Tag Archives: writing

Poems by Mohja Kahf

I recommend to you the poems of Dr. Mohja Kahf, whom you may know as the author of “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” Poet and scholar Mohja Kahf was born in Damascus, Syria. Her family moved to the United States in 1971, and Kahf grew up in the Midwest. She earned a PhD in comparative literature from Rutgers University. Her remarkable poetry books are:

We read Kahf’s poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet…” every term in the weekly classes I lead in Santa Clara County jail. It is one of the most popular selections in our Transforming Literature of the Bible course at Elmwood Jail. We read the poem to complement the story of Joseph in Egypt, as part of a discussion on being a bridge between cultures (Genesis 37-50). Volunteer jail chaplains are locked out now because of the Covid-19 quarantine but I look forward to returning. I miss my students!

In Hagar Poems, I found this one which seems very appropriate for the conversations our country is having now:

“Most Wanted”
by Mohja Kahf

Warning: God has slipped the noose.
We must confirm the worst
of our righteous fears –
God has escaped the mosque,
the synagogue, the church
where we’ve locked up God for years.

God is on the loose.

Henceforth beware:
You may find God in heathen beauty.
You may stumble upon God unaware.
Take appropriate measures:
You may have to behave
as if each human being
could reflect God’s face.

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Incarceration and Theology

Citadel of Qaitbay window, Alexandria Egypt, Feb 2018

The Graduate Theological Union where I am a Master’s student requires us to take a “Research Methods” class before writing our 90-page thesis, or capstone paper. The final paper of Research Methods is intended to be a chapter in that thesis.  What follows is the paper I submitted earlier this month in which I argue that some practices associated with relational theology promote better outcomes for prisoners and may lower recidivism. I start work on my thesis in the Spring term in February 2020.

Range of Chaplain Engagement with Prisoners

By Katy Dickinson
MA-1000: Research Methods (Fall 2019)
16 December 2019

Introduction

There is a range of chaplain engagement and practices with prisoners that reflects both sociology and theology. Chaplain practices range from missionary to relational and chaplain engagement durations range short-term to long-term. In this paper, I argue that some practices associated with relational theology promote better outcomes and may lower recidivism. I have used two primary sources for inmate engagement examples, Tanya Erzen’s God in Captivity: The Rise of Faith-Based Prison Ministries in the Age of Mass Incarceration,[1] and Laura Bates’s Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, a Memoir.[2]  I also consider the theology presented by Arthur Peacocke, in Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural, Divine, and Human,[3] as well as drawing examples from my own experience since 2015 as a volunteer chaplain on the men’s side at Elmwood jail in Santa Clara County.

After presenting information about incarceration, I will explore examples of inmate engagement by Erzen and Bates and show how these define the range. See the Appendix for a graphic that visualizes the range of engagement. My focus is on male Christian prisoners because this is the group with which I have the most experience as a jail chaplain. In America, 93% of prisoners are male[4] and 68% are reported to be Christian.[5] Women were 7% of the total prison population in 2017.[6] It may be that my research includes or pertains to other prisoner groups, or to other elements of the penal system such as the justice courts and the parole system; however, those are not the center of my study. In particular, while there are sociological differences between male and female prisoners, I have not observed theological differences. My work represents more practical theology than academic research. I have found comparatively few academic resources about ministry to the incarcerated and ex-inmates. This paper is a subset of my developing Master’s thesis on the range of chaplain engagement and how understanding it can benefit prisoners. It is a small addition to a much-needed field of study.

Incarceration and the Marginalized

Jail and prison numbers reflect the lives of the most marginalized in American society. The Prison Policy Initiative reports not only the overall volume but the much-higher churn of prisoners cycling through county jails, “The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people… Every year, over 600,000 people enter prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year.”[7] These numbers are substantiated by The Sentencing Project, “The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years.”[8] The good news is that state and federal incarceration rates went down 13% from 2007 to 2017.[9]

Jail and prison are different in some ways. Whether or not they are guilty, 76% of people held in American jails are not convicted of any crime. Many un-convicted people remain in jail because they are too poor to make bail. Prison inmates have been convicted. Inmates are usually in a jail near their home community. Prison inmates may be sent anywhere in their state. People can be jail from a few days to fifteen years. Most do not know their schedule for judgement. Prison inmates know their incarceration schedule. Jail sees a large-scale, constant churn in and out. Prison populations are comparatively stable.[10]

In addition to criminal behavior, incarceration is associated with a variety of personal and socio-economic challenges, acting alone or together. For example, about 50% of inmates in Santa Clara County have mental illness.[11] About two thirds of jail inmates report drug dependence or abuse.[12] In U.S. prisons, “people of color — who face much greater rates of poverty — are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails.”[13] America is not the only country which disproportionately incarcerates the poor and marginalized. María Belén Roca Pamich of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata writes of how incarceration degrades and fragments lives in Argentina,

Entrar en los circuitos de la justicia penal implica en Argentina verse degradado en la condición de ciudadano, ya que las desigualdades sociales se refuerzan, se fragmentan los lazos familiares, se empeora la calidad de vida, y por supuesto se interrumpen trayectorias educativas y laborales.[14]

Conversion and Salvation: One End of the Engagement Range

Tanya Erzen is an Associate Research Professor, Religion and Gender & Queer Studies at the University of Puget Sound. She is also the Faculty Director of the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound which provides college classes to women in prison.[15] Erzen started teaching in prison in 2003. In God in Captivity, she describes how during the last few decades, educational and mental health services in hundreds of American prisons have come to be provided by tens of thousands of conservative evangelical nondenominational Christian volunteers.[16]

Erzen seems both to approve of the churches and faith-based groups for providing volunteer chaplains to the incarcerated, while at the same time being critical of their motives and methods. Erzen asserts, “They’ve created a theology that includes the prisoner, spurred by the Bible verse in Matthew 25:36, ‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ Yet, for the volunteers, ministries and churches that go inside, the prison contains a captive population, ripe for proselytization.”[17] The theological and sociological impulse for prison ministry as described by Erzen seems at least partly to be based in what Howard Thurman calls missionary appeal,

