jailLAST MONTH, I RAISED the question: What do we stand to gain as a magical community by being inclusive to convicts? How do we assist them in integrating into our ranks? Do we have or need protocols to ensure safety of the general population? I went onto Facebook and asked for feedback.

People join spiritual communities to enrich their lives, renew their souls and recover a sense of wholeness that is often lost with trauma. I would like to think that Pagans, as a community, are inclusive and compassionate. I know that there are a lot of people in recovery who seek spiritual guidance and transformation from the Pagan community. I wondered if my readers would see a parallel.

The general input I received ranged from “I have no idea” to “don’t put yourself in harm’s way” to “we need to show compassion” to “what about when someone within the community is victimized?”

There is no easy answer, and for my particular circle, we may have never been confronted with this situation before. Questions lead to more questions; this is why we leave it up to the judicial system to sort it out in the first place.

How can any community sort out what is right and what is wrong when you live in a society that sanctions murder, the sale of drugs, theft and slavery under certain circumstances, but not in others? Our judicial system is not based on right or wrong, but adherence to rules and regulations designed to mitigate social ills and the flow of currency. If paid military are sanctioned to take lives, but civilians are not, then the underlying message is this: “It’s only a crime if no one or the wrong people profit off it.” Why else would there be heavier penalties for selling pot than for vehicular homicide, and call imprisonment “paying your debt to society?”

I know many people who would look kindly on someone who had a felony for marijuana possession, because they think the laws around possession are ridiculous. However, when talking about someone who has a rape or murder charge, the idea of being inclusive becomes a lot harder to swallow. The judicial system is compartmentalized with lists and institutions, guidelines and protocols at the front end of conviction, making gray circumstances appear black and white. But there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to release and integration. Each situation has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, despite the label a person carries.

One friend said that the crime would dictate how hard that person had to work in order to earn her trust. But what if that person claimed to be falsely accused and all you had to go on was their word? For my friend, a sticking point would be on their attitude. Do they take responsibility for the situation or sit back and blame the system? Are they acting according to their own free will with positive intention? Or are they stuck in a victim mentality where the whole world is against them?

Upon release from prison, each individual must confront how their situation has done harm, how they can redress that harm and whether they are willing to summon the courage to plunge forward into a hostile society in order to do it.

We are a society of labels: black, white, slender, fat, gay, straight, rich, poor. We place labels to make identification easy, but generalizations are also dehumanizing. It’s important to remember that not all people in prison are guilty, not all those who are guilty are beyond living good lives, and not all who are on the “outside” are innocent. It is up to each individual to assess potential harm and act accordingly.

In conclusion, “An it harm none, do as ye will” boils down to this: Nothing ventured is nothing gained. Life is full of risk, gray areas and difficult decisions. When it comes to interacting with people inside the prison system, is the risk worth it? For all I know, I may discover allies I never knew existed.

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