Al‑Anon service in prisons has been a privilege and the most rewarding aspect of service I’ve ever experienced. Sounds totally crazy, right? But in prison meetings, I am privileged to see and know people as they are: broken, wounded, in pain, and struggling with regret. I am entrusted with another’s story and a glimpse into his or her soul. The rewarding part is getting to witness God’s transforming power.
Al‑Anon volunteers in prisons get to help create one hour of sanity in a bastion of insanity. In the meeting, everyone is equal. For the duration of our time together, all are on level ground. This is a tremendous gift within the prison environment. As a volunteer, I am a reminder to fellow children of God who’ve been devastated by alcoholism and addiction that there is hope and they are not alone.
So, what do volunteers do? We simply show up and hold a meeting. For most Department of Corrections (DOC) programs, a trained volunteer must be present so that a program can be offered, the door unlocked, and the meeting take place.
Just a note about what we don’t do: as in in any meeting, we don’t give advice or attempt to fix anyone. Volunteers share in a general way. As in a meeting on the outside, we protect our anonymity by not giving too many details about our personal lives. Training required by the DOC sets additional boundaries and behavioral guidelines that we must follow.
Like other Al‑Anon members, my friends on the inside of prison are painfully aware that their “lives have become unmanageable.” They are willing to believe that a Power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity. Furthermore, “One Day at a Time,” they are turning their will and lives over to the care of the God of their understanding. By this point in their lives, many of them understand God as loving and merciful. In fact, God is their only hope.
The inmates I’ve been blessed to know are working their programs as if their lives depend on it. And their lives do depend on it. In this environment, hearing their experience, strength, and hope, I have become more convinced than ever that this program works! These friends may not know it, but they influence me to be honest with myself as they are honest with themselves. They motivate me to continue working the Steps, Traditions, and Concepts of Service with my Sponsor. They inspire me to live gratefully and to improve my conscious contact with God. I am compelled to remain authentic so that I may be an effective channel of a Higher Power’s life-changing, unconditional love.
What are the women like who attend the Al‑Anon meetings at which I serve?
- Most are recovering alcoholics or addicts.
- Most are adult children of alcoholics or addicts.
- Most had not heard of Al‑Anon outside of prison. They may have been referred by a counselor or the A.A. volunteer; they may have seen it on the list of available programs they received at orientation; or they may have seen Al‑Anon literature in their housing unit or heard about it from another inmate.
- Most are women of faith.
- All are looking for a different way to deal with the effects of others’ alcoholism or addiction upon their lives, so they don’t get tripped up again by the disease and end up back in prison. They are desperate for a better way of life.
Our group holds meetings one Sunday a month. As in any meeting, we open with a moment of silence followed by the Serenity prayer. We read the Al‑Anon Welcome, the Twelve Steps, and the Twelve Traditions. Each meeting has a focus, such as an Al‑Anon related topic, a Step, or a Tradition. We read from Conference Approved Literature. We share our experience, strength, and hope in a respectful manner. Some of the sharing breaks my heart, but just as often, I want to cheer when I hear how the members are applying the Al‑Anon principles to their very challenging lives and sharing the message with those who seem receptive. We laugh a lot. Sometimes we just must laugh.
If you are interested in Al‑Anon service in prisons, consider making a date to visit a jail or prison with an existing volunteer to see if this kind of service is right for you. Check with your local or state facilities, as there will likely be paperwork and possibly training to be completed. Here are some additional, related ways to serve:
- Work with the Public Outreach Coordinator in your Area to establish outreach to local correctional institutions.
- Become a Sponsor by being added to an offender’s visitors list. This would be facilitated by prison staff.
- Serve as a temporary Sponsor for an offender upon his/her release from prison. A temporary Sponsor would take the member to a few meetings and act as a temporary resource.
- Purchase Conference Approved Literature and donate it to correctional institutions.
- Pray for Al-Anon members who are incarcerated.
For me, service is gratitude in action. When I act, I am privileged to participate in the transformational work God is doing in others’ lives, just as he has done in mine. I invite you to ask your Higher Power where you might show up. You can expect the rewards to greatly exceed the effort!
By Lori C., Missouri
The Forum, September 2022
Feel free to reprint this article on your service arm website or newsletter, along with this credit line: Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc., Virginia Beach, VA.