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Sacred Intention and W’s Initiation

According to the mythologist Joseph Campbell, many ancient cultures had initiation ceremonies usually consisting of four stages: Separation, Descent, Ordeal and Return. The intention of these ceremonies was sacred; i.e to help the young person navigate the difficult internal and external transitions from child to adult and member of family to contributing member of community.

This is the story of W’s initiation, one which had the four stages of a traditional initiation, but lacked a sacred intention.  In other words, it was a flawed initiation, and in that respect, his is a story common to our modern world.

We could say that W experienced the first three stages of initiation when he was arrested (Separation), tried, convicted and sentenced to prison (Descent and Ordeal). The fourth stage (Return), began in prison and continues to this day.  It is worth noting that for most men released from prison, their Return stage is so severely flawed that it resembles more a revolving door than a passage.  For someone to successfully negotiate this treacherous transition is a testament to the man and to the resources that support his return.  Here are some reflections from Jeffrey Goldwasser, a key support person, and from W.

From Jeffrey Goldwasser and Steve Martin:

“In March of 2010, I received an email through the Jericho Project about being a community contact for a man who was being released from prison in Massachusetts after 17 years incarceration.

I agreed to the request thinking it would be some time down the road. To my surprise, I received a call 2 days later from the prison psychologist telling me that the man would be released in two days and would travel by bus directly to North Carolina. The psychologist told me the man’s name was W and that he wanted me to know why he had been sentenced to prison. Upon hearing this information, I hesitated, but decided that I would meet him and see what happened.

A few days later, I received a call from W telling me he had arrived.  I encouraged him to find a motel, let me know where he was, and I would come by in the morning. The next day I met W at the motel and we began what has become a very special relationship.  At that first meeting, we talked for a while at the motel and went out to breakfast to get to know each other.  I immediately realized this man who had spent seventeen years in prison had a level of emotional intelligence that I believed would serve him well in his return to the free world.  I thought it was remarkable that W looked me in the eye, owned his feelings, shared his story, and started to trust me – a man he had only known a few hours.

As the days went by, I realized that I wanted a group of men to help support W.  I made this request to my local ManKind Project (MKP) community telling them what I had learned about W and asking for support.  Several men came forward and we formed “W’s Team”, a band of brothers dedicated to his successful return to the free world.  This band has helped with survival needs, including food, shelter and clothing, but also with belonging and friendship.  In addition, many others have supported W in making a successful transition to life outside of prison; the local VA hospital, his social workers, his psychologist, and his probation officer to name a few. And the Jericho Project was a vital prerequisite and crucial link to any of this happening.

Ten months after his release, W has a safe place to live, a good job, appropriate social services, and a strong support network.  He has become an active and valued member of his MKP and work communities.

All that  being said if, it weren’t for W himself, who he is and who he is becoming, his commitment to living a life of integrity, honesty and openness, his transition would likely have failed—as it has for so many people released from prison.  And I personally would have missed out on knowing this beautiful man who has blessed my life in countless ways.”

From W:

“ When I first went to Jericho Circle, I didn’t know what to expect. I was reluctant to be open and share about myself. But when I saw that the other inmate men and the men that came in were open, I began to feel safe. Safety for me was a big issue. I felt accepted which was something I had been looking for for a long time. This helped me trust men again. Due to some events that happened in my childhood, I had lost trust in men. Jericho helped me to start to be the man that I wanted to be. That is a man of integrity, honesty and being open. They helped me to relearn the importance of commitment.

When I was about to be released from prison, I shared with my men’s circle, that I was scared because I had no where to go, no home and no money.  One of the outside men got me in touch with a Massachusetts JCP man who in turn put out a post or email to our local MKP community and informed them about a man who was being released from prison. A man responded, Jeffrey Goldwasser, and said he would be a contact for me. The day after I was released from prison I called this man and we met.

If it hadn’t been for that man who got in touch with my Massachusetts contact man and responded, and if it wasn’t for the contact men himself sending that email, I don’t know where I would be right now except possibly dead.

The brothers who came in to the prison where I was were so accepting, non-judging, warm, loving and caring. I am so grateful for their commitment to go inside prisons to see men like me who made a large mistake and who wanted to change into becoming a better man. ” – W.