Last night I dined in the North Visiting Room of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DW). The Department of Corrections threw a thankyou banquet for approximately 100 prison volunteers, mostly from churches but also including a handful of us AA volunteers. We were served chicken, roast beef and vegetarian lasagna and delicious homemade eclairs by women inmates from DW who are part of a culinary training program. After dinner, two DW inmates and three men from Camp George West, a minimum security state prison in Golden, gave brief and heartfelt tributes to the volunteers.
The first speaker began by quoting the passage in Matthew which includes the statement, “I was in prison and you came to visit me.” From then on, we volunteers were thanked over and over for our saintly compassion. It finally got too much for me, and I leaned over to my AA friend Dave and whispered, “Me, I just come here to stay sober.” Which is the truth. I am seldom further from my next drink than on the drive down Havana, leaving the state prison next to DW where I help Dave lead AA meetings twice a month. But looking around the room at all the church representatives who spend time holding Bible studies and prayer meetings inside, I did feel proud to be among them.
The keynote speaker, Clint Pollard, retired early as a Verizon executive to go to work for Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. Clint said that we matter because of what we do in the prisons, adding, “and by the way, inmates matter because God SAYS they matter.” Pollard said that 85% of the people in prison are incarcerated for crimes he has committed. This seemed like a high estimate for a telephone executive, but you never know. I share Clint’s sense that I’m no more innocent in some fundamental sense than the men who attend the AA meetings inside, many of them coming simply to get out of their cells for an hour. I am simply luckier that my crimes against full attention and decent living are mainly private matters of no interest to state authorities.