Sunday, July 31, 2011

(Day 49) What a Sunday drive!!!!!! Truly a Sabbath experience!!!

After a very restful sleep last night, waking to the sound of the forest coming alive around me (ok, so I had to put my hearing aid in first), I made my way to the dining room in the main lodge where I made a cup of coffee.

While sipping my coffee I answered a few emails and then planned a loop that would allow me to see as much as possible of the Mt. Hood area before 4PM when things would start here at the centre.  It was hard to choose.  There were so many recommended roads on the Oregon Motorcyclist website.  Eventually I sketched out a route that would take me around Mt. Hood and along the Columbia gorge - avoiding major highways as much as possible.

But it was hard to leave the serenity of this space.  Walking around the grounds in the gathering morning light was so calming.  Light filtering through trees, softly bring a new day to fruition.  Birds rising from their slumber, squirrels already about their business... hmmm... as nice as it is, I know there is much more that I will enjoy seeing.

Leaving Eagle Creek, my first stop was the overlook into the North Fork Resovoir of the Clackamas River.  Down, down, down... the fellow ahead of me sure was burning his brakes up - made a note not to find myself in front of him on the next hill... so, I stopped to take a few photos of people enjoying the water.  There had to be a dozen boats on the lake and at least that many people nearby on the shore fishing.  The folk on the pier looked as if they'd had a pretty good time last night... they were drinking Rockstar at nine in the morning... ewww!

Back on the road, and a mile or two later I am greeted by the entrance sign to the Mt. Hood National Forest.  The smell of the forest was welcome enough.  Cedar and pine mingling in the air.  Sensory over load!

Just past Frog Lake I turned off the 224 onto NF-57 (National Forest Road) and was greeted by a sign like this one: "One Lane Road with Turnouts".  Awesome.  A paved road over a mountain.

I few guys on Harley's roared past me... and 20 minutes later they passed me again - going the other way...  I don't know what the problem was?  The road was in fine shape.  There was lots to look at... maybe they didn't think there were enough people around to be annoyed by their loud pipes!?!

As I continued on I was awed by the remoteness and the beauty... and that the road was paved.  Turing onto NF-58 I continued to climb.  Switchbacks and gentle grades and around every turn something new to take your breath away.

Not 15 minutes later I came up Harry and Celeste from London England.  They had shipped their bicycles to San Fransciso and were riding overland to Vancouver Canada where they would fly home on August 25th.  I passed them and then waited at the crest of a hill for them and we enjoyed a lengthy conversation in the middle of nowhere!  We all laughed at the bikes that passed us then turned around and went the other way!  I shared with them about my trip to London in the fall and they gave me some tips for getting around and made some suggestions about getting to Scotland if time were to permit it.  You never know who you're going to meet where!  Wow!

I kept watching the Estimated Arrival Time on the GPS get later and later.  I was stopping so often to take pictures!  But it was worth it as I do not think I will pass this way again!  There is something about mountains in the distance that remind us of our place on the earth - giving us a different perspective on all that is and how we might arrive "there".  I sat here for about ten minutes.  Not a bug.  A nice breeze.  A feast for the eyes.  A wonderful place to sit and give thanks for all that has been... and be in anticipation for all that may be!

Too soon I turned off NF-42 as it hooked up with Highway 26 and then #35.  I was sad to see traffic again.  I made a point of going slow and letting all the cars and SUV's get ahead of me.  I wanted to road to myself!  It was not to be.  It seemed like everyone and their dog was on their way to Hood River!

By the time I reached Hood River I was starved - and so it seemed was the rest of Oregon!  Hood River is the Oregon equivalent to Banff.  Fancy, artsy fartsy shops and all kinds of fancy restaurants.  I found what I was looking for: pizza at Piedro's Pizza.  $9 for salad bar, a soda and a calzone with three toppings.  I could not eat all of the calzome.  I am beginning to realize that American portion sizes are larger!  Either that, or my stomach is shrinking!!

I was now in the Columbia gorge.  I crossed the toll bridge into Washington state because I did not want to go near the Interstate.  Seventy five cents to cross a span of metal through which I could see water... and what were all of those sails out there?  Hand kites and wind surfers!  The water was littered with them.

I had seen folks doing the Hand Kite thing in Bermuda two years ago and was amazed at how fast they move over the water and how in the air they go.  It was no different here.  All of a sudden the signs I had seen in Hood River made sense: "Sails Repaired Overnight"

I saw for a a few minutes and watched the antics.  One near the shore seemed to be showing off.  I thought he was going to land on the roadside at one point!  I think it would be fun... for someone who has balance!  Zack would love it.  Seems to resemble riding the two wheeled skate board thing he has called a stick!!  What do you think Zack??

