Yesterday was the annual banquet for the Wiccan inmates at McNeil Island CC. Each religious group is allowed to have one banquet event every year where guests and relatives can come and share a holiday with the men. The group used to do it for Yule and the winter solstice but they moved it to Samhain a couple of years ago.
Last year, the Samhain Banquet was the first time I met the men and was introduced to the group. My friend Monk brought me along because he'd been doing volunteer work with them for a while and I was interested in possibly helping him out. As most of my friends now, this changed about seven or eight months ago to me taking over the group as Monk was deployed to the Middle East for a bit of God and Country.
This event is also the one reliable day where I get to celebrate a sabbat with the men. Normally, since the Sabbats are seasonally aligned and our meeting schedule is oriented to the conventional calendar, I meet the men for a study group but don't get to do ritual work with them. They do this on their own and we are fortunate that they're allowed to do so. Since the banquet occurs on the same day, I get to do both with them on Samhain but it makes for a long day.
I got up early, drove down, and took the ferry to the island, meeting the men about 9:00 AM. The group had designated officers for their rite and we proceeded to raise the circle and do their Samhain rite. The whether was quite nice but a bit windy. An unintentional bit of hilarity occurred because they use quarter candles for the cardinal points and each quarter caller would do his ritual piece and then try to light the candle...again...and again...and again... Since I was just a participant, I didn't advise them to just let it go so we got to see this for three of the four quarters before people started understanding that it just wasn't going to work. heh. The ritual itself went pretty well and they are going to give me a copy of it to keep for records. They do decent ritual work and put more heart into it than many pagans that I know.
After the ritual and the cakes and "ale," there were three and a half hours until food and space setup for the banquet. It takes me about an hour and twenty minutes to get to the site (not counting the ferry) so leaving and coming back wasn't a real option. So, I wound up sitting in a locked room in a prison reading the first Harry Potter work and killing time. After setup, there was another hour and a half before inmates could show up and wait for guests. Guests arrived around 5:30 and then the banquet commenced.
It's an unusual experience to see the men interact with anyone other than each other or officials from the facility. Seeing them with their families was a nice experience. They obviously really hunger to spend time with them and it is tragic in many ways that this is their only chance outside of occasional one on one visits. I chatted a bit with the guys that didn't have any visitors. They get the fun of the banquet (and the food was quite good) but it must be bittersweet to watch the others with their families.
It adds another dimension to working with the guys to get to spend this much extended time with them and to see another side of them. For the most part, I like the guys, even the ones that I know committed horrible crimes. They are all trying to better themselves and there isn't one of them that doesn't seem entirely sincere in their beliefs. The questions that I get from them about practice and ethics and such make it clear that many of them are really struggling to both survive their current situation and to be good pagans.
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