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Adventures in Prison Volunteering

| August 14, 2010 | 0 Comments

By Lalani Matheson

Our Friend Noel asked me and my son, Arinbjorn, if we would help his friends in the Idaho Correctional System by sponsoring them in their religious pursuit.  He explained that this meant in its most basic form that we just needed to show up every few months and this would allow the practicing Odinists to have a more legitimate claim to certain religious rights; a foot in the door of the judicial system so to speak.  He asked nothing more of us knowing the friends on the inside would then press forward to claim these rights and we would not be put out.

Noel didn’t realize that this was exactly what Arinbjorn and I had been talking about – finding something “extracurricular” to do in the name of the Odinic Rite. There was no hesitation on our part in saying yes to not only one prison group but to two facilities/two groups and we saw no reason to just put our names on the sponsor form but to visit a minimum of once a month.

Through Noel’s contacts and knowledge he got us the background paperwork and forms to fill out and return and the adventure with prison affairs began!

Within 30 days I received a call from a woman to clarify some of the information we had given and was told someone should be contacting us shortly on our acceptance. It was a few more weeks after this that Arinbjorn was contacted by Chaplain Bachman of Idaho Correctional Center by email.  He stated what time we were to be available at the facility for a regularly scheduled Odinist class that was held there.  Due to my work schedule this time just would not work and Arinbjorn thus responded letting him know my work schedule.  Bachman then very bluntly replied that when I changed my schedule to contact him!  I immediately called Noel, who then informed his contacts of the situation.  Meanwhile Arinbjorn had placed at least three calls to the State facility with no response.

About 2 months later Bachman emailed again.  He re-scheduled his arrangements and asked if this time would be workable.  I responded that I would make it work.  Obviously the guys inside were not letting this opportunity go!  After a few more emails and in spite of Bachman’s negative attitude we were scheduled to attend a day’s training in late June.

Still no word from the State facility……

Upon arrival at training with about 30 other people we were exuberantly greeted by a Mr. Kirkman, the Volunteer Co-coordinator for Idaho Department of Corrections, who claimed to be so excited about us volunteering for the Odinists at the State Prison!  No contact in all this time but he can’t wait to get us in there!  If only he could share some of that positive energy with Bachman!

Training started with introductions – 3 AA guys, 1 NA guy, 1 Buddhist, 2 Odinist and the rest Mormons or Catholics!  Despite being ignored by everyone during breaks and getting “those” looks, training was informative.  I was expecting Do’s and Don’ts but it was more how the volunteers can really do positive things and how the prison system has changed over the centuries and what is offered to the inmate as far as education, training, treatment.

Our next step was Orientation.  Bachman emailed that this was scheduled the next week at ICC and would be 4 hours.  We get there on time, give up our driver’s licenses and get our visitors badges and zip through the metal detector.  The guy leading us and 8 others through all of this never introduced himself but his biker vest proclaiming “Bikers for Jesus” had me assuming this was THE Chaplain Bachman!  He was very blunt, as he led us to the chapel to remember the way.  At the chapel we were handed off to another gentleman who gave us a tour through the different areas of the prison and then proceeded to spend the next few hours giving us a marketing speech on corporate run prisons.  He said he would touch on hostage situations and the like at the next training session that we will do in a year!

Again we walked through the maze back to the chapel and were left with Bachman.  All he said was he had 3 rules to follow:

1.)   Don’t give the inmates anything and don’t take anything from them.

2.)   Repeat

3.)   Repeat!!

We were finished with training so all that was left to do was get fingerprinted and photographed  for our volunteer badges.

We were able to coordinate times with both facilities two weeks later.  Going to ICC, Bachman fingerprinted us and took our pictures, again, never introducing himself, shaking our hand – nothing!  As we were leaving that prison Mr Kirkman was there, again happy to have us on board and he let us know that the appointment at IDOC was even going to include a meet and greet with the leaders of the two Odinist groups.

After lunch in a nearby town we returned to IDOC where we did a quick walk through with Kirkman and then met the guys.  We were able to spend about an hour with them trying to figure out what they wanted from us, what we expected from them, and scheduling.  Kirkman informed us that he was trying to get the word “chapel” removed from the building and a carved “God Loves” cross moved from the grassy area that we might possibly be able to use for outdoor ritual.  If that is not workable he is going to try and get some of the Native Americans plot divided for the Odinists’ use since they have such a large area.

Such a difference in attitudes between these two men!  I hope the one is sincere and the other loosens up!

Our first visits are scheduled this weekend – I guess we shall see!

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