Unfortunately, after crossing the Bridge of the Gods back into Oregon I was forced to go onto the Interstate for a time - until I reached Rte #30 that paralleled I-84 and passed through a number of State Parks that were located around waterfalls.  The eastbound traffic was backed up for almost a mile with people trying to get into the various parking lots to take pictures of the falls.  Because of this I stopped at only one, Ainsworth where I got a photo of Horsetail Falls.

If you click here you can view a map of all of the historic waterfall that flow into the Columbia River.\\

At Corbett I got off I-84 again and headed south on a series of secondary roads that would take me back to Sandy and eventually to the retreat centre.

It was an awesome trip.  The photo to the right captures the essence of what it is for me that makes riding a motorcycle such an invigorating and exhilarating experience.  Follow the road.  Lean with the forces.  Push back as the need arises.  Breathe deeply and trust.  Around the next corner is the next surprise.  Be ready.

Well, that's all for today.  It's almost supper time here and in a few minutes the retreat will begin.  Below is a screen capture of the route I travelled and an elevation profile of the route.

I was an awesome day... on the Sabbath Road...

(Day 48) On a change in location and attitude...

This morning (Saturday July 30th) was spent washing clothes and getting ready to depart Shalom Prayer Centre.  With a pending change in location comes a change in attitude...

On Friday evening I had sent out a number of requests to the Couch Surfing network with possible requests to "surf" with folk along the intended route through the high desert and, along the Interstate.  It was my intention to use this information to decide which route I would take as one of my concerns was tenting in the desert... I wasn't looking forward to the heat setting up camp or the critters that roam the desert at night...

Well, the replies started coming in on Saturday morning and before I knew it I had places to stay at my proposed first three stops through the high country... I guess I now know which way I am going: Boise, OR to Loa, UT to Cortez, CO to Limon, CO and then on through Kansas and Missouri... and... it looks like my friend Al Wallace is going to be able to join me after all for the final few days ride home.  Al has confirmed that he will meet me in Asheville, NC on the 13th of August and we will ride the Blueridge Parkway and some other scenic byways all the way home!

With the bike packed I headed northeast into the Cascades toward Eagle Creek, OR where the Alton L. Collins Retreat Centre is located.  What a beautiful drive.

Gradually agricultural land gave way to foothills and deep gorges with beautiful view of Mt. Hood in the distance.

Arriving at the Centre I was met by Todd, the Director of the Centre, and shown to my room.  What a tranquil place.  Large moss covered trees, sunlight filtering through the canopy and a deep sense of peace...

After unpacking I headed toward Sandy, the nearest town to find supper - and what I found was Calamity Jane's!

What a neat place.  The ceiling is covered in one dollar bills on which famous people have put their autograph and the burgers... well... they are huge!  The smallest you could get was 1/3 pounds and it was all I could do to finish it.  If you were really hungry you could go for the 1/2 pounder or the full pounder!!  A biker dude next to me was working on a one pounder...  it was kinda gross!

With my belly full I took some time and explored the area around Sandy, following the Oregon Trail for a while.  I could not imagine ox carts climbing some of the hills I ascended!  Wow!

Returning to the Centre I met Stan.  Stan has been on retreat for the past week and will leave today driving around the back of Mt. Hood and then going to pick up his partner at the airport in Portland as she returns from San Francisco.  Stan and I talked for about an hour - exchanging book titles, authors and other resources that we have found supportive and helpful on our respective spiritual journeys.  It was wonderful to meet you Stan and I look forward to keeping in touch.  Blessings on the journey inward to love of self - and outward to sharing love with the world.

By 11PM I was in bed, enjoying the woodland breeze drifting in through the patio door as I drifted off to sleep... on the Sabbath Road...

Friday, July 29, 2011

(Day 47) A day of reflection and discernment...

Tuesday August 2nd will mark the end of my 4th week on the road.  Today marks the end of my first week here in Oregon - a week that has been full of activity, conversations and reflection.  The visits to the various prisons in the area have been most helpful.  Connecting with other Chaplains and Administrators has reinforced the value of some of the things I do, opened my mind to new ideas and possibilities for ministry, exposed me to new resources and polices, practices and procedures, and forced me to think at deeper levels on the theological rationale for prison ministry.

It's all about relationships.
It's all about the human being finding/creating/naming its worth.
It's all about relationships.
The Divine is the relationships.

Today I had my first ever session with a Spiritual Director.  Peggy was her name.  In addition to degrees in theology she also holds a PhD in psychology.  She invited me to speak about how I arrived here and then she asked me, after explaining a little about Spiritual Direction to speak about "where I was experiencing the Divine... or not...  what is it that is bring you gratitude at this point?

So much to be thankful for.  I began to speak of the gifts of hospitality that I have received on this journey thus far from friends, family, members of former congregations, the Sisters here, various Chaplains and inmates.  I spoke of the gift of this time that has been provided and the gift of support that Anna has offered in supporting my absence.  I spoke of how much I missed my family and she asked me, "Is it possible that the Divine is present in that absence?"  I thought about that for a moment.  Silent.  I began to nod.  Yes, this absence has given me an even deeper appreciation of what I mean to them and they mean to me.