It is not a singular thing to hear a sermon that defines what should be the attitude of the Christian toward people who are less fortunate than himself. Again and again our missionary appeal is on the basis of the Christian responsibility to the needy, the ignorant, and the so-called backward peoples of the earth. There is a certain grandeur and nobility in administering to another’s need out of one’s fullness and plenty… It is the sin of pride and arrogance that has tended to vitiate the missionary impulse and to make of it an instrument of self-righteousness on the one hand and racial superiority on the other.[18]

Erzen’s description of the growing predominance of evangelical Christian chaplains in prison is supported by Hallett and Johnson who write, “what is new is the way in which the reach and nature of religious programs have changed in prisons over the last several decades. For many, quite understandably, the term ‘prison ministry’ is synonymous with prison evangelism.”[19] Evangelical Protestantism or Evangelicalism as defined by D.W. Bebbington includes four qualities, “conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and what may be called crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”[20] The Pew Research Center’s Religion in Prisons parallels Erzen in reporting the strong participation of evangelical Christians as chaplains, “The overwhelming majority of state prison chaplains (85%) identify themselves as Christians, and about seven-in-ten are Protestants (71%). Fully 44% of all the chaplains surveyed say their denomination is part of the evangelical Protestant tradition.”[21] Pew also reports that there are many more Protestant Christian chaplains (71%) compared to the number of Protestant Christians among prisoners (51%).[22]

Prisons and jails present complex sociological circumstances with many stakeholders who have goals that both conflict and align. Prisons welcome volunteer chaplains not only because their services are free but also, as Erzen writes, “the ministries serve as agents of surveillance and authority and make it easier to maintain order and control.”[23] Nonetheless, inmates welcome the volunteer chaplains. Erzen writes, “For a woman or man separated from children and families for years, the fellowship in religion recreates familial and kinship bonds.”[24] The bleak life circumstances of most prisoners makes them vulnerable to emotional and spiritual manipulation by other prisoners and especially by chaplains. For example, in a recent Los Angeles Times article on jail chaplaincy, Leila Miller reported, “The inmate, who is Jewish, said he attends Christian classes as an escape. ’You do anything to get out,’ he said. ‘It feels very secluded and isolated in there. Anything that inspires learning, wisdom.’”[25]

Erzen explores questions of punishment and redemption while remaining critical of faith-based ministries which, she characterizes, are largely focused on salvaging souls.[26] One ex-prisoner quoted by Erzen speaking on the evangelical Christians churches said, “Sometimes churches come in and want to save the souls. Really what they want to do is make them believe like they do, to be their kind of Christians… They’re concerned about the soul. But they’re not concerned about the person.”[27] Erzen compares the theology of the evangelical chaplains to that of American slave owners in the 19th century. She writes, “One prisoner tells me that the prison no longer has an overseer with a whip as slave plantations did, but the same kind of psychological and theological control is still present. The faith-based volunteers, teachers, and others who oversee the seminary program are now the watchers.”[28] This comparison is especially disturbing because of the strong racial and ethnic disparities among the incarcerated.

Thurman writes that missionaries feel responsible for the “backwards peoples” of the world. At one time, that phrase most often referred to outside of the West, particularly to people in Africa, Asia, and South America. Now, it seems that prisoners fill that sociological niche. Erzen writes, “Release from prison is supposed to signal a form of absolution, a pardon for the crime for which someone was convicted. However, former prisoners continue to be punished and stigmatized in myriad ways.”[29] She describes how released prisoners may be absolved in some ways but continue to be subject to long-term personal, social, and economic consequences, including limits on voting, housing, custody of children, jobs, education, travel, as well as lasting psychological impact. The evangelical chaplains described by Erzen define one end of the sociological and theological range of engagement and practices with prisoners.

Respect and Compassion: The Other End of the Range

In contrast, the more relational end of the range is represented by the work of Indiana State University English Professor Laura Bates. Her very different kind of engagement can be seen in her remarkable account of teaching in prison, Shakespeare Saved My Life. Bates is a teacher rather than a chaplain. Her stories come from teaching Shakespeare to male prison inmates as a volunteer in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, in Carlisle, Indiana. Bates has worked with thousands of prisoners since 1983. She connects deeply with her students in a secular class focused on their intellectual enlightenment through studying Shakespeare.

By presenting stories about teaching inmates, Bates argues that empowering prisoners to study Shakespeare can be life changing, both for the students and the teacher. Bates writes, “I had come to prison to teach prisoners about Shakespeare, but I would learn from them at least as much as I would teach to them.”[30] In one of her most powerful passages, Bates writes of how her life and those of her inmate students became connected,

I had the answer to my Shakespearean research question regarding verisimilitude. I could leave prison and write the articles I needed to publish in order to apply for tenure… But then I thought about all of these people we had locked away from the world, whom I had started to know…They had no one. They seemed to need me – or, at least seemed to need Shakespeare. I realized I couldn’t leave – not now, and maybe not ever. In a way, I started to feel like I was serving a life sentence myself.[31]

Although she states her “conviction to never become emotional in prison,”[32] Laura Bates’s style of engagement might best be described as being based in respect and compassion.

As part of teaching The Taming of the Shrew, Bates facilitated a written dialogue between men and women prisoners. As part of this at-a-distance communication, incarcerated women who had been victims of domestic violence answered a series of questions from the men including, What is love? The women wrote, “Caring, respect, honesty. Listening, being there.”[33] This succinctly matches Laura Bates’s description of how she treats her inmate students and also aligns with my own experience of engagement practices that work with jail inmates. University of Chicago Professor David Bevington, after observing Bates teaching in prison, wrote in the Foreword of Shakespeare Saved My Life, “Laura was cool. She was in charge. She didn’t stand for any nonsense, but she listened, she helped, she respected.”[34]

I first learned about Shakespeare Saved My Life in a radio interview with Laura Bates in 2013.[35] My undergraduate honors thesis was on Shakespeare, so I was fascinated. The book was one of the inspirations that encouraged me in 2015 to start a college-level faith-based weekly study program inside my local county jail. Like Bates, the best practices I use in my jail ministry are based in showing prisoners respect and compassion and giving dignity in an incarceration system that rejects respect, compassion, and dignity for inmates.

