By Laurel Owen
The Prison Affairs Bureau of the Odinic Rite is an exciting project. Recidivism is below national average among our own, Odinists in prison are coming off drugs and trying to live by the 9 Noble Virtues, people getting out experience community if they want it, and we all move ahead. This trend will continue. I know it.
It’s never been easy, though. Prison outreach has always been a hard row to hoe. With every baby step forward you can bet on long hard battles, back-stabbing, hostile officials and chaplains, obstacle courses that are almost too high to hurdle, and members of the free world Asatru community that regard you with indifference or even outright disrespect. In spite of all this, we continue to press on step by step.
And now we have Valgard Murray, and his deposition for the state of Ohio. This is a contentious state as far as religious rights. The prison authorities in Ohio have admitted they will push everything as far as they have to push it before they allow religious freedom. And that’s what they are doing. This is not the first case in Ohio. Ohio was the proving ground where the Supreme Court favored the RLUIPA law in a ruling that caused us much joy and hope (see the RLUIPA law at the PAB section at the Odinic Rite website). And still, even after that, Ohio is still bucking change.
The lawyers for the Ohio state prison system contacted one of our members last summer. They wanted him to testify. He had no experience with prison outreach, or with being a witness as an expert, but he had the presence of mind to ask these lawyers what exactly they wanted him to say. Our member was not satisfied with their response. In fact, he called me because he had a bad feeling. The lawyers offered him money but would not be clear about what they wanted from him. We talked about it, and he felt relieved to back off and refer the lawyers to me if they got back to him. They never called me. We now know who they turned to.
This deposition is not the end of the world. It’s a bump in the road, along with the battles, backstabbing, hostility, high hurdles, and ignorance I mentioned above. From his uninformed definition of Odinism, to the false historical facts about the Odinic Rite and Heimgest, to his disdain for convicts –it’s all unfortunate. His presentation is of a person who is unclear, hard of hearing, and full of opinions and pretensions. His facts are certainly not his strong suit. What is perhaps the worst thing, as far as the prison outreach is concerned, is his apparent lack of understanding about legal language and the RLUIPA law. Some of the things he says can possibly be used by the state’s lawyers to not honor RLUIPA. I have to believe Valgard has done this in ignorance. The state of Ohio found a person who is so invested in being Every Man’s Gothi (his words), leader and spokesman that he is willing to be duped and paid to give a backward state the tools to keep going backwards, which hurts us all. What happens in prisons is a mirror of what happens out here, or will happen. Rights for prisoners insure religious freedom for us all. We are all connected.
I remain confident, and still have hope for the future. Like I said, this is just another bump, par for the course. The witness for the prisoner’s side is someone with genuineness and integrity. I am hopeful he will, at the trial next week, take care of Valgard’s pomposity and opinion-oriented statements with dispatch and intelligence.
Baby steps forward. That’s where I’m at. Let’s keep doing the good work we do, and not let one person’s unfortunate choices get us down. These are strange and difficult times, and lots of reasons much more troubling than one deposition to stop us in our tracks. Have a good Yule, and remember to visit the Odinic Rite website. I’m pleased with the new Prison Affairs Bureau section. The OR is an intelligent, dynamic group of people and I’m proud to be part of it.
Coordinator, Prison Affairs Bureau
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