And then I spoke of my loneliness.  Of the silence at the breakfast table.  Of how I appreciate silence but that I have missed conversing when people are in my presence (the Sisters here do not talk during meals).  I then wondered out loud how I should go home.  I spoke about how I had spent the morning plotting and planning routes.  A direct route would take me home in about seven days and 6700 KM.  The route I had planned before leaving would be 16 days and 9500 KM.  A modified route (minus the Grand Canyon) would be  8300 KM and 13 days.

I spoke about how I had already decided that I would not visit the Grand Canyon.  There is a possibility that we may get to Arizona as a family this winter and we could do that together.  I spoke about how the routes I have laid out will allow me a day on the road to make a decision.  Upon reaching Boise, ID I will decide whether to head further south into Utah and west into Colorado (Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, Million Dollar Highway) or, to head straight east on Interstate 80.

"What will influence your decision?"  Hmmm.... good question.  How much I miss home.  The weather (heat).  How I am feeling about where I am at?  

"Fear?"  "Obligation?"  "Possibility?"  "Commitment?"  "Adventure?"

Hmmmm... I was silent.

What to do?  Anna has made so many sacrifices already and I can tell that she is tired from dealing with all the stuff at home by herself.  Maybe I just need to go home.  But I know, if I just get on the Interstate and slab it home, while I may get some enjoyment out of that, I will end up regretting it.  Or, I could head north - where it is cooler and visit folk on the way home...  I don't know...  I trust that it will become clearer by Friday next week.  If you have any wisdom... drop me a note!

Peggy urged me to name what was life giving about this time of Sabbath,  And so I did: engaging conversations, dinners with friends, times of quiet, and reflective music.  And then she asked, "What can you incorporate into your daily life so as to prolong the Sabbath experience?"  Hmmmm... more dinners with friends, leave my desk at lunch time and find some quiet or music... I'll think more about this...

With this, our hour was finished... and in a way I was left with more questions than answers - but at the same time - a deep sense of peace...

I was going to go to Silver Falls today but it was just too hot.  Instead I did some errands, called home and had a little nap.  When it cools off I'm going to head to Silverton for supper and a craft brew. 

...on the Sabbath Road...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

(Day 46) On volunteers, statistics and HGO...

Another early morning.  Breakfast and then off to a series of meetings in Salem at the "Dome" where the headquarters of Oregon Department of Corrections is located.  My first meeting was with Les.  Les is a member of the Religious Services Administrative Team and is responsible for all things volunteer.  He tracks volunteer data, trains volunteers and is responsible for communicating with volunteers.  It is a huge job as there are over 3000 volunteers with the DOC statewide.

Recruitment is done at the local level by Chaplains and all volunteers must be affiliated with a faith community or community organization.  This is their "first level of screening" and if a volunteer ceases to be affiliated, their role as a volunteer with DOC is terminated.  Volunteers may enter the institution to whuch they are assigned for up to three months under escort.  These are called un-carded volunteers.  During this time they are expected to take the volunteer training modules and course.

The training modules are offered online and participants complete the modules at their own pace and send them into the office when completed.  Once the modules are completed the volunteer takes part int he training course which is offered once per month by video conference.  The volunteer would go to their institution and it would be arranged for them to take part in the training by video link up.  Upon successful completion of the course and final approval by the head of the institution the invidual becomes a carded-volunteer and is able to enter the institution unescorted and escort other un-carded volunteers.  Volunteers may volunteer in more than one program and at more than one institution - but - all of their data is available to the staff at the principal entrance of each institution and, if a volunteer tries to enter an institution for which they are not approved their status is immediately suspended and their volunteer card taken from them.  Note to self: front gate staff track the volunteers coming in and leaving with a simple click of a button and have available to them all the information about that volunteer!  How awesome would this be where I work!!

Wishing Les every good wish for his pending retirement to Arizona, I made my way up to Tim's office. Tim is in charge of the Home for Good in Oregon program.  Tim, in the presence of two of the Religious Services interns, provided me with an overview of the HGO program.  By all accounts this is an ambitious project.  Providing a couple of different entry points the program offers the possibility of mentorship to released inmates to support them as they get their feet under themselves in the community.  The magnitude of the program is further amplified when one takes into account that the program draws upon 300+ volunteers statewide.  Modeled somewhat under the Canadian M2W2 program this program demands a higher degree of professionalism and accountability of its volunteers and shares much more information about the inmate with the volunteer.  The one drawback for us in Canada is lack of population density and the location of our prisons.

It is important to note that the poplulation of Oregon is almost 4 million.  Of which 14,000 are incarcerated.  The population of Canada is almost 34 million of which 22,000 are in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada.  Hmmmmm.  But that is soon to change.