My practices are intended to help the inmates grow spiritually, socially, and intellectually. They include calling inmates by their first name, giving choices whenever possible, giving opportunities for leadership, answering questions on any subject related to our study area, and regularly telling the men that they are valuable, forgivable, and loved human beings. In quarterly end-of-class feedback from my students, inmates consistently say that the single most important aspect of our program is that we mentors show up every week. If we are not locked out, we are there.

The Rev. Louann Roberts wrote when she retired after 25 years of service as the Chaplain at Elmwood Women’s Facility, that jail ministry can be addictive and life-affirming,

The best of poignant memories of all are the bright, strong and contagious faiths that encouraged and blessed me in unexpected ways. The faith, love and gratefulness found among prisoners that is freely shared with anyone who will take the time to listen, is the most addicting thing I’ve experienced in my life. I’m forever changed by the evil and the good, the contrasts where love can still win over hate, and that God is found in jail.[36]

Chaplains like Roberts who engage prisoners with respect and compassion demonstrate to them their value, both as individuals and to God. In her dissertation, Moira De Nike concludes that this recognition of worth may lead the inmate to better life outcomes, “more than faith and moral resolve are required for successful re-entry into society, but that offenders’ sense of God in their lives can be pivotal, especially as it gives them belief in their own value.”[37] When inmates understand that they have value, they may be motivated to fight harder to get a shorter prison sentence. Sawyer and Wagner report, “almost all convictions are the result of plea bargains, where defendants plead guilty to a lesser offense, possibly in a different category, or one that they did not actually commit.”[38] In my own jail ministry, I have observed that some inmates accept excessively long sentences because they do not feel they deserve better. On the other hand, I have also seen inmates get much shorter sentences when chaplains write letters for them and show up at court hearings. This is so unusual that judges pay attention.

Theology of Incarnation and Atonement

Theology is the framework in which a chaplain interacts with prisoners. It provides a context and motivation for how the chaplain values prisoners and whether prisoners are encouraged to see themselves as having a positive future. Tanya Erzen presents one end of the theological range when she writes of the beliefs of evangelical chaplains who support the role of the criminal justice system in punishing prisoners, “The idea that forgiveness or resolution only occurs as a result of punishment… has roots in Christian theology… from the Christian idea of atonement. Jesus’s death on the cross is necessary as a sacrifice to provide the only basis for sinful humans to escape deserved punishment.”[39] Erzen calls this theology a contradictory hybrid of New Testament forgiveness and Old Testament vengeance. She writes, “many nondenominational and evangelical Christians seem wedded to the idea that punishment awakens good and the biblical idea of God’s law as retribution.”[40] This theory of atonement is called penal substitution. In penal substitution, God punishes Jesus on the cross in place of sinners to satisfy the demands of justice. Penal substitution with its familiar context of judicial punishment is a popular belief among prisoners as well as evangelical chaplains.

At the other end of atonement theology is theologian-scientist Arthur Peacocke. Peacocke was an Anglican priest, Dean of Clair College, Cambridge, and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. In Theology for a Scientific Age, Peacocke presents his interpretation of the incarnated Jesus growing the upper limit of human potential when he writes, “we have come to see Jesus the Christ… as the distinctive manifestation of a possibility always inherently there for human beings in their potential nature, that is, by virtue of what God had created them to be and to become.”[41] Peacocke criticizes the penal substitution theory of atonement because it suffers from both the moral defect of God inflicting punishment on the innocent as well as the blasphemy of putting God in the role of a hanging judge seeking retribution.[42] Peacocke offers an alternate atonement interpretation in which Jesus represents a new upward possibility for human realization, “the life, suffering and death of Jesus the Christ as an act of love… an act of love of God.”[43] Peacocke’s love-based theology affirms continuing spiritual growth and human value growing in parallel with the physical evolution of humans. In his view, theories like penal substitution fail to support the ongoing transformation of humanity into what God intends.[44] Chaplains like Roberts who act out of a theology of love and belief in growth potential show respect and compassion for the inmate as a person, not just as a soul to be saved.

Better Outcomes and Lower Recidivism

There is a great deal of information about recidivism (that is, ex-inmates repeating criminal behavior, or being re-arrested), all of it complex and potentially conflicting. For example, the Bureau of Justice reports a 68% recidivism rate within three years, and 83% within nine years.[45] However, Gelb and Velazquez, citing data from the aforesaid Bureau of Justice, report that the numbers returning to state prison within three years have dropped.[46] What seems true in any case is the summary by Michael Hallett, Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of North Florida, “Rebuilding the lives of ex-offenders has proven exceedingly difficult.”[47]

A review of published reports indicates that certain kinds of programs do help those in re-entry to stay out of incarceration. Many of these are faith-based programs that offer study groups, mentors, support for housing, jobs, transportation, training, life skills, reconnection with family, and healthcare, including substance abuse treatment. Faith-based programs can reduce recidivism but Hallett cautions, “most faith-based programs do not last very long… prisoners need a more substantial or sustained faith-based intervention to be effective.”[48] The Pew Research Center interviewed prison chaplains who advocated for ongoing support during re-entry, “78% say they consider support from religious groups after inmates are released from prison to be absolutely critical to inmates’ successful rehabilitation and re-entry into society.”[49]

One such program with a long-term focus is called Stepping Stones Gathering, started a year ago by my home parish, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in partnership with Grace Baptist Church. Each Sunday morning, about thirty jail volunteers, men in re-entry, family, and friends meet to worship, celebrate our accomplishments, and seek help with our challenges. Some of the men have been in our community (inside and out) since 2015. Stepping Stones is developing into a successful long-term re-entry program and I am proud to be a part of it.[50]

According to Hallett, systemic objective research into the effectiveness of faith-based programs has been limited.[51] This will be an area I study more completely in my fully-developed Master’s thesis. I suspect that because faith-based programs are offered at no cost they are less studied than are programs paid for by taxes. In addition, it is hard to study formally the many faith-based programs for prisoners because there are fewer non-faith-based programs with which to compare them. As Erzen writes, “The reality is that the alternative to a religious group is often nothing at all.”[52] Nonetheless, Hallett concludes, “Successful desisters [ex-prisoners who stay out of incarceration] frequently report that religiosity provides a spiritual fortitude useful for a path for longer-term desistance.”[53] That is, faith-based programs give those in re-entry much-needed strength to go on.

