How would I- or my meeting/church- respond to a recently released ex-prisoner who shows up at meeting? How open are we to letting circle of "us" and "we" be permiable and truly loving?
Some of the prisoners we have been visiting will, at release, go back to serve parole time to the same town or city where they were convicted of their crime. I percieve that some of these folks have experienced self-worth, hope, and the love of God most strongly through their experience of being a part of Quaker worship and a Friend's-style fellowship in prison. One man shared with the group that he so much wants to worship with Friends upon his imminent release. Many meetings in the South are pretty small. It will make a difference if disclosure is made or not made. And then also, "we" should not made an assumption that all of "us" have never been imprisoned. Many thoughts come to mind. Do you have any to share?
Alice Bejnar
Florida

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Some people are in prison due to having done truly awful things, and may remain dangerous to certain others in certain circumstances. "Who do I feel safe with?" isn't the only question, given that other members might justly resent having someone else decide how much courage and faith should be demanded of them.

Life, of course, has its little ways of sneaking up on people and making such demands. But it seems proper to ask for consent from any members who might otherwise imagine that they can, and should, enjoy something called 'security' in this world.

A good majority of the people in prison-- and probably a higher percentage of those inclined to join you, are likely to have been arrested for some illegal business or other, probably not Right Livelihood but likely the best they could do at the time. These are unlikely to be intrinsically violent.

But you're going to have some people desperately needing help, and probably scamming you to the best of their ability at the same time. Them's the rules of the game; don't be surprised! Don't start out making ambitious plans for anyone's rehabilitation; so far as possible let people make their own decisions; anything else is likely to involve you in a psychological struggle on somebody's else's mental turf...
I visited women in our local jail for about 10 years. I always hoped that some might try out our meeting, but none ever did. Of course, the situation was different because I wasn't bringing silent worship to them, just meeting with them individually. Still, you might find far less attendance or trouble than you expect. People coming from jails and prisons have great intentions before they're released, but then once they're free life is chaotic and extremely arduous for them.

One couple in our meeting had a daughter in jail. She attended a few times, too, after her release. As far as I know everyone was very welcoming to her, but she was also extremely sensitive to the slightest hint of prejudice because of her addiction. She may have felt insulted more than once. When her parents died she stopped attending.

I hope the people you have known will be blessed wherever they go.
Rosemary
I appreciate reading your responses Forrest and Rosemary. To explain a little better, I surely don't have any plans for anyone's rehab nor any plan to personally impose an ex-prisoner on a meeting particularly. I'm very aware of the real cautions that you mention. (Though in Florida, most of the scammers and conners are not in prison, but in higher places!)

While prisoners recieve some attention from religious people in the prison setting, it probably is rare that released prisoners later chose to enter a "house of worship'. But, what IF an ex-prisoner does show up at meeting for worship? Every situation is different, but I think I see the value in just taking time to considering how open are we to welcoming people who are different and who want Friend's worship & fellowship. People who engender initial discomfort in us, be they of an unfamiliar political association, religious background, poor, smelly, have a tic

-My sense is that the open arms of the meeting tends to eventually enrich the meeting. A meeting for worship is a public meeting (unless it's specifically not), and anyone is welcome to attend- at least that what our signs read! There is comfort in sameness- but we are not all the same.

The prisoners tell us they feel absolutely hated, as trash, by society. (Interestingly enough, my local meeting, decades ago, when a worship group, met at the local FCI prison. That was the worship- if you wanted to go, it was at the prison!) My prayer for the prisoners with whom we are currently worshiping, is that they will be blessed by continued to growth in Christ, follow their Inner Guide, and I pray, find loving spiritual community.
I just knew a Friend who took in a homeless mother and child, got the mother to agree to various goals which she had no interest in following-- which established a bad relationship from the beginning. So when the mother/child/world interaction became unbearable (Little things like the child, whenever crossed, going out front to scream loudly to the neighbors about how he was being brutalized) this Friend had no good way of dealing with the situation-- could force new "agreements" but these were as imaginary as that initial one. She couldn't throw the woman and child out on the streets, and there weren't adequate places to send them to, then either! So after that initial well-intentioned bullying, she was trapped by her own goodness. I've never heard of anything quite like this with former prisoners, but it seemed like a situation to prevent if possible!

My own Meeting's actual experience with prisoners attending... One man who announced after Meeting that he needed work shoes he couldn't afford. Others not responding, one fairly marginal attender bought him the shoes. Maybe a year later (after his benefactor had died) the man returned to thank us, said he had gotten the job he'd needed the shoes for, and had been doing well ever since. That was the last time we saw him, but who knows how his future will go?
As a journalist, I spent a long time writing and researching about religion and prisons back in 2007. The theme that always recurred was that when people were released, they were put back into the same neighborhoods, in the same situations, with no healthy community or job skills. Religious groups that were so intent on converting them on the inside, filling them with faith and dogma, had nothing to offer them, and that recidivism rates were mostly affected not by convicts who had a religious community in prison, but those who had a religious community outside of it. (I only looked at religion, so I don't know how much non-religious things factor in.)

Still, as Forrest mentions, I heard horror stories. I was shadowing a Muslim imam in a city north of Chicago who is one of the best people I have ever met. He is constantly offering an immense amount of time volunteering and working in jails in northern Illinois, and is always there for people when they leave, and has gotten his congregation on board. At his mosque, it's always possible to see a few drug addicts, ex-cons, or others welcomed into a mostly immigrant group.

But there were problems. Originally, he let people sleep in the mosque if they had nowhere to go. But they were robbed. The same thing happened when he found another person a job. Now there are limits. People come to services and he helps them out in places he can, but he doesn't get financially involved or give them unsupervised access. (For ever horror story he had, though, there were 10 success stories.)

He never pushes anything on anyone, but lends them an ear and shows them there are alternative communities that will accept them. I don't think I've ever seen someone change people's lives the way this man and his congregation have.

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