Monday, October 7, 2013

Re-Entry Part II

I feel the need to say, again, that the Re-Entry Program is a work in progress. It is not the same now as when I was in it and I hope that it continues to grow. I hope that it actually benefits the people in jail and people in the community, as it has potential to do. There are benefits to being in the program. Applying for and receiving a copy of your Social Security card, birth certificate and state i.d. are requirements. There is an emphasis on adult education and living a drug free life. Some semblance of spiritual life is covered...though it is spiritual life as approved of by the administration.

Here are a few observations, none of this should be read as endorsement or critique. It is simple what I saw and my thoughts on that.

I think that spirituality is necessary to growth. It is a good thing to be in touch with something bigger than yourself. Spirituality can shrink the world...make you see that we are all connected. If people see themselves as connected to the world at large it is unlikely that they will participate in activity that hurts the community around them. In my life I draw little distinction between religions...you can find wisdom and truth wherever you look.

Here's where I had a problem with the Re-Entry Program's treatment of spirituality:

It was compulsory and it was exclusively Christian.

Along spiritual lines Re-Entry had 3 groups when I was a participant; Internal Mentoring(a group done in the jail), External Mentoring(a group done at a local church annex), and God's Country(again at the church annex). The people who hosted these groups are not employed by the jail, they are volunteers. Our hosts we're extremely gracious...As an example for the outside groups, there was food. Upon finding out that I am a vegetarian, our hosts provided me with vegetarian dishes, which was always very tasty fare by the way. It is my humble opinion that the people from the church who host these programs are very nice people who are genuinely concerned about their community, and the people in it...including those with legal issues. These people were not judgmental, and even upon learning that I am Buddhist did not in any way try to Bible thump me. They were all lovely people, and I mean that.

I do have to say that, as someone who believes that one's spirituality is one's own business, I have a problem with the jail enforcing activity in any single religion exclusively. Can you, my dear and loyal readers, imagine if prisoners were forced to participate in Islamic services? What  if learning Buddha's Dhamma or chanting Hare Krishna were compulsory activities in a jail? It is my belief that people benefit from any spiritual study but that is beside the point...A jail should not, I doubt that it legally can, force participation the way it does.

I want to re-state that my issue is not with the volunteers. They were great people and refreshingly Christlike, they were compassionate and strong in their faith. It was truly an honor to have met and exchanged ideas with them.

My issue is with forced religious activity. I am not sitting here with my hand in an apple pie, waving a flag but it doesn't seem "American" to me...