Conclusion

I have proposed a range of chaplain engagement with prisoners. One endpoint of the range is based in a missionary or evangelical theology centered around conversion, salvation, and a belief that prisoners deserve punishment and a low place in society. The other end of the range reflects a more relational outlook with emphasis on respect, compassion, and a longer-term focus improving the circumstances of inmates and those in re-entry to society. Both provide benefit to a marginalized group, but the sustained, relational engagement seems to be tied to better outcomes and lower recidivism. Understanding the range of prisoner engagement can be beneficial in any case.

Footnotes

[1] Tanya Erzen, God in Captivity: The Rise of Faith-Based Prison Ministries in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017).

[2] Laura Bates, Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, a Memoir (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2013).

[3] Arthur Peacocke, Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming – Natural, Divine, and Human (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

[4] US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2017, by Jennifer Bronson and Ann Carson, NCJ 252156 (April 2019): 368% report, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p17.pdf.

[5] Stephanie C. Boddie and Cary Funk, Religion in Prisons: A 50-State Survey of Prison Chaplains (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, 22 March 2012): 23, https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2012/03/Religion-in-Prisons.pdf.

[6] US Department of Justice, Prisoners in 2017, 3.

[7] Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner, Mass Incarceration: the Whole Pie 2019 (Easthampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 9 March 2019): 1-3, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2019.html.

[8] Trends in US Corrections (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2019), https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/trends-in-u-s-corrections/.

[9] US Department of Justice, Prisoners in 2017, 3.

[10] Sawyer and Wagner, Mass Incarceration, 4-7.

[11] Maryann Barry, “Augmentation of Behavioral Health Services to Inmates in County Jail,” County of Santa Clara: Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System, 15 December 2015, https://www.sccgov.org/sites/scc/Documents/Item19-79301A-Board-of-Supervisors-Meeting-2015-12-15.pdf.

[12] Wendy Sawyer, BJS Report: Drug Abuse and Addiction at the Root of 21% of Crimes (Easthampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative, 28 June 2017), https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2017/06/28/drugs/.

[13] Sawyer and Wagner, Mass Incarceration, 19.

[14] Maria Belen Roca Pamich, “Sociología general en cárceles: sistematización de la experiencia educativa en contexto de encierro,” [General sociology in prisons: systematization of educational experience in confinement context] Cuestiones de Sociología 19, no. 068 (December 2018), https://www.cuestionessociologia.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/article/view/CSe068/10356.

[15] “Tanya Erzen,” University of Puget Sound, accessed 6 Dec 2019, https://www.pugetsound.edu/faculty-pages/terzen/.

[16] Erzen, 5.

[17] Erzen, 14.

[18] Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Boston: Beacon Press, 1949), 12-13.

[19] Michael Hallett and Byron Johnson, “The Resurgence of Religion in America’s Prisons,” Religions 5 (2014): 670, https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/5/3/663/htm.

[20] D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989), 2.

[21] Boddie and Funk, 27.

[22] Boddie and Funk, 23.

[23] Erzen, 11.

[24] Erzen, 14.

[25] Leila Miller, “When Jail Chaplains are Volunteers, Some Faiths are More Present than Others.” Los Angeles Times, 2 Nov 2019. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-11-02/la-me-inmate-chaplain-requests.

[26] Erzen, 15.

[27] Erzen, 80.

[28] Erzen, 63.

[29] Erzen, 115.

[30] Bates, 37.

[31] Bates, 78.

[32] Bates, 209.

[33] Bates, 247.

[34] Bates, viii.

[35] “Teaching Shakespeare in a Maximum Security Prison,” hosted by Michel Martin, Tell Me More, on NPR, 22 April 2013, https://www.npr.org/2013/04/22/178411754/teaching-shakespeare-in-a-maximum-security-prison.

[36] Louann Roberts, “Praying with My Eyes Open,” CICMinistries.org, Correctional Institutions Chaplaincy, 2016, https://sites.google.com/cicministries.org/welcome/our-stories/praying-with-my-eyes-open.

[37] Moira De Nike, “The Penitent: The Myths and Realities of Religious Rehabilitation Among California Prisoners” (PhD diss., University of Hawaii, 2005), iv, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing (10838887).

[38] Sawyer and Wagner, 14.

[39] Erzen, 116.

[40] Erzen, 115-117.

[41] Peacocke, 302.

[42] Peacocke, 324.

[43] Peacocke, 328.

[44] Peacocke, 327.

[45] U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014), by Mariel Alper, Matthew R. Durose and Joshua Markman, NCJ 250975 (May 2018), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/18upr9yfup0514.pdf.

[46] Adam Gelb and Tracy Velazquez. The Changing State of Recidivism: Fewer People Going Back to Prison (Washington, DC: Pew Charitable Trusts, 1 Aug 2018), https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/08/01/the-changing-state-of-recidivism-fewer-people-going-back-to-prison.

[47] Hallett and Johnson, 677.

[48] Hallett, 674.

[49] Boddie and Funk, 11.

[50] “Stepping Stone Gathering: Supporting & Celebrating Reentry & Recovery,” HelpingOut (blog), 3 November 2018, https://helpingout.net/2018/11/03/stepping-stone-gathering-supporting-celebrating-reentry-recovery/.

[51] Hallett, 675-676.

[52] Erzen, 163.

[53] Hallett, 677-678.

Bibliography

Appendix

Jail and Prison Chaplain – Range of Engagement, Practices, Copyright Katy Dickinson 2019

Copyright Ⓒ 2019 by Katy Dickinson
Citadel of Qaitbay window, Alexandria, Egypt – Image Copyright Ⓒ 2018 by Katy Dickinson.

