Spark, November 2019 - Light Behind the Walls: Quaker Worship in Prison
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The online edition of New York Yearly Meeting's print newsletter.
Download a pdf file of the November 2019 Spark
Welcome to this special issue on “Light Behind the Walls.” I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to collect articles from inside and outside the walls to highlight the powerful ministry that happens for us when Friends worship and connect with one another in prison. Many thanks to Sarah Way, communications director. We hope this issue is widely circulated inside and outside the walls so please pass it on after you read it.
—Jill McLellan, Prisons Committee
Articles: Light Behind the Walls
- Quaker Prisms, by Michael Rhynes, Attica Worship Group
- Attica Quaker Worship Group: With, Not For, by Karen Reixach, Ithica Meeting
- Light Behind the Walls, by Yohannes “Knowledge” Johnson, Green Haven Prison Preparative Meeting
- Prison Worship, by Edward Stabler, Syracuse Meeting
- Attica Prison Worship Group 2018 State of the Meeting
- Illuminiation, by Dean Faiello, Cayuga Worship Group
- Prison Worship, by Fred Dettmer, Purchase Meeting
- Prison Is a Place..., by Zontiell Gordon, Sing-Sing Worship Group
- The Walls and the Light, by Darrell Domblewski, Orleans Prison Worship Group
- Alternatives to Violence (AVP) in a Honduran Prison, by Shirley Way, Ithica Meeting
- Support College Behind Bars, by Black Concerns Committee
A Note on Language
There is a movement afoot to be more mindful about the words we use. The goal is to remind us that all of us are people first. Any qualifiers come after that acknowledgement of someone’s personhood. Rather than saying “inmates” or “offenders,” we might say “a woman who's incarcerated,” “a man in prison,” “a person on parole.” Folks leaving prison are often referred to as “returning citizens.” Being deliberate with word choices helps remind us that the people in prison are just that: people. —Jill McLellan
Write to a Quaker Inside Prison
“For a good 16 years, I was transferred from prison to prison, and while at no time was there a Quaker worship group for me to attend, I held on to the faith of those who held faith in me....In all of those years, Quakers have been my breath of life. I arrived at the Auburn Correctional Facility and was overwhelmed to have finally found a Quaker prison worship group. After my first opportunity to meet with them, I cried in my cell that night.”
—Yohannes ‘Knowledge’ Johnson, Friends Journal, March 2019
As Quakers within New York Yearly Meeting, we practice our faith inside and outside of prison. In eight prisons throughout New York state, incarcerated Friends gather to worship with Friends from the outside. Over time, people often get transferred to facilities where there is no worship group and they may want to maintain their relationship with the Yearly Meeting. Ongoing contact between Quakers on the inside and outside is critical and mutually beneficial.
The NYYM Prisons Committee is building a group of Friends inside and outside the walls who want to share their truth and their wisdom on their spiritual journeys. We seek people willing to write letters and develop relationships! If you are interested in writing to a Friend inside prison, or if you are an incarcerated Friend who would like to join this peer to peer letter writing group, please write to Judy Meikle c/o NYYM 15 Rutherford Place, New York NY 10003
Opportunities to Get Involved with Prison Work
There is a historical precedent for Friends being involved in prison work. Not only were early Friends often incarcerated for their beliefs but the first recognized prison volunteer was Elizabeth Fry who started programs for women and children after visiting Newgate Prison in 1813.
Here are some ways to get involved:
Correspondence: Writing to someone who has attended a Quaker Prison Worship Group but is now in a facility with no Quakers. The idea is to nurture a spiritual Friendship. It is suggested that you use a meetinghouse address rather than your personal one so personal information is kept private. When you start corresponding, we suggest you have a mentor who is familiar with the prison system; your mentor could be a volunteer or another Friend who has corresponded or visited. People who correspond are permitted to visit people in prison but cannot also be volunteers for programs such as Prison Worship Groups or AVP. See a member of Prisons Committee to find out who is now in a prison with no worship group.
