One of the self-help groups I work with in a state prison is called ‘Celebrate Recovery’. It’s a sort of 12-Steps-for-Jesus approach to kicking addictions. The framework resembles what the non-denominational Alcoholics Anonymous might look like had AA been founded by a couple of guys who were totally into Scripture. Rather than a Higher Power, Celebrate Recovery’s deity is unabashedly our brother Jesus. The program’s enthusiasm draws a lot of inmates into something positive.

I’ve been noticing that the Celebrate Recovery band is surprisingly good, although I should really stop being surprised by the gifts and talents that are evident everywhere in prison. People don’t stop being channeling their passion for what they are good at  - art or music or mechanics or politics - when they are incarcerated.  One inmate is an accomplished rap artist, who writes and performs his own compositions. A line from a song he sang recently has stuck in my head. “I don’t wanna leave here the way I came,” he sang. It was a refrain that he kept looping back to: “I don’t wanna leave here the way I came – oh, no – I don’t wanna leave here the way I came – oh, no . . .” The other band members and some of the men in the audience sang and clapped along to the beat.

The sentence seemed an excellent governing philosophy for a prison term. Why not avail oneself of all possible rehabilitation, training, programs, and classes while one has a lot of time? Why not leave a better man than the one who came in, especially if there’s not much else to do? Why not equip oneself to be a better son, father, boyfriend, husband, friend, worker? And then I thought the same thought that I have so often thought during my hours working in a prison: Why do I assume that inmates need these life lessons more than I do?

Because I, too, don’t wanna leave here the way I came. I want my small bit of life on earth to shine with light gained along the journey, with insight, compassion, and wisdom acquired the hard way, with love that has grown in scope and intensity. I want to leave this life a better woman than the one whose path I have trudged and whose history I have lived, a better person than the one born all those decades ago. If we believe in a God whose love sustains us, we will not leave here the way we came. We can’t help but bloom in the light of such grace.

And how fantastic that God dwells in the locked confines of a prison, in the rhythm of rap.

Valerie Schultz

Comments

david power | 12/7/2011 - 5:16pm
If there is good or bad in this world you can be sure the Jesuits had a hand in it :).
I always enjoy what you write Valerie.
I have often heard the stories of people on the road to recovery as I come from a town ravaged by addiction.  There is something deeply humanising in it all.
I wish you well in the work that you do with these people and pray that Jesus will continue to make his way in .Nothing or nobody is as radical as Jesus Christ  .
Bill Mazzella | 12/7/2011 - 4:17pm
Harry Belafonty, in his marvelous documentary of his civil rights activity "Sing your Song on HBO, said that the incarceration of blacks in this country is the last area of civil rights to be rectified. His point is that most of the inmates are black. The criticism is justified because blacks have fewer resources to fight for their rights and often succumb to a plea bargain foisted on them by a court appointed attorney who is trained to move cases rather than do justice to his constituents. As a result, the minority inmates who had few resources to fight for their rights to avoid imprisonment end up with fewer resources when their prison terms are over to effectively rehabilitate. On the racial equality level I can assure you that many white men deserve to be in prison but have not because of greater availability of resources. Consequently, the greatest presumption might be our denial in facing the civil rights issue in imprisonment.

Perhaps the budget cuts will aid minorities in lessening the prison population. It is a reality that cries to the heavens that we have less than 5% of the world's population but almost a quarter of the world's prisoners.  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/world/americas/23iht-23prison.12253738.html?pagewanted=all

Something is truly rotten in the land of the free.
 
Anonymous | 12/7/2011 - 4:06pm
Actually, you might be interested to know that Ed Dowling, a Jesuit, played an integral role in the formulation of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. He and Bill Wilson collaborated on the steps. You might also be interested to know that a nun, whose name, I believe, was Sister Ignatia, also played a critical role in the first detox in New York. If you read the Big Book carefully, you will find that it is, in fact, replete w/ scriptural references.

Whoops, AK, Just saw your comment. You beat me to it. My favorite Ed Dowling quotation: "If I ever get to heaven, it will be from running away from hell".
NORMA NUNAG | 12/7/2011 - 3:32pm
I just love your ...."Why do I assume that inmates need these life lessons more than I do?....and the rest of the piece.  Very insightful of you.... thank you so much.....truly a great reminder for all of us,  that we do need some cleaning up and purifying of our intentions when helping others.  We seem to always imply that we are better, more caring and more generous than "those others", "poor things" we are trying to rehabilitate and help.  Yes, we all seem to be presumptuous. 
Adrienne Krock | 12/7/2011 - 3:00pm
(Ok, first off, I'm a BIG fan, Valerie. BIG time.) But... Fr. Tom Weston, SJ, gives a great talk about the founding of AA. The origins of AA began in St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, OH, where Dr. Bob worked with Sr. Ignatia of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, admitting patients. (Fr. Tom tells the story of the clergy who were some of the earliest Recovery patients there and how one Bishop was upset when Sr. Ignatia, following what would be the 2nd Tradition of AA, would not kiss his ring. The 2nd Tradition has been especially important to me in my personal story.) Religion and Spirituality are a very important part of my life but I do appreciate the wisdom and brilliance of the 12-Steps and Traditions.