If any of our readers here have ever been in prison, the phrase “time on the shelf” refers to the days or years one has left in their sentence to complete before they are released. Good behavior while incarcerated is one of the ways the prisoner can reduce some of that time on the shelf.
A few years ago, a prison staff member and myself spent time setting up Depressed Anonymous meetings in a prison setting. To say the least, it was a sobering experience for myself. It was also a very rewarding experience as well. Rewarding in the sense that there were men wanting to talk about their experience with depression with other fellow prisoners. We had permission from prison Psychiatrist and the Warden. We were given permission to talk and visit with prisoners who wanted to come to the meetings.
Altogether we had three groups of Depressed Anonymous. The groups were facilitated by the staff member, myself and prisoners who already were part of the fellowship, and attended other 12 Step meetings in the prison. AA and NA were an important part of the daily life of any of those who chose to attend this or that fellowship. My point is that they already were working the Steps and attending recovery meetings. They never had been to a DA meeting, sharng their own experiences with depression, until now. Not many of the men had heard of the Depressed Anonymous fellowship till we brought it into their lives.
One of the three groups met in the mess hall. Another on a stair well. And one met in a conference room. Space was limited. With all of this the men came faithfully to the meetings. What impressed me the most was the honesty of those participating. What they were sharing was held in confidence by each group member. It was a sacred trust for the members to keep confidential anything and everything that was shared in the group.
For a DA member to share anything in the prison yard that was shared inside the group would defiitely not bode well for the person talking outside the group. Every man knew this rule had no exceptions.
One of the most discussed issues among the men was how sad they were and how their past was not only locking themselves in prison – it also locked some men out of seeing their children grow up without them. Many times their girlfriends would drop the man for someone else on the outside. Some were saddened by the fact that no one contacted them from home. No one from home came to visit them. This was the greatest pain.
Feelings of anger and despair continued to eat them up. It was here in the group that this emotion poured out of their hearts and souls like molten rivers of despair.
Women with small children, mothers of sons incarcerated, women with boyfriends and husbands managed to meet on any occasion that was permissible.
For myself, this whole prison experience was bitter sweet in that 1) the prison authorities allowed us in two times a week for our meetings, and secondly 2) the therapeutic salve of free sharing about hurts and loss of control, gave each man a sense that he was not alone. The actions that brought him to prison in the first place, gave him time to get some help with all the pain and loss of control over his life that was in his face on a daily basis. I could feel in each group an invisible bonding between each other who were gradually coming to “believe that a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity.” (Step Two)
Some of the best expressions of freedom I found in a prison at Depressed Anonymous meetings. The freedom experienced by these men, by their group meetings happened in spite of steel bars, locked wards, locked cells and prison guards. Twice a week, for an hour and a half, these men talked of personal remorse, the darkness in their own lives and how the Steps and the spiritual principles continued to provide hope and way out of their own feelings of despair and hopelessness.
Because of what I experienced with prisoners personally over a three year period I know the change that resulted in my own life and the life of those incarcerated, the same positive results, can be replicated with any and all those incarcerated.
***Submitted by Hugh S, a member of Depressed Anonymous in Louisville, KY.
If you, the reader, have knowledge of any man or women incarcerated and facing time on the shelf, please let me know. We will send them a copy of the Depressed Anonymous Manual and Workbook.
Anytime I get a call for material it comes from the prisoners themselves. We will write to whomever you choose, and send our 12 Step literature. Free of charge.