, most of them weren't actually, technically, actively volunteering. They had all gone and done it before, but not anymore. they each had unique stories about how the Man had stopped them.
The one story that always haunted me was the "brown card." To become a religious volunteer, you must pass a background check and security clearance, then there are in-service training programs you must attend before you are issued a state department of corrections ID, called a brown card. (Although their not actually brown.)
The card is only good for one year, at which time you must go through the process again to renew your ID and clearance. The catch I was told, is that when its time to renew, they don't schedule any training. So you cant renew, your ID expires and your locked out, which is were they want you. I was warned time and time again, that I was being used. That I was either a mindless pawn or a sellout. And when they were done with me I would get "starved out" like the rest of them.
So around the end of May every year I get a little nervous, hoping my supervisor there at the prison doesn't make a liar out of me. They haven't. In fact they have gone through great lengths to keep me on. Though I can't say more than that about it, the fact is last week I filled out the packet for the third time, took my picture for the third time, and received my renewed credentials for the third time.
In these past few years of service I have seen many inmates come and go, I've seen many paid staff come and go, yet as a Wiccan chaplain I remain..... proof that it can be done.
Thank you Lord and Lady for investing me with the fortitude necessary to walk the path you have laid before me.