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"Behind The Walls"
W. at the St.Louis Convention told with obvious glee how
what he called "A.A.'s first prison group" came about in
1942. Even prior to that time, Bill said, "San Quentin's
enlightened and liberal warden, Clinton T. Duffy, had given
much thought to the urgent and pressing problem of prison
reform, including the special needs of the inmates imprisoned
for crimes committed while drinking. As Warden Duffy said,
the program he proposed 'would include' education, vocational
training, medicine, psychiatry and religion. But the alcoholic
did not' seem to fit completely into this program...all
the rest would not help him if the problems which drove
him to drink were not solved.. . In line with this new approach
to rehabilitation, I looked upon Alcoholics Anonymous as
a tool to help us rebuild lives.'
Warden Duffy' s aid came Warren T. and other members
in 'the San Francisco area," Bill continued.
"As Warden Duffy has since said, 'Had it not
been for the regular help and understanding given by our
A.A. friends outside, the San Quentin chapter of Alcoholics
Anonymous would most assuredly have failed. And by the same
token, if it had not been for the persistence of that first
group of alcoholic inmates who realized their serious problem
and their need for help, we never could have continued beyond
the first few meetings.'
even with such enthusiasm and willingness, there were formidable
problems to solve," Bill pointed out to the St. Louis audience.
"A.A. meetings would bring carloads of A.A.'s from the outside
running in and out of prison. [They] would probably draw
the ridicule of other prisoners. Those penologists who still
thought hard-boiled methods to be the only way and those
skeptics who thought A.A. only a 'useless fad' would shake
their heads. It would mean large gatherings of prisoners
unattended by guards. The risks we re great, but Warden
Duffy took them, and his faith was justified. A.A. soon
won the respect of other prisoners A.A.'s came and went
freely. . . The meetings had only one guard stationed outside
the meeting room." The clincher came, according to Bill,
when the recidivism rate of alcoholic prisoners "suddenly
dropped from the usual 80 percent to a spectacular 20 percent,
and held that way. Skeptics everywhere were convinced. This
piece of pioneering made A.A. history." Bill spoke at San
Quentin's A.A. group meeting on November 28, 1943.
made this event particularly important to Bill was undoubtedly
that the initiative had come from Warden Duffy. Actually,
as the Fellowship spread in the early years, pioneer members
usually tried to carry the message "behind the walls" of
jails and prisons wherever they were—but not always
with such success. After all, the standard treatment for
drunks for a century or more was to throw them in jail.
And on occasion, as was chronicled in early A.A. stories,
the drunk would awake to find that this time he was not
charged with public intoxication disorderly conduct, but
with a far more serious crime—assault robbery or even
murder—that he had committed in a blackout or during
temporary alcoholic insanity. So penal institutions were
one of the likeliest places to find alcoholics who needed
help—and A.A. members responded accordingly without
direction from anybody, but acting out of their compassion
and desire to work the Twelfth Step.
few of the efforts in the 1940's, culled' at random from
local archival records, were these. As early as September
1940, only seven months after the first meeting in Philadelphia,
the members there paid their first visit to the local house
of corrections. It had a fast pay-off, for the first "convert"
[their word] from the institution joined the A.A. group
a few weeks later. At the Westchester County (N.Y.) Penitentiary,
a group of Westchester A.A.'s carried the message inside
the walls in mid-1941 and a prison group was started - (pre-dating
San Quentin), but may not have lasted. In northern New Jersey
in late 1943, Bill W. spoke at the Clinton Farms Reformatory
for Girls. As a result, he was invited to address a luncheon
of superintendents of other correctional institutions. And
on April 18, 1944, Walter B. and five others from the Morristown
A.A. group spoke again at the Clinton Farms Reformatory,
founding a group which is still going. February 1945 marked
the first meeting of the group in the New Jersey State Prison
at Trenton. Also in April '45, from the "Kansas City [Mo.]
