Prison Ministry Story


Prison experience?  Yes.  I think it was a Quaker who is an intern chaplain at the Virginia Correction Center for Women who contacted CHS looking for a Wiccan chaplain, then contacted me.  And I contacted the VCCW chaplain — and I’ve been working through her.  Thursday night (2/18) was my first opportunity to go to the facility and meet the women.

121 miles one way, supposed to take a little over 2 hours — well, it was 3 1/2 hours thanks to an accident on I-95, and I arrived a bit late, missing the chance to meet Rita.  But Chaplain Powell is the one in charge, and she is wonderful and open and eager to learn stuff.  We’re getting along fine.

The women meet Thursdays from 5:30 to 8 pm in “the gym” — a basement room, tables, chairs, the usual — with a break at 6 when they have to go line up for “count”.  I got there around 6 and to the room with them when they were just getting settled after count.

Six women in the group, which has been meeting for at least 3 years.  The leader of the group said she has 9 years to go, so she is focused on making the best of it.

They expressed delight and gratitude that I had come.  Chaplain Powell left us to ourselves until things ended promptly at 8.  I had made a one-sheet intro and greeting with some useful tidbits on the back, so they would have my name straight and something to remember me by.  Mostly we talked — pretty much everybody got into the conversation at one point or other.

The group has a plastic tub that stays in the gym and contains their stuff.  They have made an altar cloth (plain green with Magic Marker designs), 4 electric candles, a large bowl, a small bowl (and salt to mix in the water they get for it), some wands they made, mostly found items of seeds, leaves, rocks and such, and some crafted items (pentacles).  They hang one sign listing 13 rules of being a Witch and a couple other cut-and-paste pretties.  Like any other Witches, they bring to their altar what they find meaningful.

They are allowed two celebratory holidays a year — with a special meal together and extended time to do stuff.  They do Beltain and Samhain.  Some weeks they do ritual, but not always.

From the discussion and my observations, they are trying to put together a working circle that learns and does stuff.  They muttered that they were from all different paths, and I affirmed that, yes, that’s how a lot of us work — we are each different in our beliefs and spirituality, but we find a way to work together and support each other.  Turns out we had one shaman with background in Santeria, one wobbling between Celtic and Norse (ex-Catholic), one getting out in a couple of months . . .

They crave information and share copies of anything they can get their hands on.  They are trying to maintain a study program of 6 to 8 weeks on a topic.  They’re recently done runes and they’re just now getting into spellwork.

Spellwork.  From what to me looked like a very scattered baseline.  The leader’s notebook had a bunch of different tables of correspondences, which color candle goes with what — overwhelming detail minus the basics.  So, I put some time into sharing the importance of grounding and centering: they’re on some decent ground there, but we can always use more practice (this part went well).  They asked about spellwork, and I sighed and went for the basics — intent, clarity, thinking it through to avoid harm and unforeseen consequences.  Trying to get from “using the right magical items” to finding the things that have meaning and correspondence with yourselves and what you intend — especially when you can’t just order up “the right stuff” according to a book you have read.  Shared a couple of my own spellwork stories.

That’s how the 2 hours went — topic to topic, me getting a feel for where they are and want to be, them craving and satisfying outside information and confirmation of being real and on a good track.  Heady experience, all the way around.

I need to take a bit of VCCW training so I can come and go there with more freedom.  Until I do, I can visit once a quarter.  Chaplain Powell will print out stuff I send her and get it to the group, so that will keep me busy digging up stuff for a little while.  She and I talked a bit about some things they want but haven’t been allowed — I explained cakes and ale in terms of, say, bread and water, and could we find a way that they could be allowed a bit of bread?  I think there might be progress on that score.

So.  I sent them a thank-you note.  I have a blank book here (I love blank books, keep buying them, and never using them) that I will take/get to them to start a circle book of shadows — because they have established themselves as a church of their own, etc.  Affirmation is, I think, important.

I didn’t have time to see what they have for a library, but I think it has several of the basics, including Spiral Dance, which is where I started.  There is a future here for continued involvement but a hell of a drive for each visit.  I would like to get in touch with a Witch or two who lives closer and can get there more easily to backstop me on this — someone from the Richmond – Charlottesville axis of the state.

Lots to do.  Trying not to overdo.  Yeah, right.

Busy little Witch, I am,

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