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Tour of the Badè Museum

Dr. Aaron Brody, Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019
I very much enjoyed my Graduate Theological Union classes during the Fall 2019 semester, particularly “Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible” by Dr. Aaron Brody, Robert and Kathryn Riddell Professor of Bible and Archaeology, and Director of the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology. Part of the fun was getting to see and touch ancient artifacts in storage. We even got to discuss Tell en-Nasbeh artifacts with visiting scholar Dr. Aharon Tavger of Ariel University, Israel. Below is my final paper for the class, proposing the creation of a traveling exhibit for three Badè Museum artifacts.

Aharon Tavger with chalice at Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Nov 2019
Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019
Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019

Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible, Paper 3
5 December 2019

In this third paper for the Archaeology of the Lands of the Bible class, I will describe three objects from Pacific School of Religion’s Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology for a traveling museum exhibit. If it could get security clearance, this exhibit would serve as an excellent instructional aid for an audience at Elmwood jail in Mipitas, California, where sixteen incarcerated men are taking my class, Transforming Literature of the Bible, in which they study the Hebrew Bible and Christian Testament. I chose these particular objects for their relevance to that study area and high potential for interest to the students. Men in jail get very little unfiltered information. They have the televisions and what few books and magazines drift into their controlled environment. Direct access to ancient artifacts could enrich their lives and stimulate their understanding and interest in learning. Security requirements mean that this exhibit would need to take the form of an interactive presentation, not a self-guided tour. After briefly describing the objects, I would present some research I did to prepare their museum labels, connect each artifact with the history of the biblical city of Mizpah, as told in the Book of Jeremiah 40-41, and also link them with the more familiar story of Jesus and the Roman Empire.

3 coins, Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019 Objects: Three Coins
Left: Bronze Prutah. Reverse has a wreath and date LIH “the year 18,” corresponding to 31-32 CE when Pontius Pilate was Procurator of Judea under Tiberius Caesar.
Center: Silver Tetradrachm from Tyre, 1st century CE. From a coin hoard at Qumran.
Right: Bronze Prutah. Umbrella with fringe encircled by Greek inscription, “King Agrippa.” Dated circa 42-43 CE, during reign of King Herod Agrippa I.
From: Tell en-Nasbeh, Israel.
Date: 1st century CE, Roman Period.
 
Stone Foot Bath, Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019 Object: Stone Foot Bath
Portable stone bath with integrated foot rest. Used in Ancient Near Eastern tradition of foot washing to welcome guests and travelers with an act of hospitality. In Christian scripture, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in John 13:14-17, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
From: Tell en-Nasbeh, Israel.
Date: circa 8th century BCE?
Ossuary or Bone Box, Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Dec 2019 Object: Bone Box – Stone Ossuary
During this period, the Jews of Palestine practiced a custom called “second burial.” Bodies were first placed in tombs and after the flesh decayed, the bones were put into limestone bone boxes or ossuaries. The ossuaries were stored in niches in a special tomb. The Jews were the only people in Roman times to employ second burial. The practice may have been tied to a belief in physical resurrection of the Pharisees.
From: Tell en-Nasbeh, Israel.
Date: 150 BCE – 200 CE.

 

In presenting this collection of objects to the inmate, I would briefly open with the stories of the Iron Age city of Mizpah, the Tell en-Nasbeh archaeological site northwest of Jerusalem, and of the Badè Museum collection. I would also tell the larger story of the Kingdom of Judah versus the Babylonian Empire, the destruction of the first Temple, and what happened after. I would then read aloud Jeremiah 40-41 in its entirety. With Jerusalem in ruins, Jeremiah 40 tells how the king of Babylon appointed Gedaliah as his governor in the new capital city of Mizpah in the Yehud province. Displaying and describing the Three Coins, I would draw parallels between Mizpah’s history and how much later, the Roman Empire ruled over their Province of Judea. This would include how violent resistance against empires lead to the destruction of the first Temple in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and the second Temple in 70 CE by the Romans. The current Badè Museum display labels for the Three Coins do not say much about the coins but they were apparently found in tombs at Tell en-Nasbeh. On the left is a Bronze Prutah coin showing a wreath around a date from the time of Pontius Pilate.[1] In the middle is a silver Tetradrachm (also called a Tyrian Shekel) featuring the profile of Melqart, or Tyrian Hercules. This may be the coin mentioned in four stories of the New Testament.[2] One Badè Museum label says this coin was from a hoard at Qumrun (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) but another seems to indicate that it was found in a tomb at Tell en-Nasbeh. Maybe the coin was from Tell en-Nasbeh but similar to others found at Qumrun? The coin on the right is another Bronze Prutah showing an umbrella with the words “King Agrippa.” After the elemental makeup of the prutah was studied in 2010, this was found to be a coin of King Herod Agrippa I (37-44 CE), not his son, King Herod Agrippa II (49-95 CE).[3] Four King Herods are mentioned in the New Testament and students are often confused between them. Money is always interesting. Ancient money from about the time of Jesus would engage the interest of inmates in artifacts and history.

After the Three Coins, I would then return to the story in Jeremiah 41:1-3 in which Ishmael son of Nethaniah and his men murder the governor Gedaliah during dinner. Turning to the Stone Foot Bath as the next object, I would talk about its use as part of complex hospitality practices in the Ancient Near East. A foot bath is an element of how the guest and host interact formally, not just providing guests with a needed cleanup but also helping to establish a covenantal relationship. As the Badè Museum display says, “Harsh desert life and dangerous travel conditions necessitated the implementation of rules for the protection of both the traveler and the host.”[4] The label for Stone Foot Bath at the Badè Museum does not include a date and I did not find the artifact in the data records listed Open Context’s online Badè Museum archive.[5] However, on the web I found a ceramic foot bath similar in design from Tel Lachish, Israel, dated in the 8th century, BCE.[6] Perhaps the portable oval design with an integrated raised foot rest in the middle mean that they are of a similar age? (Or, maybe foot bath designs are so basic that they do not change much over time?) The cultural importance of foot washing as part of purification and hospitality is evidenced by many mentions throughout the Bible, including Genesis 18:4, Genesis 24:32, Exodus 30: 17-21, 1 Samuel 25:41, Song of Solomon 5:3, John 13:14-17, 1 Timothy 5:10, and Tobit 6:3. This Stone Foot Bath a part of a traveling exhibit may allow the inmates to connect viscerally with the scripture in John 13:14-17, in which Jesus shows humility by washing his disciples’ feet. Visualizing exactly how this object was used during foot washing may help them think more deeply about the scripture and its meaning. If the audience can touch the object, the connection will be even more powerful. To further engagement, I would ask the audience if they thought Ishmael broke the rules of hospitality by murdering his dinner host, and if the political situation between him and governor Gedaliah justified it.