#1" group, Ken S. and two others started a group in the
Federal Penitentiary at nearby Leavenworth, Kansas. Not
only is it still in existence, but "Kansas City #1" is still
of the founders of the same Kansas City group, Charlie H.,
moved to Jefferson City, Mo., in 1946. He began visiting
the Missouri State Prison there and a group began January
5, 1950. In Oklahoma, A.A.'s took the first meeting
into the State Prison at McAlester in '46. Late that
year, an inmate, Nathan M., wrote out saying that he and
several others were "interested in A.A." and
asked if a group could be started behind the walls. His
request was endorsed by Park Anderson, the warden's
secretary. The outside A.A.'s paid a second visit
and the first meeting of the group was held with 18 present.
Few of these were serious, however; most were "conning
the visitors and shooting the angles" according to
the group's own historian. The outside sponsors soon
gave up, but the small handful of serious members inside
persisted and finally got a good and lasting A.A. group
going. They named it the Rock Bottom group. In Pennsylvania
that same year, Upper Darby members were taking weekly meetings
into the county prison farm. A group was meeting in Wallkill
State Prison in '46, and another in Attica State Prison
in '48 – both in New York.
remarkable chain of events was taking place out west. Warren
T., who had helped Warden Duffy start A. A. at San Quentin
was also in touch in 1943 with Doc H., founder of the first
-Portland, Oregon, group (see pp. XX-XX). Doc H. came down
to S Francisco to meet with Warden Duffy and returned to
meet with -Warden George Alexander of the Oregon State Penitentiary
at Salt The outcome was the founding of an inside A.A. group.
Working an inmate office clerk for Warden Alexander at the
time was Owen L., a two-time loser, who immediately became
active in the A.A. group. And on his release in 1944, he
founded A.A. in Salt Lake City, Utah. (see pp. XX-XX) Two
years later, Owen L. together with Mark C. and Deb P., met
with Warden John E. Harris at the Utah State Prison and
started the first prison group in that state.
the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, several
maximum security inmates began meeting surreptitiously in
the "big yard" as early as 1942. Not knowing
of this, F.C. Ott, the prison's director of education,
wrote the Alcoholic Foundation in '43 about starting
an A.A. group behind the walls, and he met Bill W. on his
first trip to Seattle. In July of the following year, Les
F. came to Walla Walla from Seattle with the endorsement
of the Governor for the express purpose of starting a group,
which he did. Early inmate members of the Pioneer group
were Earl C., Oliver L., Earl H., George L., Roy H. and
Barney B. Among the early outside sponsors were Howard J.
and Roger S. In 1950, the group had its first annual open
house, and by 1978 that event was attended by 250 inmates
and 200 outside guests. In 1985, the Pioneer group had three
meetings a week. The prison has another group, the Willshare,
in the minimum-security building, started in 1954, which
is equally active.
in Washington, the seeds of A.A. were planted at the McNeil
Island Penitentiary in 1948 by the prison doctor, a Dr.
Jannie, who had some knowledge of A.A. from a previous assignment
in the East. Inmate alcoholics were identified from their
records and members from Tacoma A.A. brought in the meetings
- a four-hour round trip by boat. Tacoma member Charlie
B. was an early spark-plug, followed by Tommy D., George
D. and Mack M. The McNeil Island group was named the Retrievers;
and later, the Far West group began holding separate meetings.
There was a demise of A.A. at McNeil 1980-82 due to a change
in. administration, but the Retrievers group has since been
C., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in Minnesota, was also
the co-founder, with Glen S. also from Minneapolis, of the
first prison group in August 1947. The place was the State
Prison at Stillwater. Charles w. was an early sponsor of
the group and Chaplain Francis Miller was especially helpful
from inside in getting the group going. And the ubiquitous
Warren T. supported it-by mail. Within two years, the group
had over 100 members! S.W. Alexander, Assistant Warden of
Stillwater, was quoted as saying that 60 percent of the
inmates admitted excessive use of alcohol and 60 to 70 percent
of the crimes committed could be attributed in some way
to alcohol. The St.Cloud, Minn., group commenced taking
meetings into the reformatory in that town in 1946, and
a group was eventually formed. In Montana, the State Prison
at Deer Lodge inaugurated a group in '47, and in South
Dakota, a group started at the State Penitentiary in '48.
