Update: Wiccan Chaplain Accused in Bizarre Hostage Scheme

Back in September, newswires and blogs reported on the case of Jamyi J. Witch, a Wiccan chaplain at Oshkosh Correctional Institution who is accused of sexually assaulting an inmate, illegally transporting drugs, and hatching a fake hostage scheme to procure a transfer for her and an inmate. The twist? Jamyi Witch is Wisconsin’s first Pagan prison chaplain.

Jamyi Witch

“In December 2001, Scott Walker, then a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and chair of the Assembly Committee on Corrections and Courts, learned that theWisconsin Department of Corrections had recently hired Rev. Jamyi Witch as a prison chaplain at the Waupun Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin. Witch, who had volunteered for two years as a chaplain and had an extensive knowledge of alternative religions, had competed against 9 other candidates for the civil service position and was hired as the most qualified candidate for the $32,500 per year job. The chaplain was a practicing Wiccan and had, in fact, changed her last name to Witch in honor of her chosen religion.

Since that initial report, which was sensationalized by outlets like Gawker and the Daily Mail, the case has slowly progressed.  A judge declared in late September that the trial could move forward, and the inmate involved in the incident gave his initial testimony.

“This is all her plan,” explained the inmate. “Only thing I know is that I knew Ms. Witch eight to ten years. Throughout that time, I gained a lot of respect and a lot of trust for her, so when she told me, you know what I’m saying, that I was not going to get into any trouble and that this would not be a hostage situation, you know what I mean? I took her word for it and that’s why I went up there.”

Then, this past Friday, Ms. Witch officially entered a plea of not guilty. In addition, supporters of the chaplain are now starting to speak up. Lady of the Lake Church, of which Witch is a clergyperson, issued a statement defending their colleague.

“Jamyi Witch was held hostage by a inmate “John Washington” in her office and she was raped by this inmate. She gave the inmate some of her prescription pills to make him sleepy and weak allowing the officers to enter her office and give her aid. […] The inmate later sent his mother a letter, knowing full well that after his actions his mail would be monitored, telling his mother that Jamyi Witch helped him come up with the plan to take her hostage. NOTE: This inmate 20 years earlier, was arrested and charged with rape and sentenced to prison which he is now serving. (Same crime)  Two weeks earlier he attempted the same attack on another female staff member at the correctional facility. (Not in the story.) The facility read the inmates mail and charged Jamyi Witch with the crime of suppling drugs to the inmate, raping the inmate and suppling the inmate with illegal materials. Jamyi Witch has been in the correction system as a wiccan chaplin for 11 years and never had any violations. The police who interviewed her told her and her boyfriend that they worked for god and thought she was lying. We need to stand with her and help tell her story and raise funds for her legal defense which is now racking up. We need to call our congressman and state officials and protest the treatment of a rape victim (Jamyi) .”

In addition, someone who claims to have attended the preliminary hearing posted the following:

“Ok, here’s the TRUTH of the whole matter: At the preliminary hearing, the inmate admitted after finding out he could recieve another 25 years in prison for rape, lied about the chaplain’s involvement in the whole situation. Jaymi Witch is a very accomplished woman, speaks 9 languages, and has counselled hundreds of victims of child abuse, etc. Amazing how quick everyone is to take the word of a convicted criminal over an innocent victim of a violent crime. Scott Walker got her out of Waupun and now he’ll get her out of Oshkosh.”

Are police and prison officials working against Witch as her church alleges? Are these charges being trumped up due to anti-Pagan hostility? Prominent Pagan prison chaplains like Patrick McCollum have shared stories of hostility, threats, and obstruction of their efforts, allegations backed up by prominent Pagan figures like Starhawk.

“But our visit to CCWF did not go well.  Again, they had ‘lost’ our paperwork—this time, five separate copies of our event package which Sister Mary Ann had personally delivered to five separate officials.  The warden was not on site on a Saturday—nor were other personnel who could have okayed the event.  The Watch Commander, who could have authorized it, said “No way.”  We were allowed in as visitors—which meant a much more exhaustive process of listing every single thing we were wearing or carrying.  Tiki’s underwire bra would not go through the metal detector, and she had to go out, change into a bathing suit, and put up with snide comments about her breasts.  But, we got in, though Patrick was quietly fuming while being ever so polite to everyone.”

In 2008, McCollum gave testimony to the US Commission on Civil Rights that Pagan prisoners faced “endemic” discrimination from prison officials. Considering the battles Jamyi J. Witch faced simply to work at the job she was hired for, it isn’t inconceivable that officials are now obstructing the course of justice now. If these charges are indeed bogus, we can only hope that Witch’s lawyer can navigate her trial successfully and bring the truth to light. Further, if Witch is cleared of the charges against her, what will that mean for the staff at Oshkosh Correctional Institution? Won’t that implicate them in helping to orchestrate this anti-Pagan incident?