Greeting Card Ministry: Your meeting could send greeting cards several times per year to incarcerated Friends or AVP facilitators in a nearby prison. Cards have no personal messages but rather a general positive (often seasonal) greeting and is signed with first names only. Cards can be handmade (no glue, glitter, paint, or other unusual materials are permitted) or store-bought. See a member of Prisons Committee for more information.
Visits: Visiting a person who has been involved in Quaker worship is also a meaningful way to connect. We suggest going in pairs, at least at first. The Prisons Committees (regional and NYYM) can help identify men and women who would like a visit. If you make visits or correspond, you cannot also be a volunteer.
Registered Volunteers: Becoming a volunteer can take a few months of forms, background checks, fingerprinting, orientation, and TB tests. Volunteers can attend a prison worship group in a NYS prison (Attica, Auburn, Cayuga, Green Haven, Orleans, Otisville, Sing Sing, Woodbourne and a Quaker study group at Elmira) which meet weekly or semimonthly. Volunteering with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) is a wonderful experience and in many more facilities than have worship groups. AVP also has workshops in NJ and CT and in federal facilities.
ARCH Visitors and Presenters: ARCH (Aging Resources Consultation and Help) is involved in prisons. Those trained as ARCH visitors (training now offered remotely through NYYM) may be invited to visit someone in prison who is wishing a visit to assist with end of life issues, housing. Visiting in pairs is suggested, at least at first. Registered volunteers can present ARCH programs inside the prisons to the Quaker groups and in some cases to a larger audience. The topic of the presentation is usually selected by the men in the worship group, and the ARCH program has outlines for a variety of programs.
Re-entry: Supporting those who have come home from incarceration is best done as part of a supportive group such as a meeting or AVP group.
Many people in prison have been Quakers and/or AVP facilitators for decades. We all have much to learn from each other. Even a few letters a year or a visit or two a year can be a great gift to somebody behind bars, and an opportunity for growth for the “outside” Friend as well. Be prepared to be transformed.
Jill McLellan, Buffalo Meeting; also worships in Auburn and Orleans Prisons
and Suzanne Blackburn, Genesee Valley Meeting; also worships in Attica Prison
Around Our Yearly Meeting
- Editor's Note
- Summer Sessions - July 19-25, 2020
- Outreach Cards Available! - NYYM Youth Committee
- For Young Friends (ages 13-18) of New York Yearly Meeting
- New Pathway to Membership in New York Yearly Meeting
- Young Peacemakers Week in Albany
- Guns Into Gardening Tools
- Upcoming Events
Around Our Yearly Meeting
Welcome to a special issue of Spark guest-edited by Jill McLellan and the Prisons Committee. Many thanks to Jill, the members of the Prisons Committee, and everyone who wrote. Extra copies of this issue will be printed and distributed to all of our prison worship groups.
Inspired? Consider writing an article for Spark. Aim for 400-600 words and include your full name and meeting with your submission. Don’t forget to send in news from your meeting! Email articles, photos, and news to [email protected].
The January issue of Spark is unthemed and will include news from Fall Sessions and updates from NYYM committees. Submissions deadline is December 1. The March issue will be guest-edited by the Indian Affairs Committee and submissions are due by February 1.
Giving thanks! —Sarah Way
July 19-25, 2020
Registration will open on February 1, 2020
SAVE THE DATE! You are invited to join the New York Yearly Meeting community for Summer Sessions 2020. NYYM gathers for Summer Sessions at Silver Bay YMCA, a conference and family retreat center on the shores of Lake George. Several hundred Friends of all ages, both members and attenders, from across the NYYM region, gather to worship, conduct business, play, and create a community together.
This past summer, Summer Sessions was Pay as Led for the first time. This was a daring experiment that relied on people being led to pay more so others could pay less, making our summer gathering accessible to a wider range of Friends. It was a success! Summer Sessions 2020 will also be Pay as Led.