As I consider the HGO program within the Canadian context I see a lot of potential hurdles some of which include: lack of volunteers, difficulty in co-ordination with Case Management staff, distance and geography.  Further, I am reminded that we do have such program in M2W2 and Pathways to Freedom.  Maybe there is a way that we can enhance their impact?

Finishing my meeting with Tim I arrange to take Jeff to lunch where we would continue our conversation about tracking effectiveness of interventions from the day before.  In addition, Tim helped me arrange for Tommy Hover, one of the volunteer Regional Chaplains who is part of the HGO to join us.

We ended up at the same place as Monday: Hometown Buffet and their $4.49 soup and salad buffet.  Within forty minutes or so Tommy and his wife arrived and joined us.  It was a great conversation.  Jeff is very knowlegble about statistical tracking and analysis and it was great to pick his brain.  What are the most accurate measures of intervention effectiveness when it comes to religious services?  How does one measure those things?  We also talked about there the possible gaps are in religious programming.  We agreed that there is a need upon intake to provide some intensive support in regard to grief and loss, shame and guilt.  Hmmm.... with this Tommy told me about a resource he was passing out and I have something tangible to take home and explore and modify and build to meet our needs.

Eventually Jeff had to return to the office and Tommy and I took some more time time to explore the HGO program, his role and what it provides to the men it serves.  In addition I was humbled in being able to hear Tommy's story and his journey from a life of addiction and crime to a life of community and service.  Thanks for all that you shared with me Tommy and Jeff.  Much food for thought.

With the work day done I needed some fresh air so I headed downtown to Riverfront Park which winds along the Williamette River.  What a delightful park.  Fountains for the kids to play in, a sternwheeler called the Williamette Queen that gives tours of the river and a restored carousel.  It was a relaxing way to end the day... but was it ever hot.

Tomorrow is a bit of a down day.  I have arranged an appointment with a Spiritual Director at 1PM and later in the afternoon I hope to get over to Silverton and Silver Falls to have a look around.

On Saturday I will head northeast toward Mt. Hood where I will check into the Alton L. Collins Retreat Centre on Sunday for a Taize' Prayer Retreat which will run through until the morning of August 3rd.  I will return to Salem for meetings on the 3rd and 4th and then I begin the long trek eastward...

I guess what I am saying is this... the blog entries from here on out will be sporadic... as I travel the Sabbath Road...

(Day 45) CRCI, SFFC and the Pacific Coast...

It's been a long day... in order to beat the traffic through Portland I left the Shalom Centre at 6AM arriving at Columbia River Correctional Institution (CRCI) at 7:30AM as advised by Chaplain Larry Bowen.

I was greeted at the front gate by a staff member in a control pod who let me into the sally port.  From there I was allowed to enter the yard proper where I exchanged my drivers licence for an ID Tag.  An officer processed me through the metal detector and by this time Larry had arrived.

The tour of CRCI did not take long.  The facility is basically one long hallway (nicely flooded by sunlight) off of which program offices, classrooms and shops and other administrative spaces come on the main floor.  And on the second floor 800 men are housed dormitory style on bunk beds.  Each inmate has a foot locker and may purchase a TV from the canteen.  The TV (6" LCD) is mounted on the end of their bed on a pole and they may watch it by sitting on their bed or lying backwards on the bed.  At one end of the structure is a recreation yard (smaller than the inside yard at Springhill Institution and a sacred space for the Native Americans.  At the other end of the structure is the works shop and the parking lot for institutional vechiles... interestingly enough, most of the passenger cars used by DOC staff are "retired" police cruisers!

Larry popped into the A&O Class (Admission and Orientation) and spoke about the programs, events and activities offered by the Chaplaincy Department and as we do, really tried to just let the men know that he is there for them.

By this time the Chapel clerk had arrived and informed Larry that all was a go back in his office.  Heading toward the Transition Services Wing we saw where the chapel space was being constructed and it is clear that this space is going to add much to the work that Larry and his volunteers are going to be able to do.

Entering Larry's office I was welcomed by Troy (Chapel Clerk), Manuel and Ron, and Larry's wife, Julie who volunteers regularly at the Institution.  Larry invited me to share with the group why I was there and what I was hoping to find out... thus began and long conversation in which I think I talked far too much!

Having said this, I was deeply moved to hear the stories of the three guys and how their faith and the community of faithful folk have supported and encouraged them on their journey.  All of the inmates at CRCI are within 48 months of release.  These three guys are close to freedom... and I don't mean just chronologically!  It was clear to me from my conversation with the three of them that they have each gone deep and come out stronger and wiser as a result of their spiritual growth.  Thanks so much for sharing with me guys!  You have confirmed for me the value of what Chaplains do - dedicating time to building of relationships that provide community where change can be nurtured and supported.