Finally, I will use the Bone Box to represent how the ceremonies of life were disrupted by the dramatic events described in Jeremiah. The Bone Box is a good choice because it could be particularly meaningful for the Elmwood inmates both for religious and cultural reasons. The connection between the practice of using an ossuary for secondary burial and the Pharisees’ belief in physical, individual resurrection (referred to in Acts 23:6-8) could stimulate thinking about the relationship of ancient Pharisee and modern Christian beliefs. About two thirds of my students in jail are Latino, and many come from Mexico where the Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is an annual family celebration featuring cheerful images of skulls and skeletons. This limestone Bone Box with its elegant carvings of stylized geometric flowers and columns is a particularly approachable artifact. It could be interpreted as a way of connecting to friends and family who have died, rather than being morbid.

I would relate the story in Jeremiah to the artifact by getting the audience to think about what is takes to maintain complex burial rituals. For such rituals to be carried through, the community must have stable access to tombs and the safety, time, and materials to do the work. In Jeremiah 40:9-10, Gedaliah tries to reestablish the rhythms of normal life after the Babylonian empire has conquered the kingdom of Judah. Gedaliah says to the people, “Stay in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall go well with you… gather wine and summer fruits and oil, and store them in your vessels, and live in the towns…” However, this attempt to reestablish a stable society and economy is halted by Gedaliah’s murder, and further slaughter of men of Judah and Babylonian soldiers by Ishmael and his followers. In Jeremiah 41:8, Ishmael and his men accept bribes not to kill some of the wealthy of Mizpah, “But there were ten men among them who said to Ishmael, ‘Do not kill us, for we have stores of wheat, barley, oil, and honey hidden in the fields.’ So he refrained, and did not kill them along with their companions.” This is a story of a violently disrupted community using its stored resources to survive in the moment, rather than supporting its long-term ritual and spiritual life. While the Bone Box itself is from an unfamiliar time and place, many in the jail audience have deep experience of violent disruption of community life by gangs and crime. I think they will find this artifact and its story engaging.

Direct access to ancient artifacts like the Three Coins, Stone Foot Bath, and Bone Box has potential to stimulate inmates’ understanding through an interactive presentation connecting each artifact with the history of the biblical city of Mizpah and also with the more familiar story of Jesus and the Roman Empire. Bringing to jail a traveling museum exhibit including objects from ancient Tell en-Nasbeh will serve the Badè Museum’s mission to foster a greater understanding and appreciation for the ancient biblical world and will enrich the experience of the men of Elmwood.[7]

Footnotes

[1] “Ancient Jewish Coins: Coins from the Procurators (6-66 CE),” Jewish Virtual Library – A Project of AICE, Accessed 20 Nov 2019, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/coins-from-the-procurators.

[2] Steve Rudd, “Phoenician coins – Coins of the Bible: Shekel of Tyre,” The Interactive Bible, Accessed 20 Nov 2019, http://www.bible.ca/coins/Jesus-coins-of-the-bible-Phoenician-Tyre-Tyrian-Shekel-official-sancturary-Temple-tax-Peters-fish-money-changers-Judas-30-silver-pieces.htm.

[3] “Figuring Out the Realm for the ‘Coin of the Realm,’” NIST Time Capsule – National Institute of Standards and Technology, 13 Feb 2019, https://www.nist.gov/nist-time-capsule/any-object-any-need-call-nist/figuring-out-realm-coin-realm.

[4] “Hospitality in the Ancient Near East,” Badè Museum informational display, as of 18 Nov 2019.

[5] “Open Context,” Alexandria Archive Institute, accessed 20 Nov 2019, https://opencontext.org/subjects-search/?proj=14-bade-museum.

[6] Robert J. Morgan, “The Israel Museum,” Robert J. Morgan, 2017. https://www.robertjmorgan.com/events-and-travel/the-israel-museum/.

[7] “Welcome!” Badè Museum informational display, as of 18 Nov 2019.

Sling stones at Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Nov 2019
Bronze clasps at Bade Museum, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, Nov 2019

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Images Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson.

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Why can’t theology be like science fiction?

University of the South School of Theology EfM Year 4 Books 2014

I admit to reading a great deal of science fiction and fantasy (in addition to literature, history, science, business, technology and other categories of composition), and that science fiction is perhaps not the best starting place for studying Theology, Ethics and Interfaith Encounters – the topics for my fourth year in the Education for Ministry  (“EfM”) program of the University of the SouthSchool of Theology.  Nonetheless, in some ways, science fiction can be more rigorous than theology.

The Webster definition of Theology: “The study of religious faith, practice, and experience. The study of God and God’s relation to the world. A system of religious beliefs or ideas.”  Webster’s definition for Science Fiction is: “Stories about how people and societies are affected by imaginary scientific developments in the future.”

My textbooks for this year are pictured above. EfM is an excellent program. I found all of these books interesting and worth reading (some are inspiring, superb, and worth reading more than once!). Since my EfM group is in Week 30 of a 36 week curriculum, I have finished reading all but the last on this list:

  • Education for Ministry – Reading and Reflection Guide Volume A (2013)
  • Theology for a Troubled Believer: An Introduction to the Christian FaithDiogenes Allen (2010)
  • And God Spoke: the Authority of the Bible for the Church Today, Christopher Bryan (2002)
  • The Christian Moral Life: Practices of Piety, Timothy F. Sedgwick (2008)
  • Living on the Border of the Holy: Renewing the Priesthood of All, L. William Countryman (1999)
  • My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth, and Transformation, Edited by Jennifer Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley (2012)

Last week, as I was finishing Living on the Border of the Holy, I identified a source of some of my frustration with my EfM reading this year.  When a fantasy or science fiction author creates a fictional universe, self-consistency is a major concern:

What distinguishes a fictional universe from a simple setting is the level of detail and internal consistency. A fictional universe has an established continuity and internal logic that must be adhered to throughout the work and even across separate works. So, for instance, many books may be set in conflicting fictional versions of Victorian London, but all the stories of Sherlock Holmes are set in the same Victorian London. However, the various film series based on Sherlock Holmes follow their own separate continuities, and so do not take place in the same fictional universe….

