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When the past catches up with you

I've mentioned previously that I volunteer at a federal women's prison camp. I take an Alcoholics Anonymous into the facility every Tuesday evening. Between 80 and a hundred women show up every week, and we either read from the Big Book, have an open discussion on a recovery-related topic or listen as someone shares her recovery story with the group.

Last night we read from the chapter called "Working With Others," which is what the 12th step suggests we do in order to maintain our own sobriety. One of the women shared a little of her story – one of continuous relapsing and getting into trouble, but marked now by a deep desire to once-and-for-all change her way of life.

She and I talked after the meeting ended. She looked familiar to me, and I asked if she'd been at the prison before. She had, four years previously. She was back on a parole violation. She remembered me, remembered that my dad, at that time, had been gravely ill.

She was sad to learn that he died two years ago, and hugged me.

The group is large and fluid, women come and go from week to week, month to month. Sometimes we volunteers don't know if they've been released or transferred or just decided maybe AA wasn't for them any more.

When we do know they're leaving, we encourage them to find meetings when they get home, to stick with the program, above all else to NOT DRINK. We wish them luck and say we don't ever want to see them again unless it's at an outside meeting.

But it doesn't always work out that way. I can say this with certainty: Every woman I know who has been reincarcerated due to a parole violation has stopped working an AA program, stopped going to meetings, stopped helping others, stopped asking for help. It isn't so much that they started drinking or using drugs again. It's that they stopped doing all the things that had been keeping them sober.

I welcomed her back, told her I was glad she decided to come back to the meeting. She thanked me for continuing to carry the message to women like her, in rooms like that, all these years later.

It's moments like those that keep me going back, week after week, month after month, year after year.


Vickie said…
Bless you. I know it is a long drive. I know it is not pleasant surroundings. But what a great thing it is to bring light/hope with you in your efforts.
Kathy said…
What a rewarding and inspiring thing that you do. You are a blessing to each and every life you have touched.

Anonymous said…
Love this, Mom. You're a good one. :)
Debbi said…
And it's a great thing that each week I *leave* with so much light and hope. Those women are amazing.
Debbi said…
They bless me back, they really do. Thanks, Kathy.
Debbi said…
So are you. Thanks.
MadAnne said…
What a great thing you do! I didn't know they had a volunteer program, are ther other opportunities?
Debbi said…
Without volunteers, federal prisons would have far fewer recreational, educational and spiritual programs for inmates. My only experience is with federal facilities, but I'm sure state and local institutions need volunteers as well. I have also taught drawing at this prison (I no longer do so, but I trained an inmate to take over). If there is a prison or jail near you, call to ask if there are volunteer opportunities available.
gingerzingi said…
Good post, Debbi. I see a lot of parallels to other things in life - we might think we're standing still, but really we're holding on fiercely so we don't move backward. Sometimes it's most important just to not stop doing the things that keep our heads above water.

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