Ken carried the message from Reno to the Nevada State Prison
at Cars City in '49. The same year, in Canada's
Atlantic Provinces, the first meeting was held in Dorchester
Paul G., who joined A.A. in San Francisco in 1946 and later
served as secretary of the Central Office there (see pp.
XX-XX), testifies that prison work, like any other Twelfth
Step work, benefits the sponsor as much or more than the
sponsee. Paul was a constant visitor to San Quentin during
his first five years (in fact, he treasures an I.D. card
for San Quentin dated January 18, 1951.) After this stint
he was one of "Four Horsemen" as they were dubbed by the
inmates who had requested they come in once a month
and talk about the A.A. program rather than giving drunkalogs.
He had a similar experience with the steering committee
of the group, who asked him to attend one of their meetings.
Paul explains, "They wanted to know why when God was mentioned
by a visiting A.A., the person always hurried on to another
subject. They explained that God was indeed in 'Q' and they
would like to have outside visitors explain God in their
lives. Another thing they did not like was the use of profanity
and obscenities by outside members, including dirty stories.
They pointed out there was a plethora of such muck in prison
without having it brought in by outsiders."
G. was also very involved at Folsom Prison. He cites just
two instances of many that, he says, "made all those
trips to both institutions very worthwhile. At an A.A. conference,
a man came up to me and asked if I remembered him. I didn't.
He re¬introduced himself as an ex-con from San Quentin
who had been an A.A. member since his release. He then introduced
me to his wife and two little daughters. Another time, the
same thing happened and the man introduced himself as Mac,
the former secretary of the San Quentin group. He was living
in San Diego and was about to celebrate his fifth A.A. anniversary.
At his invitation, my wife and I drove 550 miles down -
there, stayed two nights in. a, motel, and drove back again
just to present him with his birthday cake."
1950's saw many other prison groups, begin, including: in
New York, the Dannernora State Prison;
in Wyoming, the Rawlins State Prison; in Minnesota, the
Shakopee Correctional Facility for Women
and the Sandstone Federal Prison.
A. A.'s have long been proud of their work behind the walls.
The first prison group in Western Canada and certainly a
model for any correctional institution was the Nor-Kel group
in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary near Prince Albert, which
started in May 1950. Warden W.A. Everitt had asked local
A.A. members for their help, and when Dr. George Little,
who had helped found A.A. in Canada, came from Toronto to
address the first public meeting of A.A. in Saskatchewan,
they had him go with them to talk- to interested inmates.
This was the first meeting of the A.A. group that has met
continually ever since. "
Two nonalcoholic staff officers named Norfield and Kelly
were assigned to supervise the group, and from them it took
its name. John Norfield recalls that when they announced
over the cell block address system that a meeting would
e held for anyone with a drinking problem, only three inmates
showed up. And it was not easy for them, for they were taunted
and jeered at by the other inmates – a true test of
their sincerity," Norfield calls it. But the original three
each brought friends, and the little meeting began to grow.
The counselors who chaired the meetings openly discussed
the difference between "a con who drank and a drunk who
became a con man" – i.e., between the sincere members
and those who were using A.A. as a means of getting parole.
With the help of an inmate co-chairman and of many outside
A.A. members, they also tried to include all the members
in some participation.
By 1954, the Nor-Kel group averaged 23 members. By 1985,
about 200 inmates were regular participants in the seven
groups that meet each week—nearly 40 percent of the total
inmate—population of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.
Two Round-ups were now held each year in which over 90 A.A.
members from throughout Canada and the U.S. participated
in open meetings with the Nor-Kel members. And from the
A.A. meetings, a three-stage plan for alcoholic rehabilitation
has evolved. In stage one, new inmates are questioned to
ascertain whether they are alcoholics or not. If they are,
they are invited to join a beginner's group, called
the Novalco (short for "novice alcoholic") group.
There, for 14 weeks, they are instructed in the fundamentals
of the program and taken through the Twelve Steps in order.
