Saturday, February 28, 2015

North Carolina Prisoner Service Opportunity

The following is an appeal from a North Carolina prison inmate for secular volunteers to participate in a re-orientation program for prisoners. I'm posting it here in hopes that some North Carolina residents will take advantage of this opportunity to assist secular prisoners.

North Carolina prisons offer a community volunteer program by which volunteers from the community may come into a minimum security prison to sponsor an inmate and take him out into society for up to six hours at a time. This is referred to as a CV Pass.

The program is very good at getting prisoners re-oriented with society, and in helping them to feel more like a person and less like a prisoner. In addition to boosting an inmate's self-esteem, it also offers a taste of what it's like to be a citizen once more, and by doing so, assists in the eventual re-integration of the inmate with the world at large. Rather than being hit with the full force of freedom all at once, an inmate who has been fortunate enough to participate in the CV Pass program (participation is a privilege which must be earned with good behavior) has been sampling freedom in small amounts well before he is released for good.

Where does one go on a CV Pass? Parks, zoos, arboretums, and hiking trails are acceptable venues, as are more public spaces such as malls, restaurants, movie theaters, or even humanist conventions and the like. Unfortunately, there are a lot of prisoners who have earned this privilege, many of whom have worked or years and years towards this goal, and are missing out on this awesome opportunity due to a lack of secular sponsors.

You see, local church groups are heavily involved with the prisons in their communities. They are taking many inmates out on CV Passes on a regular basis. However, they are mainly taking them to one place--they are bringing inmates to their churches. CV Passes are, for the most part, church passes. The well-intentioned Christians are not actively discriminating against atheists in prison. But the fact is that CV sponsors are predominantly church-goers, and thus are non-Christian inmates excluded from taking CV Passes.

It has been my experience that an overwhelming majority of men embrace Christianity with renewed vigor upon incarceration. However, many inmates have chosen not to to do the religion thing while in prison, which speaks to the power of reason and freethought to withstand an aggressive onslaught of Christian campaigning to indoctrinate offenders.

I have resided in a dozen prisons in as many years in North Carolina, and they have all had multiple church services held nearly every day of the week. In addition to regular church services, so-called "revivals" are frequently held in which (civilian) church members are allowed to navigate the entire prison, unescorted, to hand out Christian literature, offer prayer, and to win souls for Christ. This really happens. The pressure is there.

It is sad but true, that if an inmate wishes to go out on a CV Pass, he has to go to church to do so. I know of many "non-believers" who do go out to church, no doubt loathing the service, just to get a much longed for taste of the free world.

Let us show the world that the Christians do not have a monopoly on altruism--that there exists a secular basis for helping fellow humans. And so I reach out to humanists, brights, and secular persons of all stripes and affiliations in North Carolina, to contact a local minimum-security prison and become a community volunteer to provide more inmates the chance to participate in this exceptional privilege. Much good can come of this.