This year I turn 90. I reflect back on the important things in my life and am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had as a volunteer in the correctional system since 1981. It’s accurate to say I’ve spent more than a third of my life behind bars. This time has been transforming.
I began facilitating a program called Life Without Violence at local state prisons 37 years ago. Since 2003, I have co-facilitated programs at Washington County Jail in Fort Edward on topics of anger management, restorative justice, addiction, HIV education, relationships, forgiveness and spiritual growth.
The U.S. leads the world in the number of people behind bars. Our country’s prisons and jails are filled with inmates struggling with addiction. The enormous cost to communities and families can be measured from every perspective.
There’s a story about an elephant walking through the jungle when he comes upon a small bird on its back with its feet in the air. The elephant asks, “Little bird, what are you doing?” The bird answered, “Holding up the sky.” The elephant said, “But you can’t do that. You’re too small!” Smiling, the little bird said, “One does what one can.” Yes, I am a small bird. We all are. But two make a group. And four make a flock. I recognized 37 years ago that I am responsible for initiating social change.
So thank you to the people at Washington County Jail, administration, staff and inmates, for recognizing the need for programs, that incarceration can create a teachable moment. They have encouraged and supported me with kindness and respect. I may go into the jail as a teacher, but I am also a student of life. It comes as a blessing to me for which I am so grateful as my journey continues.
Marian F. Philo, Kattskill Bay