If they are ready, they are then allowed to join the regular
Nor-Kel group, (stage two) where they become acquainted
with the Big Book, hear talks by inside and outside A.A.'s and learn in general how to put their lives on
a spiritual basis and "practice these principles in
all their affairs." The alcoholic inmate is then ready
for stage three, which is post-release sponsorship aimed
to get him immediately active in outside A.A. without giving
him a chance to go back to his old associates and old habits.
In the Nor-Kel plan, Alberta and Saskatchewan are divided
into zones, each with an overall sponsor responsible for
selecting an individual member to sponsor and help each
released criminal alcoholic. The same plan extends into
the Yukon and Northwest Territories, when needed. As a very
large percentage of the prison population is Native American,
their assimilation into society on their release presents
a special challenge, which has been accomplished with outstanding
as A. A. 's in the U.S. and Canada began carrying the message
behind the walls almost as soon as groups were established,
so A.A.'s in other countries did likewise. And for the same
reason: because that's where alcoholics needing help were
sure to be found. By the 1950's, Ireland and Finland were
engaged in prison work, the latter country perhaps having
relatively the largest number of correctional institution
groups anywhere (See pp. XX-XX). Groups began in. New South
Wales and in Magpie Prison in Freemantle, Australia. In
Western England, four members who called themselves the
"Bristol Prison Sponsors" (Jacko, Rion,Humphrey H. and Travers
C.) started many prison groups from '59 on: at Dorchester,
Leyhill, Camp Hill Prison on the Isle of Wight, Shepton
Mallet, Horfjeld, Dartmoor, The Verne; and Borsta. At the
First European Convention in. Bristol in 1971 (see pp. XX-JCX),
400 persons interested in prison work attended A.A. meetings
behind the walls of nearby institutions. And when Dr. Jack
Norris returned from visiting England in. 1974, he singled
out their prison work for special mention. Norway got its
first group In Oslo Prison in '62 after much time and energy
trying. France acquired its first prison group at Rouen
in February 1971. In Mexico, Central America and South America,
prison work was a part of the service structure as soon
as possible: in Guatemala in '62 in Columbia, by '69. Information
on carrying the message behind the walls is shared at World
the (U.S./Canada, the groups' activities in reaching
alcoholics in jails and prisons was coordinated by Intergroups
and Central Offices as soon as they came into being; and
by area committees as well, when the Service Structure was
formed. The election in 1949 of Austin MacCormick, world-renowned
penologist, as a trustee signaled the importance placed
on this work by the Alcoholic Foundation at that time. Austin
resigned two years later, only to be re-elected trustee
in 1961 to serve until 1976, when he became Trustee Emeritus
(see Chap. XX on the G.S.B.). Known and respected by correctional
institution officials, Austin was of considerable help in
making them aware of A.A. s record of success behind the
walls. Upon Austin's retirement from the Board, he
was replaced by W.J. "Jim" Estelle, Jr., director
of corrections for the state of Texas and another nationally
recognized authority in the field, whose term ended in.
The General Service Board also had the benefit of the personal
experience of A.A. trustees who either had concentrated
on correctional facilities service or who were themselves
ex-¬inmates. Don A. from Chappell Hill, Texas, (trustee,
1971-75) was a notable example of the former. Serving in
various volunteer leadership positions in the alcoholism
and corrections fields, Don was a close friend and associate
of both MacCormick and Estelle. Virginia H., East Central
Regional trustee 1977-81, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had
spent 13 years behind bars before reaching A.A. Exemplifying
A.A.'s twin goals of love and service, she guided the trustees'
correctional facilities committee. Performing the same role
beginning in 1985 was Don P., trustee-at-large, U.S., from
Colorado, who found Alcoholics Anonymous in the Colorado
State Penitentiary in 1968. That prison was Don's third
and he was judged incorrigible before he reached A.A. But
he had been 15 1/2 years free when he was elected Trustee.
1966 Conference voted to establish a Conference Institution
Committee, and recommended the following year that an Institutional
Bulletin be started by G.S.O. The policy was also established
that A.A.'s carrying the message into institutions should
abide the regulations of the institution and should cooperate
with the personnel.
about 1970 A.A. Directories were distributed to all groups,
including prison groups. groups, including prison groups.