A famous example of a fictional universe is Arda, of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. He created first its languages and then the world itself, which he states was “primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide the necessary ‘history’ for the Elvish tongues.” [from Wikipedia’s fictional universe article]

If a popular author does not present logic, continuity, and good writing, the powerful and vocal fan community is pleased to point out every inconsistent detail at length. (Continuity is also a major concern in films – if for no other reason than to avoid being listed on websites devoted to movie mistakes.)  Since reading my first science fiction book many decades ago, I have come to expect logic, continuity, and good editorial practices to be key drivers.  I have not always found those characteristics while reading these theology books.

Example One – from Living on the Border of the Holy

In Living on the Border of the Holy, the geographic metaphor in the title is found throughout the whole book.  “Border” is used 108 times, “borderland” is used 42 times, and “country” (as in “border country” – but not counting hits for the author’s name) is used 65 times.  The image of a border country is explained in many  ways that I found contradictory and confusing:

  • “The encounter with the HIDDEN is a kind of fault line running through the middle of our lives; no one can escape its presence. The HIDDEN forms a border country that turns out to be. paradoxically, our native land.” (p.6)
  • “The border country, therefore, is a place of intense vitality.  It does not draw us away from the everyday world so much as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is the surface.” (p.11)
  • “It can be helpful to imagine our human encounter with the HOLY as life in a border country. It is a country in which, at privileged moments of access, we find ourselves looking over from the everyday world into another, into a world that undergirds the everyday world, limits it, defines it, gives it coherence and meaning, drives it. Yet this hidden world is not another world, but the familiar world discovered afresh.” (p.8)
  • “The border country is the realm in which human existence finds its meaning. The border itself is the indispensable condition for this. If you could slip over entirely into the HIDDEN HOLY, you would no longer be in touch with the basic materials and experiences of human life. If you try to slip over entirely into the everyday world, then actions and experiences merely follow each other in succession without forming a larger whole.” (p.161)

In addition to reading two hundred pages, I spent time prayerfully considering Living on the Border of the Holy, and I discussed it for several hours with my EfM group.  The mixed geographic metaphor and strained logic did not help my understanding:

  • How can a land-feature simultaneously demarcate, undergird, and be a fault line?
  • How can it both be someplace to which we have “privileged moments of access” and also our “native land”?

If this were a science fiction or fantasy book, I think these basic logic and presentation contradictions in the setting would have been sorted out by the editor before publication.  I finally started ignoring the faulty metaphor and got on with considering the excellent content of Living on the Border of the Holy, especially its remarkable analysis of the priestly calling.

Example Two – from Theology for a Troubled Believer

There is no thematic metaphor in Theology for a Troubled Believer but there is certainly a strong cultural point of view. When I read stories about sympathetic, intelligent but non-humanoid characters, I can feel my mind opening to understand how human thinking and capabilities are influenced by our sensory input and body design.  Notable examples of such aliens include:

I admire authors who can understand and present a very different way of thinking and carry it forward through an extended work of fiction. In contrast, when I read Theology for a Troubled Believer, I was frequently irritated (and occasionally infuriated) by the author’s narrow, privileged, academic, and American context for a topic that is far beyond one culture’s circumstances. For example:

  • “The systemic search for reasons, or for the logos for anything and everything, is something we today take for granted.  It is part of our mental makeup.  We do it automatically.” (p.xviii) [While true for many educated Americans, I do not think that the “systemic search for reasons” is part of humanity’s mental makeup.]
  • “…we who live in democracies find it strange to consider the act of the Good Samaritan and the acts of the ‘sheep’ in the parable of the Sheep and Goats as acts of justice.  To those who think in terms of democratic societies, it is an act of mercy, not justice.” (p.23) [People living outside of democracies may also share this thinking.]
  • “The natural world is also a witness to God’s power, wisdom, and goodness…. Nature is not used to move from unbelief to belief.  Nature was always used by people who had already been moved by God’s grace to a life of faith as a way to gain a better idea of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness from nature’s immense size, intricate order, and usefulness to human life.” (p.50) [This sweeping generalization is not even true for the many Americans whom Nature has lead to belief!]

In addition to his insensitivity to other cultures, the author’s arrogance toward believers in Judaism and Islam is breathtaking. However, Diogenes Allen is most snarky about fellow scholars, particularly “philosophers of religion”. His negativity is tiring as a continuing theme.  The best part of this book is Diogenes Allen’s inspiring analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan and the absolute value of human beings – that alone makes Theology for a Troubled Believer worth the slog.  However, I think if this book was in the science fiction or fantasy genre, a sensible editor would have gone to work with her red pen to make some much-needed improvements in its point of view and writing mechanics.

