[The following is a guest post from Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum. McCollum is currently involved in a high-profile case against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which just suffered a setback in a recent Ninth Circuit Court decision. He can be reached through the Patrick McCollum Foundation.]
I have just returned from the Himalayas where I have been on a humanitarian mission to help the people of the remote villages of Nepal to improve their circumstances. I received the news about the 9th Circuit’s ruling in my case, and I am working on my response and I will post it shortly. But I also received other news, news that’s related to my case and which for me holds even a higher priority to share. Today, I learned that one of the Pagan inmates, a woman named Nicki who I’ve worked with for years, died in the prison alone.
Nicki was a dedicated Pagan who found solace in our sacred practices and who told me that the thing that gave her hope and a reason to live, was her opportunity to participate in our rituals in prison. On my last trip to the prison, accompanied by Starhawk and several others, we were denied the ability to provide an already pre-approved Beltane celebration by prison officials. Not only were Nicki and the other Pagans denied their constitutional rights, but they were also threatened by prison officials with punishment for even meeting with us. Nicki had told me she was very distraught at not being able to have a Pagan chaplain and that she really needed clergy from her own faith for counseling and support.
Nicki is the 8th Pagan inmate in the California Department of Corrections that has died alone that I’m aware of, who was requesting equal rights from the CDCR and was denied it, and who specifically expressed that it was critical for her to have access to counseling and support from a Pagan chaplain. Now the rest of the women in Nicki’s Pagan circle are requesting to have a ritual to acknowledge her death and to process their grief, but because they do not belong to the five favored faiths, and they don’t have a chaplain to facilitate it, they can’t meet. This is a huge weight on me. I am doing everything I can to try to get the state to act in a responsible and moral manner and to change their discriminatory policies against minority faiths, but they are fighting with everything they have to deny us.
People are dying …. Our people are dying alone and in despair. Please show up. Each and every one of you needs to press the state of California in any way you can. Write your state senators and congressmen. Write to the California Department of Corrections and the California Attorney General’s office. Contact the Governor. Tell them we won’t stand for this! As for me, if the CDCR thinks winning this round in my court case is going to take me out, they haven’t got a clue. I am a Priest of the Goddess and I draw on the inspiration and spiritual support of our community. And we, my friends and fellow Pagans, have survived millennia of persecution and we’re still here.
I have just flown 32 hours across the world after climbing the world’s highest mountains to help our brothers and sisters there. I’m tired and every muscle and bone in my body ache, and I need sleep. But I refuse to submit to injustice. I am hoping that if I can get up tomorrow and return to the battle after all that, that each of you will do your part. But before that, please take a moment and light a candle for Nicki and all of the others who have suffered alone. I know it would mean a lot to them to know that they are not forgotten.