by Dean Faiello
Cayuga Worship Group
Friday nights, twice a month, I attend Quaker worship meetings at Cayuga CF. However, at the end of the work week, I am often tired, cranky, and irritable. Even though it is a prison program, my job at the Transitional Services Center requires many hours. By Friday night, I just want to take a nap. But I think about the outside volunteers who are preparing to leave their homes and their families, travel here, and deal with correction officers and processing to gain entry to a prison. My trip to the worship room takes less than five minutes. But their trip here, and back, requires hours of driving, waiting, and selfless dedication. When I think about the volunteers —their smiling faces, their empathy and compassion—I change my attitude and do what I have to do to get ready for the meeting: shower, shave, make my dinner in advance, prepare a cup of coffee for the next morning, which begins at four a.m.
I spent many years sleeping late, and being late for work, because I was up all night—partying, selfishly thinking of only myself, my needs, my wants, my whims and desires, doing just about anything I felt like doing. Eventually, that deluded thinking ruined my life, and the lives of those around me. My family and friends suffered. Greatly.
Change did not take place until I went to prison. After two years on Rikers Island, the first bus stop was Attica. It was an ugly, dark, depressing place. But I made the best of it —learning to write, teaching prison programs, attending college classes, and finally, after ignoring my family for forty years, communicating with them. I wrote them letters, explaining my ignorance, my failures, my sorrow for what I put them through.
I explored Catholicism, Buddhism, existentialism, just about any “-ism” I could find. Eventually, at Attica, I attended a Quaker meeting and listened to a registered nurse talk about her work with the terminally ill, caring for them, and helping them “pass over.” I realized that empathy and compassion were missing from my life. I felt so small, so sad.
That meeting, that experience, that realization, finally changed me. So now, when I feel like just thinking about myself, I think about the Quakers who are on their way here, who care about me, and prisoners, and helping others. And I get up, and shower, and put on a clean, ironed shirt, and get myself to a meeting. Afterwards, I feel so much better, and am so grateful for Quakers, volunteers, and prison.
I don’t like change. It’s stressful. But I am so glad I am no longer the person I used to be. My family, and Quakers, are glad too.