Problems began to surface, however, arising from the misuse
of the directories by inmate alcoholics with less than a
firm grasp on honesty. G.S.R.'s and other contacts whose
full names and addresses appeared in the Directories were
uncomfortable when they began to receive unsolicited correspondence
from convicts or were unexpectedly visited by ex-convicts
cadging money or assistance. So the 1969 Conference authorized
separate Correctional Institutions Directories.
the large increase in treatment centers in the 1970's
as the result of the Hughes Bill and constant growth in
prison population, with a proportionate swelling of the
number of institutional groups, suggestions emanated from
both the Trustees' and Conference Institutions Committees
that they should be split into the two functions. On the
Trustees' Committee particularly, members from the
treatment side had almost no interests in common with members
from the corrections side and vice versa. The matter came
to a head on the Conference floor in 1977, when the beloved
Austin MacCormick rose impulsively and moved that the existing
Institutions Committee be dissolved and that two new committees
be formed: one for correctional Facilities and one for Treatment
Facilities. So great was the affection and respect for Austin
that the decision was voted almost unanimously on the spot.
major business of the Trustees' and Conference Correctional
Facilities Committees since their inception has been the
providing of A.A. literature for inmates, including the
pamphlet "It Sure Beats Sitting - in a Cell" (See Chapter
XX on Literature, for more detail) and the flyer "Where
Do I Go from Here?" They also determine what pamphlets will
be most beneficial in the Institutions Discount Packages.
The 1979 Conference recommended that the Trustees' Committee
explore the feasibility of producing a filmstrip based on
"It Sure Beats Sitting in a Cell." The Committee eventually
determined that a film strip would not be the proper vehicle,
as jails and prisons often
lacked filmstrip projection equipment, but by the early
1980's they were all acquiring video players. So the Committee
undertook to make film or videotape based on the pamphlet.
After receiving bids from several filmmakers, they chose
Crommie & Crommie, with the film scheduled for completion
other major business of the Committees was to oversee the
work the G.S.O. staff member responsible for correctional
facilities (who was also secretary of the Committees) and
to decide policy matters referred to them by local Institutions
Committees. The staff member has the largest correspondence
load of any at G.S.O. He or she receives letters from the
local committees, correctional facilities officials, "outside"
A.A. sponsors—and most of all, from the inmates themselves.
("They have a lot of time to write," explained one staff
member.) In return, he or she writes (in 1985) about 500
letters a month, 6,000 a year!
outpouring of letters is almost entirely from male inmates,
which has troubled the staff members. When Cora Louise B.
served on the assignment in the 1960's, she wrote
to all the women she could locate through Institutions Committees
in the areas who had volunteered inside women's prisons,
to ask them why women inmates never wrote. The most frequent
answer was, "They will listen to a guy, but they won't
listen to another woman." The A.A. literature for
correctional institutions, of course, is aimed at both genders.
Institutions Committees numbered over 400 in 1985. In addition
to taking meetings into correctional facilities and sponsoring
"inside" groups, their most important work is to obtain
pre-release sponsorship for A.A. members "behind the walls,"
and (when requested) to arrange for an A.A. member to meet
the Inmate upon release. This is the crucial point in the
continued sobriety (and continued freedom) of the alcoholic
ex-convict. The staff member also coordinates the Institutions
Correspondence Service in which 1,100 "outside" A.A.'s
share by mail with "inside" A.A.'s.
A.A. Grapevine publishes annually a special section devoted
to A.A. behind the walls. It contains touching and moving
stories by the "inside" A.A.'s themselves
as well as articles by those engaged in institutions service.
-One sociologist has observed that apart from the benefit
to the individual alcoholic who is saved from self-destruction,
the benefit to society is enormous from the presence of
Alcoholics Anonymous behind the walls. With the average
cost of maintaining a prisoner well above $20,000 annually
in 1985, the cost of repeat offenders, or recidivism, is
a major drain on the economy—not to mention the cost
to society of the crimes of the repeaters and of 'the
cost of bringing them to justice. Hence, anything which
reduces recidivism is an economic and social boon. And that
is exactly what A.A. does. In 1985, there were 1,552 groups
behind the walls with 46,500 members.