Larry and I continued our conversation after the men returned to their units.  We spent time talking about some of the fiscal challenges we each face and how we creatively respond to those.  We talked of how we maintain connected to our respective faith traditions and how distant that relationship sometimes seems.  And then we made plans for the rest of the day - a drive up into the costal mountains where we would visit the South Fork Forestry Camp (SFFC).

It was decided that I would take my wheels so far, where we would have lunch and then I would ride the rest of the way to the camp with Larry.  He would drop me back and I was going to continue up to the coast so I could travel some of the Pacific Coast via Highway 101.

I'm glad we did it this way.  Following Larry through Portland made my life so much easier.  Late morning and the traffic was insane.  People say it is insane all the time.

Located off of Highway #6 SFFC is a jointly run operation involving Department of Corrections, Fish and Game and Forestry.  Housing 200 inmates the camp is a forest fire fighting outpost.  Each inmate is trained extensively and when they are not fighting fires they are working in a fish hatchery, planting trees or doing maintenance in the camp.  Their day begins at 5AM each day and ends at three and they work Monday through Thursday.  Friday, Saturday and Sunday is set aside for programs, education and family visit.  Many staff live on site because of the remote location.  This place is not for the faint of heart or the out of shape.  These men work hard and take significant pride in the fact that they are giving back to their community.  Larry told me of their involvement during a flood this spring - inmates in a village helping folk save what belongings they could from their homes.  The Mayor of the town wanted to give each of the men a watch... DOC said no to that and instead the town rented a hall and came en masse and threw a party for them!  How's that for good news story!

Driving back towards Portland gave Larry and I more time talk about issues and ideas... but the time ended much too soon!  Larry had a list of things waiting for him back in the office before a long weekend... and well... a twisty winding road beckoned me... thanks so much for taking time to share of your passion, vocation and ideas with me Larry.  The time together and the conversation we shared both on our own and with the inmates you brought together was a real gift.  Perhaps I can return the favour one day!

Rather then take #6 to Tillamook, Larry suggested that I take #26.  This was a better road he said, and I would get to see Cannon Beach.  I'm glad I followed his suggestion!  The road as far as Cannon Beach was in great shape and the curves and views were quite beautiful... except for the constuction and logging trucks!!  I dare say they were working on every bridge over every stream, creek or river that ran anywhere near that road!!

And the clear cutting!! I suppose there is new growth coming forth but there were areas on those costal mountains that I passed by that I wonder if they will ever see trees again - the wind off the coast seemed to sweep everything away!

Arriving at Cannon Beach I saw views that this part of the world is famous for!  The tide was on its way out so the surf was not as high as it might have been... but the smell... salt water, evergreen forest, cedar and camp smoke.... mmmmhhhh!!

Haystack Rock, Arcada Beach, Hug Point State Park... and the traffic started to back up.  By Arch Cape I had almost had enough.  Then I began to sea the ocean again.  At Nehalem Beach I stopped and went for a walk (and forgot the darn camera) thinking the traffic would pass...

It wasn't to be... I almost turned east at Tillamook... but then I reasoned I had travelled most of that road from the other way in... why go back that way?  So I stayed in the long line of traffic and wondered... if it is this bad on a Wednesday... I'm not coming near this part of the world on a Saturday!!!

At Hebo I turned east on #22.  This is rated as one of the best motorcycle roads in the Pacific Northwest!  And it does not disappoint!  Sweepers, tight lefts and rights, off camber turns, more scenery - rivers and streams and mountain views than you can really appreciate... an awesome riding road!!  Must do it again!!

Eventually I hooked up with #18 which brought me to Amity and down past Williamette State Park after I had crossed the Wheatland Ferry.  I must confess: by this point I was disoriented.  I didn't know if I was going east or west... looking at the track after the fact it all makes sense... but sitting waiting for the ferry I thought the GPS was cooked!!  All the little correction roads and roads that turn into new roads but don't really contributed to my confusion.

Arriving in Mt. Angel at 6PM I went directly to the Pizza Restaurant and got a "Butcher Shop" (use your imagination) and brought it back to my room where it went nicely with a Big Horn Blonde and a 17 Pale Ale from Barefoot Wit.

Tomorrow it is back to the "Dome" to learning about the "Home for Good" program.

...on the Sabbath Road...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

(Day 44) On being overwhelmed by a mass of humanity... and the goodness at its core...

This morning I arrived at Oregon State Penitentiary at just after 9AM.  Arriving at the main gate I had to announce my arrival on the grounds before I parked.

Entering the main reception area I showed my identification tag and signed in.  Yes, I had to walk through a metal detector, even take off my shoes... but there was no ION ccan machine, no drug detector dog and, I was informed that staff did not have to walk through the metal detector.  First thing of note that is different here... and they have 2,300 inmates in this facility!

I shared with the guard on duty the process that happens at our principal entrance in the morning and about the drug dog and ION scan machine and how they are used with visitors.  It was clear to me that she was on the one hand impressed with the tools we were using - but didn't think staff should be subject to them... interesting.

