prisonerJudgment and Redemption

A FEW MONTHS AGO, The Edge was contacted by an inmate who represented a Wiccan group at his prison. He sent an inquiry wondering if the magazine knew of any Wiccans/Pagans who would be willing to visit them. When I first heard about it, I immediately wanted to talk to the men in this group. But when I found out that the correspondence would have to be via postal mail, suddenly I found myself in a quandary.

Do I put my home address on the envelope? Do I need a P.O. Box for this correspondence? What is my risk, as a “free” woman interacting with inmates in an all-male prison? If I were to arrange a visit, would I need a chaperone? While I would like to believe that I could command a respectful discussion around pagan spirituality, I’m uncertain about dealing with flirtation or threatening behavior. My natural inclination is to reach out, because I believe in human decency. But I held back — fearful of putting myself at risk, while also realizing I have no training that would prepare me for drawing appropriate boundaries.

“An it harm none, do as ye will.”

This is the Wiccan Rede, the guiding morality of Wicca. Put another way, the Rede states that if no one or nothing is harmed by your actions, you are free to go about your business. However, it does not talk about what happens if someone or something is harmed, how to deal with a person who has committed harm against another, or how to prevent harm against your own person. A general rule of ethics in magick is to not interfere with another person’s free will. Therefore, the unspoken side of the Rede holds an implication that all things have risk and that the only thing anyone can control is their own actions. The Magician must calculate that risk for both parties to minimize potential harm.

In contemplating my quandary, it occurs to me that if thoughts have power, does it stand to reason that any thought can influence another person? In a broader sense, what happens when society automatically rejects someone because they have been labeled as a criminal? Are we interfering with someone’s free will by labeling them? Is it implied that once you have committed a crime you no longer have the right to free will? If society puts someone on a permanent list, is there room for redemption?

Trying to imagine being on the receiving end of that judgment makes me question the harm it causes to someone’s psyche. Who would I become if I were condemned for life with the realization that no matter how much time I served I would always appear on a list of suspects? Who would advocate for me if I was attempting to reintegrate into society? If doors of opportunity close to someone because of a label or past mistake, where is the motivation to change or improve my life? Do we as a community trust in the lists the state and federal government generate for the sake of our personal safety? Or are there criteria, as an inclusive magical community, for discerning who the real criminal is and who is simply collateral damage from an imperfect system? When talking about redemption, does it matter who is a criminal or who is collateral damage when they both have labels to overcome?

In my heart I believe that everyone is inherently good, even though I have been burned by that many times. Good intentions can be harmful, because it can leave you vulnerable to attack and can create expectations that may not be fulfilled. But fear can also be harmful when it prevents you from acting, or exploring an opportunity that may ultimately open doors you never knew existed.

This month I will be seeking out answers from the community. I will be posing this question: What do we, as a community, stand to gain from being inclusive to convicts, and how do we handle assisting them in integrating into our population?


Next month: Part Two: Do As Ye Will.

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