Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Awyn Dawn, author of the new Paganism for Prisoners.
People ask me a lot of questions about prison. What was it like? Were you really in prison? Was it weird to go back in as a volunteer? While many of these questions (and others) are answered in my book, Paganism for Prisoners: Connecting to the Magic Within, I still felt it poignant to open the discussion around what it is like to be a previously incarcerated pagan living within the world.
The first thing to understand is that ANYBODY is one wrong decision from jail or prison. I’ll be the first to admit that my incarceration was a result of many years of bad decisions that piled up until I could find no way out. But it could be any number of singular decisions that gets someone a DOC number, especially if drugs and alcohol are involved.
The next thing to know is that I’m not a bad person. Even at the height of my criminal activities, I wasn’t a bad person. I was a child who experienced a lot of trauma and grew up into an adult desperately trying to run from the memories of that same trauma. It is a sad fact that most inmates have messy, uncomfortable, and often horrific stuff in their past. For one reason or another, it doesn’t get dealt with in childhood and the adult is left with PTSD. That’s right, PTSD doesn’t just come from time spent on a battlefield; it also comes childhood trauma. And believe it or not, our brains don’t know the difference between the two.
Paganism has a reputation for being welcoming and accepting. For the most part, when people in the pagan community find out I have felonies, they treat the information with a curiosity and general acceptance. After all these years, I have prepared myself to be able to answer their questions with honesty and humility. There are still the moments, though, when I run into somebody, even in the pagan world, who will move their bag to the shoulder away from me or will give me watchful glances at an event. But I don’t get angry at these people. See, I understand that there is a lot of misinformation about people who have been to prison. That’s one of the reasons I wrote Paganism for Prisoners and its sequel Pagans on Parole (available in November 2022), to help change the narrative we have towards the incarcerated.
So yes, I really was in prison. It wasn’t summer camp, but it wasn’t how cinema portrays it, either. In reality, I was surrounded by a bunch of people who, if they had been given the right support early on, might have never seen the inside of a cell. It is my hope that Paganism for Prisoners will give those doing time an outlet for spiritual connection so that when they get out, they don’t have to go back. So that starting now, they can form a life that is truly magical.
Our thanks to Awyn Dawn for her guest post! For more from Awyn, read her article “Magic on the Go: How to Use the Contents of Your Hotel to Create Magic.”