Pagans in Prison – Religious Volunteer In Wisconsin

Wade Mueller is a religious volunteer for Pagans in seven Wisconsin Correctional Institutions. He is tired, but receives so much from his prison experience, and sees such a need, that he can’t stop if it means letting his people down.

 Do you actively advocate for an inmates religious rights or requests?

 I have to stay away from that as I have absolutely no power as a volunteer aid, and so am in a very precarious position. I tend to be polite and courteous in order to get entry and or anything at all with the inmates. Once inside I act as a priest, a facilitator, they cannot even get together as a group unless I come in. I tell the guys, “What do you want to do with this time?”. Some really want to do in-depth, hard-core rituals. Then I encourage and help them write their own rituals, and then just watch over and maybe help them. I may facilitate discussion, help with meditation. It is different every time depending on who shows up. There are so many different paths and traditions that show up, and there is often conflict.
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Pagans in Prison – Interview with Patrick McCollum

This begins a series about Pagans in Prison, and those who ‘minister’ to them.  Religious volunteers report most Pagan prisoners find their Pagan path once they are incarcerated. The loss of freedom that prison represents is a strong motivator to find some meaning in life, and Pagan spirituality often offers the most relevant choice.  Prisoners are invisible to us, unless they get publicity.  I hope this series increases our  awareness of this part of our community for, sooner or later, many will return to our general society, and look for spiritual support.

Patrick McCollum

What is critical to understand within this topic, is the difference between loss of freedom, and loss of civil rights. Prisoners retain some civil rights even while in prison. Our Constitution’s First Amendment is about religious freedom, and within bounds, remains in force for those incarcerated.  I had the opportunity to interview one of the foremost authorities regarding religious civil rights and prison, and Patrick McCollum also happens to be a Pagan.  Read his qualifications at the end of this interview!

 There are prisoners convicted of state and federal crimes, often mixed together in state institutions, does it matter?

The principles are exactly the same in the law. In federal prisons there are some additional provisions that grant additional rights, more than state prison systems, but what I’ll talk about is applicable to both systems.

What are a prisoners civil rights regarding religion in prison?

There was a law upheld by the Supreme Court (unanimous) in 2005, called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (RLUIPA)  which laid out the basics of what religious accommodation prisoner of all faiths have right to. What the act says is that the state is required to accommodate each and every inmates religious need.

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