Chaplain Phil Holbrook took a few minutes to come and fetch me and I was soon to find out why... its called five flights of stairs!  Five stories he had to walk down to get me and five stories we climbed five times today.  If I worked here I would no doubt be in much better shape.

Phil and I spent the better part of the morning in his office sharing information about what we do in our respective contexts and why we do it.  Phil had lots of questions about the manner in which Chaplains work in the Federal system as he is a Canadian - originally from St. Catherine's, Ontario.  I was struck at once by the number of programs that the Chaplaincy Department offers - mostly through the use of volunteers from the community who are cleared to enter on their own.  Phil is quick to acknowledge that his role is more of that of a co-ordinator of the various groups, ministries, events and programs that take place within the Chapel space.

Along with the three offices, one for each of the Chaplains, there is one large multi-purpose space that can be sub-divided into three rooms (as it was later in the afternoon), and one library room.

We were jointed later in our conversation by Chaplain Richard Torres.  Richard is a Roman Catholic and practicing Buddhist.  As our conversation continued I was amazed at the similarity of our experiences and the shared commitments to diversity and openness that exist among us as Chaplains.  Richard had to return home to spell off his wife who is pregnant with their second child as she coped with a very energetic two year old, and Phil and I headed to a local diner where we enjoy a lovely meal and more engaging conversation.

Returning to the Chapel area meant climbing those five flights of stairs... I almost needed a snack when I got to the top!!  Man was the chapel space humming!  A Russian Bible Study was underway in the library room.  A Hare Krishna worship gathering was taking place in the first third of the chapel space, a Buddhist Meditation in the middle third and transcendental meditation in the far third of the chapel - and not a chaplain in sight...

After taking some time to meet the inmates and volunteers (learning how to say "hello" in Russian, and being invited to both the Buddhist meditation and the Hare Krishna service) we headed off on a tour.

It was like a movie set.  I will never forget the experience of walking into bottom tier of one of the ranges and looking up... and around... being overwhelmed with sadness that that we treat human beings in such a fashion.  The State of Oregon spends $2.25 to feed each inmate, each day and houses them in cells stacked five high with 550+ human beings in what is essentially one room with partial concrete and iron dividers.  A mass of humanity.

From the tier we headed made our way out into the yard.  The recreation schedule rotates and each range would get a block of recreation time every second day.  This is so they can manage populations and keep some of the gangs (usually affiliated along racial lines) apart.  Some of the men were in the weight pit, others were playing basket ball or baseball and others were on the phone.  A dozen or so phone booths outside - the only location and time for you to make a phone call home - every second day, outside in a phone booth.

Unfortunately I cannot remember the names of the many men I met.  The brother by the ball field, who through the chain link fence told me he wanted to "work with me", the fellows in the hobby shop, the silversmith and the fellow making hatbands out of horsehair and the many guys who work in leather that would have loved to sell me a wallet!  Such creativity.  Such energy channelled into the creation of beauty and practicality in the midst of a system that continually tells the human spirit it is nothing... nothing but a problem and a menace to society.

I found myself taking time to stop and admire each piece of work.  To look each man in the eye and tell them of the beauty and goodness I saw in their work.  I believe that this is part of the core of the work that we are called to as chaplains - to help each person we work with to come to see their own self-worth and value in the world.

From the hobby shop we made our way to the building that houses those with mental health issues and death row.  Two wings, two tiers high of what can only be described as cages.  No bars here - thick, steel mesh with holes about the size of a pencil - and not a window in the place.  The only natural light came from a recreation yard that split the ranges.  If you were not crazy when you came in here you would be when you left!  All programs and visitation is done with the inmates in such cages.  In the case of staff they are on the other side of the cage and can reach through the cuff slot.  As for family visits they are closed visits with the inmate always behind glass.

At the other end of the building was Death Row.  Upon arriving the Officer stated I could go no further.  Chaplain Holdbrook identified me and the Officer was about to get permission from the Warden for me to tour the range and I declined.

I could not bring myself to "tour" such a place.

It was enough to have passed the door that led to the execution chamber and know that since 1902 some 60 men had passed through that door... and that 22 lived with a death sentence within these walls...  I couldn't get out fast enough, back into the light - confronted with my outrage, shame, disgust and a whole host of other feelings...

From a place of death to a place of industry and enterprise... the work spaces of Oregon Correctional Enterprises: a woodworking shop and a laundry.  Not unlike CORCAN... but a little more sweatshop like.  The laundry had to have at least 100 mem working there.  Not a guard in sight.  It was hot back breaking work.

The prison laundry at OSP does the laundry for many of the area correctional facilities and also does contract work for nursing homes, hospitals and some private companies.  It is very clearly a money making venture and inmates are on wait-list to work here because they do get incentive pay.  The same is true for the woodworking shop where they make furniture and desks - just like at CORCAN.