What can you do now to get ready for Summer Sessions?
Save the date in your calendar: July 19-25, 2020
Consider joining Junior Yearly Meeting as a group leader and help plan the week’s program. Contact Dawn Pozzi for more.
Start thinking about whether you are led to lead an interest group
Keep an eye out for more Sessions information in January!
Look for the details and plan on joining us July 19-25!
Outreach Cards Available!
NYYM Youth Committee
The Youth Committee is sharing these sample Outreach cards for members to share with others as an introduction to our beloved community.
We feel it’s important to share who we are with those seeking resonant community. We also consider it essential in these times, without proselytizing, to inform.
If your Meeting would like to receive 100+ of these cards, simply email the below info to the Treasurer of the Youth Committee, Don O’Keefe. Please cc: Howard Gibbs-Hobgood.
Donations are welcome, but not required, by clicking “Donate” at nyym.org, or by check to NYYM,
15 Rutherford Pl, New York, NY 10003. Please write “Outreach Cards” in the memo.
The Youth Committee
Your Name, Address, Meeting
Quantity Requested of Version 1 (That Which Is…) or Version 2 (Let Your Life Speak)
What do you appreciate about your Monthly Meeting?
How could your Monthly Meeting better serve you?
How could your Meeting better serve Youth, Young Adults & Families?
What might inspire you to attend Summer Sessions 2020?
For Young Friends (ages 13-18) of New York Yearly Meeting
At New York Yearly Meeting’s Summer Sessions, some Friends noticed that while young adults have spent time and energy naming their needs, we haven’t heard much directly from our youth (the folks around 13-18 years old) about YOUR needs. As NYYM discusses the position(s) of Youth/Young Adult Field Secretary, it is important to hear from you! We have spent some time learning about what activities are available for youth connection and care at yearly meetings across the US and Britain, and have used these conversations as the basis of this (anonymous) survey.
Please complete it, even if you don’t go to meeting or Powell House (or perhaps ESPECIALLY if you don’t!). It will only take 2 minutes or so. If you prefer to talk to one of us directly, please email Beth; also contact Beth if you would like to be added to a youth-only group text about hopes and needs. Also, if you have friends/peers you think we should hear from, please share the link to the survey. Thanks so much for being awesome. We are excited to hear from you!
Beth Kelly, Emily Provance, and Corina Tulevech
- Ramal Davis — Genesee Valley Executive Meeting
- Irene Corsaro — Wilton
- Joseph (Indio) Soto Maguey — Morningside Meeting
- Priscilla DeVeer, member of Bulls Head-Oswego, on May 17, 2019.
New Pathway to Membership in New York Yearly Meeting
Friends can now apply to be a member “at large” in NYYM. From the revisions to Faith and Practice approved at Fall Sessions: “An adult who applies for membership “at large” in the body of New York Yearly Meeting is expected to have been actively involved in the yearly meeting business, committees, communities, worship, events, or sessions. Sometimes life circumstances make it difficult or impossible to join or regularly attend a monthly meeting. Applicants may be incarcerated, living in remote locations, frequently traveling, working as caregivers, or simply not finding a spiritual home in a nearby monthly meeting....
A commitment to enter wholeheartedly into the spiritual and corporate activities of the Society and to assume responsibility, as way opens, is expected.”
The Committee to Revise Faith and Practice is finalizing the details of applying via this new path.
Young Peacemakers Week in Albany
Albany Friends Meeting hosted another successful Young Peacemakers Week (YPW) during the week of August 19-23 this past summer. 36 children attended from 8:30 to 3:00 every day, participating in a wide variety of activities created to bear witness to our Quaker Peace Testimony. The young people wrote skits, participated in non-competitive games, sang peace songs, and spent a day at a nature preserve. They filled a huge jar with “gems of kindness”—each small stone representing a good deed observed during the day. Opportunities were presented that included daily yoga, Zentangle, drumming circles, peace marches, and making solar ovens. YPW was strong again in diversity, representing children from a variety of countries, differing religions, neighborhoods, skin colors, and genders. Our end-of-the-week celebration for family and friends was enthusiastically received, with a sense of unity, joy, and peaceful thoughts and deeds.
