Thinking of learning more about prisoner support by volunteering at prisoner support NGO. They're overwhelmingly proselytise-y fundamentalist Christian. Thoughts and questions inside for your engagement.

Submitted by Tequila_Wolf in Prisons (edited )

I'm just exploring possiblities here, and nothing may come of any of this but I want to know what is available to me.

Where I am from, there is nothing even vaguely near anything like an anarchist black cross. One of the best ways I can think of to get the tools to learn how to get things done in the local prison system is to work/volunteer for a prison support NGO where I live, to get some experience and connections before breaking away to do it on my own and perhaps with a collective.

That said, NGOs for prisoner support where I am are overwhelmingly focused not so much on helping people but bringing people to their particular ideas of Jesus and Christianity - at least that is what is abundantly clear from their various websites. However, they do do things like writing to prisoners, and visitation with prisoners who get not visitors, both of which are interesting to me (though for them, the writing is explicitly for the purpose of putting the friendship of Christ in them).

Two major questions are:

  • What would be particularly good intersections between Christianity and anarchistic prison support that I could ponder to have some common ground with these people without having to lie (much?) to them in order to be welcomed participate in their NGO? I'm looking for interesting short things to read just to expand my knowledge on christianity so that I can speak with some force about it, but anything Christianity + prison.

  • do you have any other potentially useful thoughts about this?


Edit: This is not to bash Christianity in all of its forms; I don't know all of its forms. I'm just familiar with many of its dodgier forms, of which this is one.


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Pop wrote

raddle looks at Dumai


Dumai wrote

well if it comes down to me i can only really answer as a quaker, which might not be helpful if tequila_wolf is gonna work with a more mainstream christian charity, but i can give it a shot!


Dumai wrote (edited )

quaker faith and practice is known for intersecting well with anarchism to the point that i think you could easily adapt quaker language to express anarchist ideas without lying too much, even as a secular anarchist. i'd never do that b/c i'd describe myself as a quaker anarchist in that order, but if the point here is to sneak anarchist content into christian charity then you could do a lot worse than taking a leaf out of quakerism's book i think.

quakers, of course, are well known for advocating for prison reform if not exactly prison abolition, but our record is much more mixed than most people know - solitary confinement is pretty much our fault - and a lot of it isn't exactly inspiring from an anarchist perspective. elizabeth fry was a very famous and incredibly important voice in the history of women's prison reform and it's safe to say she did a lot to improve the lives of the prisoners of her day, but that's not say her ideas about prison as an institution to rehabilitate rather than punish criminals are at all captivating for anarchists.

but if christian love is a response to suffering of the other, and if quakerism is a radical praxis of christian love, then the relevance of a quaker perspective for prison issues is pretty clear.

i have never been to prison and i am not likely to ever go. i am not the kind of person the prison industrial complex makes a target of by any means. i cannot understand in rational terms what it means to suffer in prison, and even if i do end up there one day, i probably won't ever experience the absolute worst of it. how can i truly empathise with their suffering if it is basically alien to me?

george fox instructs me to answer to that of god in everyone, which means if i'm to say i truly love those who suffer in prison, i must respond to a condition i know i cannot fully understand. to do this i might be tempted to imagine "that of god in everyone" as a common spiritual essence that unites me with any stranger, reducing our differences to a surface phenomenon that conceals a deeper homogeneity. but to do this i'd have to essentially project myself onto them and collapse any spiritual distance between us, and i don't think i need to tell anyone here that this can have pretty nasty consequences as far as christianity is concerned. in that case i'm not answering to anything within them. but if i instead recognise the other as something of a mystery to me, then i can see they are a true other capable of answering to what is holy in me too. i have refused to make an object of them just as i refuse to make an idol of god.

what that means is their whole being can make as much of an impression on me as i can on them, and that i reserve a space for their own agency and i don't presume to speak for their condition. i am only speaking to their condition. i recognise a creative uniqueness within them that is holy (holy: unconditional, intangible). but this entails giving up any pretence that i am above or beyond what i am, and that i negate anything in me that isn't in service of this love. this isn't the only act of self-sacrifice entailed by christian love but it is the first act that comes before all others. it's not for nothing that in the bible, christ, the king of kings, a literal god, is born in a stable, lives poor his entire life, and is executed alongside common criminals.

if somebody asked me why i care about prisoners, and what this has to do with my religion, i'd tell them as a christian, i attempt to live a life of love as evidenced in the example of christ the lord. jesus taught that to be with the suffering is to suffer with and for them, to know them and love them, and to answer to everything holy in them. he carried this testimony to the cross, and so will i.

(i don't know if this is at all helpful and there's a chance i'm going to look back at this at cringe when i'm less sleep deprived but this is how i approach anarchist principles as a christian so it's the only way i know how to answer the first question!)

edit: i realised looking back at this that i was a bit sloppy with my language and i kind of implied the other is an undivided, autonomous subject. what i meant more was that the self and the other are interrelated in a way that doesn't make them reducible to each other. i can't ever look out of myself to understand an other fully - i equally can't see myself as completely self-contained because i only ever understand myself in relation to the other. love is difficult to realise without coming to grasp this.


Tequila_Wolf wrote

Thanks for this. I'm actually familiar with these greek forms of love from having read some Plato and Aristotle. If you haven't read the Symposium you might benefit from it, as I have.

The point is not to sneak anarchist content into a christian charity, but to sneak myself in. I'd like to participate but am concerned that I would not be included unless I can demonstrate some basic affinity with their thought.

I've struggled to understand much of what you've said here, but I do feel better equipped for a conversation with these people.

I'll probably also have a look around online to see what the bible says about prison and imprisonment as well as criminality. Ideally though interpretations of this that aren't terrible would be good, so if you happen to know of any please let me know also :)


Dumai wrote

one of the blogs i linked to has a lot on the subject of christian prison work! generally if you're trying to fit in with a christian charitable crowd then the themes of love that i mentioned here and that you'll be familiar with if you've read greek philosophy are a good subject to stick with.


PAPS wrote

Check out Prison Abolition Prisoner Support (PAPS). There is no ideological requirement, just pen pals! iheartpaps.org


Tequila_Wolf wrote

Thanks. I'm not based in your continent though, so I'm not sure how this is appropriate.