Before returning to the office we ventured into A Range - the Honour Range - a smaller tier just about the shower room (think Shawshank Redemption and you have the image of the shower room).  A Range is kind of a reward range.  Still double bunked, but here you have your own key and can come and go into the common area of the range with some freedom.  As well they had their own TV room and Rec Room and your ID Tag for this range gives you more movement around the prison.  Clearly a place of honour amidst this mass of humanity.

Returning toward the office I was greet by two relative signs of normalcy within the structured chaos that is such a mass of humanity: a man throwing a ball to a dog and a large beautiful well tended guarden with a man on his knees smelling a rose as he tilled the soil around it.

The dog is supposedly being trained to chase birds off the property - a flop eared Australian Shepherd - and a couple of inmates are employed to feed and care for the dog.  I bet there is a wait-list for that job!  And as for the garden, Phil didn't know how it came to be there or how long it has been fenced... but it remains, a splash of colour in an otherwise drab tan world... and a reminder that the seed of self-worth once planted can bloom forth and bring joy and love to the world...

...on the Sabbath Road...

Please note: all pictures are from the web and identify areas of the prison that I did visit.  If you wish to know the source of each image please click on the image and it will take you to the page from which I have linked it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

(Day 43) Oregon DOC Religious Services Administration...

This morning I visited the Dome, home to the Department of Correction for the State of Oregon.  I was wondering where to park my bike and I saw only one other bike in the area: parked in an area marked off with orange cones.  I headed over there and along the way asked a guy if it was okay to park there.  He informed me "that green bike is there everyday so shouldn't be any issue... but don't quote me!"  As I was taking off my gear the owner of the green bike came along and we had a great chat.  Ron Leader (I think I have that right) is with the Investigations Branch, and when I told him where I was from and what I was doing we launched into a deep discussion about the terribly wrong direction Canada was heading.  It was refreshing to hear someone from the Operational side of the house acknowledge that locking people up doesn't solve much!

The plan for today was to meet with three members of the Oregon Department of Corrections Religious Services Administration Team.  Gary Sims (second from the left) is the Administrator and has been in the job for a year, coming to this post from Ohio.  Dennis Holms (far right) is the Assistant Administrator and has been in Oregon for 9 years (I think I have that right) coming to Oregon from Idaho.  Jeff (between Gary and Dennis) is known as Mr. Research and is responsible for tracking all of the information that is submitted by Chaplains for administrative and research purposes (more about that later).

After a tour of the "Dome", a beautiful old building that appears to be well maintained... The Dome was built originally as Oregon State Hospital's in 1912.  It was interesting to note that this building portrayed the mental hospital in the 1975 Jack Nicholson film adaptation of Ken Kesey's 1962 novel,  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I found out later how confusing the layout is.  I had forgotten some material on the upper floor and the Receptionist allowed me to go up on my own to find it.  But for the grace of the Divine I would still be wandering the hallways and up and down the circular stairways!

Jeff and Dennis and I had the morning to speak of some of their practices in tracking the involvement of inmates in the various programs at the 14 prisons in the state and the administration/management of Chaplaincy services.

Jeff is responsible in part for all of the statistics generated and has a hand I am sure, in providing information for Population Forecasts and preparing data for the Research Branch.  I spent quite some time talking with Jeff as I am interested in the kind of data they are generating for those who analyze the effectiveness of chaplaincy.  I am looking forward to conversations with Chaplains on the ground to see how much work it is to generate such data.  It would be fair to say that Jeff was somewhat overwhelmed by the size of "Ted's Tool" the nickname we chaplains have given the Statistical Reporting Tool we have to complete each month in our settings.

With the morning done, we headed off to a restaurant for lunch where Gary Sims met us.  I forget the name of the restaurant.  The price could not be beat.  $4.95 for all you could eat soup and salad bar and taco bar.

Jeff bought me my lunch and the conversations continued.  We spoke of the uniqueness of each chaplaincy setting and the uniqueness of the gifts each chaplain brings to the table.  They were intrigued that as a Chaplain in a Federal system that I was not a Federal employee.  Jeff asked as very pointed question: "Does you faith community ever have any issue with some of the things you are called to do as a result of your role as a Chaplain?"  I explained that some do, but that I have no run up against this yet.

The conversation moved to some of the programs offered across the state, the size of the inmate population, the challenges of ministering to various populations and the financial challenges currently facing many departments within government.

One important thing I learned was that I could not wear blue jeans or a blue shirt to my visit to Oregon State Penitentiary tomorrow.  Anything but blue.  Like the inmates in Canada, this is standard inmate issue!

Arriving back at the Dome, Gary and his staff headed to a staff meeting and I went shopping.  In addition to buying some $18 khaki pants I bought a snack:  pop-tarts!!  I have to say, they suck!  Kind of doughy and not as much filling!  The ones in Canada are much better!  Make sure you have some for me when I get home Zack!!

