The Unique challenges in Pagan prison ministry

SAN QUENTIN, CALIFORNIA — It has been said that casting a ritual circle describes a sacred place, outside of time and space. Whoever came up with that phrasing likely has never worked within the U.S. correctional system, where space is rigidly controlled by an unyielding culture and where time moves according to the whims of an incredibly complex bureaucracy. However, it’s easier to see how time and space can be folded and spindled by looking through the eyes of Aline “Macha” O’Brien, who is now nearing the end of a quest to get a group of Pagan inmates some incense and candles. It is a process that has taken nine long months. “There’s nothing that’s simple in prison bureaucracies,” she said during a recent phone interview.

Culture and Community: The Complexity of Pagans in Prison

I recently had the opportunity with my graduate program to go into the bowels of San Quentin State Correctional Facility in San Rafael, California. San Quentin is one of the most famous state penitentiaries in California, and the only facility that enacts capital punishment in the state. There are approximately 4,000 inmates currently in San Quentin, the range of crimes span from drug possession to murder. Crime and prisons go hand in hand. The population of prisoners in any institution is made up of a myriad of races, ages, and religions, thereby needing a host of services to address the many needs of different populations of people.