Guns Into Gardening Tools
Wilton Meeting, partnering with the Norwalk Police Department and Mayor’s office and working with people from the Newtown Foundation and the Episcopal Church, ran a Gun Buyback event on Oct. 19. They received a total of 42 guns. The Norwalk Police praised the effort and its success and hopes to repeat the project in the future. Gun and rifle parts that were collected will be transformed into gardening tools by the Swords into Plowshares team using an old-fashioned forge! It is inspiring and symbolic to transform a weapon of death into a tool of life. Thanks go to all who made this event possible, to Diane Keefe for getting the ball rolling, and to those who donated funds through GoFundMe to pay for this project.
Young Adult Activities
For a full list and more info about upcoming programs for young adults, visit youngadultfriends.weebly.com
Retreat on Eldering and Healing
December 6-8, 2019, at Powell House. This weekend will be devoted to learning about eldering and healing within the Quaker tradition. Facilitated by Friends with gifts of eldering and healing, we will explore the history of these practices while building our skills and capacity to use our gifts in these areas. There will also be ample time for community building, rest and renewal, and fun on the beautiful Powell House campus.
Powell House Conferences
Powell House is NYYM’s retreat and conference center in Old Chatham, NY. Upcoming adult and family conferences include:
Quaker 12-Step Weekend, Nov. 22–24. Led by facilitator Juliet Wright, the weekend will include many 12-step activities including 12-stepping a problem, the patterns of codependency and characteristics of recovery, meeting in a bucket, gratitude boxes, individual sharing, writing and sharing on program literature from your 12-step program, singing and more!
The Winter Solstice: Light on the Longest Night. Saturday, December 21, 2019, 2:00-8:00 p.m.
What—or who—brings you light in this darkness? Can we find Light? Join us at Powell House for music, art, worship, community; capped with a luminary walk to our bonfire!
Cherish Friends and Family—New Year’s Celebration. December 30, 2019–January 1, 2020.
This annual, multigenerational conference is one of our most popular. There are workshop slots for YOU to offer an activity. Bring your instruments, a song, story, poem and/or skit to share with everyone at Cabaret! Celebration concludes with brunch on January 1st. Come and be part of this intergenerational celebration.
Dwelling Deep, a Contemplative Retreat with Linda Chidsey and Carolyn Moon, January 17-20, 2020.
(Through Monday lunch) During this extended weekend, Friends are invited to enter more fully into the silence and to experience the deeper rhythms in which we might live. This retreat will include the opportunity for solitude, individual and corporate worship, silent meals, and “active” silence.
Upcoming youth conferences:
At the End of Your Line? Build a Bridge — 11th & 12th grade plus YOUNG ADULTS, November 22-24.
Join us for a weekend of discussing what we can do with fear and anger in a nonviolent, productive way!
Winter Eyes — 4th & 5th grade, December 6-8.
We will practice using “winter eyes” for these short cold days of winter: seeing color in gray days and practicing ways to bring energy and warmth into ourselves and others.
Wintersong — 7th to 12th grade, December 13-15.
The annual two-house celebration where older middle schoolers join high schoolers to create a vibrant, joyful community.
Visit powellhouse.org for more!
Powell House Youth Director
If you desire to be in a role where you are making a marked difference in the lives of young people, we invite you to apply to the role of Youth Director of Powell House. The Powell House Youth Program hosts approximately two weekend retreats a month for children ranging from 4th to 12th grade. The Powell House Youth Directors will be responsible for creating programing that is impactful and meaningful for attendees, manage logistics of the program and be accountable for programing enrollment and advertisement.
View job listing at powellhouse.org/seeking-youth-director
If interested, contact Regina Baird Haag at [email protected]