Tomorrow its off to the Pen...  Oregon State that is!

Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) was established in 1866, and until 1959 was Oregon’s only prison. OSP is surrounded by a 25-foot-high wall with 10 towers and houses death row inmates covering a total  of 195 acres.  The walled perimeter contains 22 acres.  The complex has a budgeted capacity of  2,356 and there are three chaplains on staff.

I must confess, having shared the conversations I have today I am even more discouraged by the action that our present Conservative government is taking.  How many of you read the Globe and Mail article on the 21st of July?  Here is a link.  Mr. Harper really does need to give his head a shake.  So should Rob Nicholson.  I mean come on?  Are these the words of an intelligent person responding to a question of fact?
“Unlike the Opposition, we do not use statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals. As far as our Government is concerned, one victim of crime is still one too many,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in an e-mail Thursday evening.on the 21st Sunday.  (Globe and Mail)
If only more people would think this issue through, there is a chance that they might come to a similar conclusion as Jeffery Simpson.  California, Oregon and countless other states and countries have tried the "get tough its a deterrent" experiment.  It doesn't work.  Never has.  Never will.  Only thing it will do is line the pockets of the corporations who are lining up in Canada to pour cement, and continue drive down many of those who are already driven down and have no self-worth.

If one follows Mr. Nicholson's logic and "one victim of crime is still one too many" then let us take the billions we would spend on bricks and mortar and bars and control panels and invest it in communities - so that those who are disenfranchised may be encouraged, that those who are downcast may be lifted up and supported.  Then and only then, will the
voices at the margins get heard and the circle of compassion widens.  Souls feeling their worth, refusing to forget that we belong to each other.  No bullet can pierce this.  The vision still has its time, and yes, it presses on to fulfillment.  It will not disappoint.  And yet, if it delays, surely we can wait for it. (Last paragraph of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Gregory Boyle)

...on the Sabbath Road...

PS... check this out!  Some wise people in Moncton are listening to wisdom!  W.E. Belliveau, PM's Tough on Crime Fantasy!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

(Day 42) continued...

Entrance to the
Sunday.  It was and remains a day of rest.  For the first time in a long time I have sat and read a book cover to cover in one day.

Granted, it was not a large or studious book but it was a powerful book and it drew me in and engaged me in a way that I have not been engaged by a theological book since I read Barbara Brown Taylor's, An Altar in the World.

The book?  One I started reading while I was at Hank Dixon's place, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Gregory Boyle.

The book is full of stories of Fr. Boyle meeting the "homies" where they are at and through the stories of his encounters of the spirit at work in the lives of those who choose to change, "the priest begins to articulate a simple theology that speaks deeply to me as I seek to understand more fully my vocation to prison ministry - and life in general...

The story of the
Sister's Sequoia

"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a covenant between equals. … Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship."
"If we choose to stand in the right place, God through us creates a community of resistance without our ever realizing it.  To embrace the strategy of Jesus is to be... engaged in "downward mobility".  Our locating ourselves with those who have been endlessly excluded becomes an act of visible protest... Jesus was always to busy being faithful to worry about success."
The Chapel
"Mother Teresa diagnosed the world's ills in this way: we've just "forgotten that we belong to each other".  Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen.  With kinship as the goal, othe essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace."
The above are just a few randomn quotes from the book. a few of the many that had me reading them twice and then three times because they were so simple yet so profound and connected on such a deep level with my experience at the prison.  I kept coming back to Charlie Taylor's catchphrase: "We're more alike then we are different."  At the core of this is compassion.  Compassions fruit is kinship.

Trying to capture the Monastery and Chapel
in one picture.  Note the height of the Sequoia 
At some point in the day - not sure when for I had left my watch in a drawer I went for a walk and took some pictures of the grounds.  It is a beautiful place and the spirit of the place is so restful and calming.  The Sisters are so helpful wanting to make sure I am comfortable and have everything I need.

There are about forty Sisters that live in community here.  Some teach, others are counsellors and spiritual directors, others work on the industries as part of the Monastery and of course some are administrators.  In all of the Sister I have met it is clear to me that they each live daily the mission of their order: "Together we seek God in a balanced life of prayer and work, simplicity, hospitality, and service. While our vow of stability leads us to a special care for the people of the local area, we are deeply conscious of sharing the universal mission of the Church."  Visit their website if you would like a bit more information: The Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel.

This evening, on about 5:30PM I walked into the town of Mt. Angel and had supper at a local restaurant.

The building where I am staying.
I have the whole place to myself.
I have another book to read for this evening - one I started last night: A Collection of All of Flannery O'Connor's Short Stories.  I am looking forward to reading some of her earlier and until this book, unpublished works.

...on the Sabbath Road...

A stitched photo trying to capture the size of the Sequoia against the backdrop of the Monastery.