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Posted by on in Alcoholism

“Man, you’ve got the saddest story I have ever heard”.  I am shocked and in disbelief.  I have just finished telling my story in front of death row inmates at the maximum-security prison in Potosi, Missouri.  George whose mouth those words came out of was on death row waiting for his time to be put to death.  He reminded me of the man who played the prisoner in the movie, The Green Mile.  One of the biggest men I have ever seen.  Ninety-nine percent of these men were in prison for issues that one way or another alcohol and drugs played a role.

My journey to this point started 6 years ago when I came into recovery.  At that point I was willing to do anything to stay clean and sober and when a friend asked if I would participate in REC’s, residents (prisoners) encounter Christ, I said sure, not having a clue what that meant.  I was working on 3 DWI’S, hadn’t paid or filed taxes in three years, my house was close to foreclosure, one car was repossessed, my wife and kids long gone, my business was close to being taken away, friends gone, I threw my father and siblings out of my life.  If someone told me to jump off of a cliff to stay sober, I would have jumped.  I was emotionally, physically and spiritually dead.

This was my first time working with death row inmates but it had the biggest impact on me.  If I swerved just a little one of those thousands of nights driving home, I could easily be sitting in a maximum-security prison.  Over the previous 6 years I had worked with prisoners in maximum-security prisons and once at a women’s prison.  Each experience is unique and I had participated in about 10 REC’s to date.

REC’s are not a recovery program, it is run through Catholic Ministries.  The bottom line is to let the prisoners know they are not alone, find Christ in their lives and seek salvation.  Their families and friends don’t visit so they are always suspicious of why we are there.  I am not a very religious person but some of what I witnessed during those REC’s was truly a miracle.  It takes place over a long weekend.  We do everything with the prisoners except stay over night.  As you can imagine the guards watch closely over us and they do not really care for these weekends.  It disrupts the daily routines.  But wardens have said that when a REC is taking place the prison quiets down during and for a little while after.  Prisoners are specially chosen and are only able to participate in one or two REC’s the rest of their lives.  This is a very special occasion for them and they won’t let another prisoner get out of line for fear of losing their weekend.

We sing songs, tell stories, speak about Christ, have a rise day like Christ rose, a die day like Christ died. We wash each other’s feet as Christ did.  We dine on the horrible prison food and act as it is the best food ever.  I still remember the awful stench in the dining area to this day.   We put on plays with the prisoners, bring in fresh vegetables and fruit, which the prisoners never have.  On the final night we always have a local restaurant cater the final meal, kind of like the last supper. All in all an extremely powerful weekend, far from the bars and country clubs that I was used to. It is hard to describe the feeling I had when four or five prisoners had their hands on my head praying for me to help with my talk.  I think I filled a bucket with tears.  Nobody had ever prayed over me like that, what an emotional, moving moment that was.  By the end of the weekend there are hugs all around and not a dry eye in sight, including the guards.  We just spent almost 72 hours with these men and we know each other inside and out.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

The Tenth Tradition reminds us that we as a group do not have an opinion on outside issues.  This is an important principle, as it keeps our meetings focused on our primary purpose: to help others.  As a sober member of twelve-step programs and an active member of the local Buddhist center, I have some experience with keeping outside issues of mine out of the rooms.

Although my participation in this other organization is very helpful to me, has helped me connect with myself and the world, and is very important to my sobriety, it has no place in the rooms.  When I speak directly about my “religion” rather than my spiritual program of working the Twelve Steps, I am
minimizing my effectiveness to others.

When someone shares and makes clear his or her religious affiliation, I must admit I close my mind a tiny bit.  I am not proud of this quality, but it is the truth.  I think if I, with a few years of sobriety, have even the slightest amount of contempt for this, than it is probable that a newcomer also would.

The need to share religious affiliation in meetings baffles me.  I often wonder why somebody would share that kind of information.  My personal opinion is that it tends to come off in a demeaning way.  When somebody speaks about his or her intense religious practice, I feel contempt because I feel judged.  I often feel like it is a separating act, not a unifying.
Although at any given meeting there are possibly people with similar religious beliefs, there are generally far more people with different beliefs.  One of the
most beautiful things about twelve-step rooms is the unifying of addicts and alcoholics from all different walks of life.  Feeling a part of was one of the most wonderful feelings I felt upon entering the rooms.  Putting differences out there like religious beliefs is simply unnecessary and certainly unhelpful.

Knowing this, it is my opinion (based on my personal experience, as well as those that came before me), that any religious affiliation should stay out of a
regular meeting.  Where I live, there are twelve-step meetings that are designated for people of certain faiths or beliefs, just as there are gender-specific meetings.

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