Example Three – from And God Spoke

I include And God Spoke because it was easily the best book of theology I read this year. And God Spoke is accessible, funny, and succinct. It includes lovely quotes by famous writers (C.S. Lewis: “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”) and excellent writing in general:

“We need to beware a naïve belief that thinks it can take a couple of verses of scripture in isolation from their wider context and find there universal moral rules that are to be applied remorselessly in all cases, however complex. We need equally to beware of a naïve skepticism that can see in scripture only a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies from which it is possible to prove anything and nothing.” (p.10)

All in all, this is a book that makes the study of Christian faith, practice, and experience a pleasure.   Interestingly, there is a section in And God Spoke that analyzes how words are used, based on the modes of language presented by literary critic Northrop Frye. Christopher Bryan writes about visionary or imaginative language as:

“…words used to take us beyond our reason or our loyalties to worlds where our ordinary modes of consciousness are only one possibility among many, where imagination, fantasy, dreams, and intuition have play…. Words used in this last mode can carry us in imagination to other worlds — to the worlds of the gods, of myth, of universes transcending the universe we know. And here we find stories of our relationship to those worlds — stories of creation, fall, and redemption. Here we find those grand, overarching narratives that shape our understanding of the universe around us, and our place in it.” (pp.35-36)

The author goes on to write that visionary language is the most significant and normative for much of the Bible. Imaginative language is thus a shared mode of expression for both the Bible and for science fiction / fantasy. And God Spoke meets the best standards of science fiction and is a good example to all future books of theology.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
Science Fiction and Fantasy Books

University of the South, School of Theology EfM, Diploma Katy Dickinson 2014
My EfM Diploma! (arrived early)

Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

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Katy on People to People Radio: 1 May 2014

People to People Radio Logo

Tonight (1 May 2014), I will be on People To People Global Radio Show talking with US Doctors for Africa Founder and Chairman, Ted Alemayhu, about Triangular Partnership, and the Pan-Africa Medical Doctors and Healthcare Conference, to be held 21-23 May 2014 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Our segment of this weekly radio program will be hosted by Dr. Anteneh Habte, Chairman of People to People.  Join us Thursdays at 9:00 pm Eastern Time (6 pm Pacific Time).  Access the weekly show online http://www.blogtalkradio.com/p2pglobalradioshow/ or phone 646-595-4742 each Thursday evening.

I will be traveling to Africa later this month (3rd time this year – a personal best!), with my husband John Plocher (his first trip to Africa).  I have been working on the Triangular Partnership panel (moderated by former US Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn), as well as with the very helpful staff of US Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach of the US Embassy in Addis to prepare for the conference.

I edited and contributed a chapter to the People to People book Triangular Partnership: the Power of the Diaspora (published in September 2013) so this is a topic of great interest for me. There has been much written and discussed about Twinning. I believe that adding the diaspora – people who have a past and a future in both developing countries and western institutions – is a stronger model for successful development.

1 May 2014 Archived Recording

People to People Triangular Partnership Logo

19 October 2019: Links Updated.

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Triangular Partnership: the Power of the Diaspora

P2P.TriangularPartnership.logo2.2013

I have been editing the new book Triangular Partnership: the Power of the Diaspora all summer for the People to People organization.

People to People (P2P) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to improving health care and reducing the spread of diseases, particularly in Ethiopia and in diaspora communities.

Yesterday, I sent the fifteen lead authors their agreements and the most current versions of their written contributions (chapters, the introduction, forword, etc.) for review and approval before we send everything to the printers next week. I also sent myself the signed agreement for the chapter “Professional Mentoring – Fostering Triangular Partnership”.  I am enjoying working with and learning from the other members of the book development team:

  • Dr. Enawgaw Mehari, Founder and President of People to People, and Neurologist MD (based in Kentucky)
  • Dr. Kinfe Gebeyehu, Vice President of P2P, and Pediatrician MD (based in Illinois)
  • Matthew Watts, Coordinator, Marketing and Public Relations at St. Claire Regional Medical Center (in Kentucky)

A pre-publication review copy will be distributed at the 5th Annual Global Ethiopian Diaspora Conference on Health Care and Medical Education, 28 September 2013 in Washington D.C.  This morning, my first phone call was from Mauritania from an author with a copyright question. I love this project!

27 September 2013 update: the conference version of this book is available for free download 

18 October 2019 update: fixed links

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Creative Writing Exchange

Last Import-29

This month I am enjoying experimenting with new writing – part of an exchange my daughter Jessica set up among eight pairs of friends. We are committed to write for at least ten minutes a day in answer to her email prompt and also to giving only positive feedback to our writing partner. For example, on 6 July 2013, Jessica’s prompt was: “What are the women saying to each other? One is wearing cultural dress, another a stove-pipe hat, and the third sunglasses.”

My response was the short story below.  Following Mark Twain’s advice to “Write What You Know”, I borrowed the names of some TechWomen friends but this is a work of fiction – not about particular women!  Only the conferences and places are real: I have travelled recently to both Portland, Oregon and Amman, Jordan.


Afnan, Noor, and Colleen were shopping in Amman. The three geeks had met at the OpenStack conference in Portland, Oregon, the year before. Professional discussions between technical sessions, about programming and politics, had moved into complaints about guys and how pleasant it was for once not to be the only woman in the room. The usual complaints had become more personal and by the time they went to Powell’s Books and lunch together, the three were friends.

Afnan and Noor were both graduates of Princess Sumaya University, although from different years. Colleen had gone to Cal and was fascinated by the other girls’ stories about Jordan and the developing technical culture of the Middle East – so different from her experiences in the People’s Republic of Bezerkley and California. By the time OpenStack ended, the three were collaborating on an open source project together, firmly connected in Facebook, LinkedIn and all of the other web-based glue of the technical world. When Colleen’s Cal thesis advisor was invited to speak TEDxAmman the following year and offered her a ticket to the big event, she grabbed the chance.

Colleen was a true nerd, wearing what was comfortable and clean, but sometimes adding a bizarre element to keep her all-male co-workers noticing that she was still a girl. Some days it was yellow socks with pink and white nigiri sushi images, today it was a stove-pipe hat. Colleen was a firm believer in the principle that you can be as weird as you are good. She was a very good programmer. At first, that Afnan and Noor wore hijab and more stylish clothes did not concern Colleen. It was their kind of uniform, just as jeans and funny socks or hats were hers. Noor wearing her sunglasses propped on top of her headscarf was kind of like a hat.

Colleen told Noor and Afnan that her professor’s TEDx talk had gone well and that she was meeting amazing new people, men and women whose work had made a difference, who were trying to change the world. But for the first time since High School, Colleen was a little worried about her clothes. Maybe the hat wasn’t right for this high-end crowd. She asked her elegant friends to go shopping, to help her spend some money. Colleen did not want to wear hijab or that western-uniform, the skirted suit, but the long dress and coat that Afnan wore or Noor’s fitted slacks and jackets looked good. Colleen was ready for a change.

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