Attica Prison Worship Group 2018 State of the Meeting
The beginning of 2018 started off at a low point of attendance. Three of our four volunteers were no longer able to come in due to suspensions or health conditions. We only had two inside members due to transfers or schedule conflicts. But our one outsider and two insiders kept the faith and things picked up by the end of the year. We now have 3 inside members and 3 outside volunteers.
As a very small group, we grew to know each other better. We were greatly enriched by a visit from members of the NYYM Prisons Committee. The ARCH workshops of the previous year continue to work in us and some of our outreach has fostered new connections. We share of our families, our legal work, our poetry. We ask questions and challenge each other to grow. The people that have come and gone from the group over the year are keenly missed and we deeply feel their Spirit in our group when they are not with us. We all care about each other.
As we considered the spiritual health of our meeting for the year 2018, we considered the question “How does one stay Quakerly in an unQuakerly environment?”
The relationships between incarcerated Friends and outside Quakers who come inside are very important. A person in a prison can come to believe they are the environment they are in. We are conditioned to believe certain destructive ideas. When we interact with outside volunteers, it is humanizing. We know we are still alive. You could live in prison for years and not realize what has happened to you, to your spirit. But here in meeting you have an opportunity to be human. Meeting is our sanctuary.
Inside and outside Friends provide each other with a certain type of balance. We offer each other insights about the two worlds—how they differ and how they are the same. Meeting for worship is a sacred place where we share things we would not otherwise share or maybe not even think of at all.
Is it worth it, to keep striving to be Quakerly in this environment? Or should we just give up?
Meeting allows us to recognize the balance between solitude which is healing and reflective and solitude which breeds unhealthy anxiety; a silence which is introspective and a silence which comes from oppression. There is a power to transform that which is forced upon us to something that we can accept and use for bettering one’s self.
In an oppressive environment, the Spirit in us can break down and die. We can become bitter. But the Light within cannot be extinguished. In our circle, we offer affirmation—a reflection of how far we have come as individuals and as a community. Our meeting is family. We challenge each other in a way to bring out our better selves. At this moment, we would not want to be anywhere else.