Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Rees, Robert A.
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184 I Dialogue that if we were the type of people that appealed to her. Maybe if she sensed that we got along well as a family and had fun together . . . true . . . "and lived the teachings," . . . right . . . "and liked her a lot," she just might want to be our friend. They were satisfied for the moment. But a quiet excitement mounted as we glided along the freeway past Pleasant Grove and American Fork towards the Point of the Mountain. I recalled the morning almost three months earlier when the bishop indicated he had something "special" he wanted to talk with us about after Sunday School. When we met, I learned the stake needed two families to participate in an unusual Church Social Services program. If we accepted, we would be assigned to an inmate at the state prison and would hold monthly home evenings with him or her. There would be an orientation of course, but aside from the family night service we would simply offer our friendship to someone. An hour later when the bishop reached us at home, I reported how eagerly every member of the family had accepted. A three or four hour orientation at the prison a few weeks later greatly altered our perspective, but not our enthusiasm. Bishop Heber J. Geurts and the prison chaplain detailed the scope, restrictions, frustrations and rewards of our involvement. A written statement by the LDS Social Services Program indicated the program was prepared to help rehabilitate Mormon inmates "and those non-LDS inmates who seek us out. We do not proselyte in prisons." We were informed, too, that inmate leadership in religious services was encouraged: "All inmates regardless of race or religion are afforded equal opportunities and responsibilities in the Church program, as a means of rehabilitation. This differs from missionary effort among inmates which is not to be done." Happily we noted there were no gimmicks, no formulas or special techniques to be assimilated and implemented. We were simply to abide by institutional rules: "Nothing in— Nothing out/No gifts, no money, no messages, no thing!" But the assignment was awesome indeed. In addition to visiting the prisoner and holding a family home evening with her once a month, we would work with her family in community, social and religious areas. If her family were not available, we would become her family away from home. We were expected to be both exemplary and reliable. Since release from prison normally results in adjustments even greater than those faced inside, there would probably be a continuing involvement over a long period of time. It became clear that this was a commitment which could alter our life as well as the prisoner's. In addition to instruction on the local prison system and prison regulations, we were impressed with the impact of the program and the assignment of families to inmates. And now we were approaching the prison tower. After being cleared, we were directed to the women prisoners' "dormitory." How we hoped this first visit wouldn't be too awkward. We were quickly admitted, and there she stood, smiling. Somehow we recognized each other without any introduction, and she embraced us. She told us how impatiently she had awaited our visit and how much our coming meant to her. Following opening exercises held conjointly with six or eight other families and their "adopted" inmates, we separated into small rooms for home evening discussions. Our years in Africa made her immediately special to us. But we were hardly prepared for her remarkable buoyancy and optimism. After we told her a little about ourselves; she eagerly explained how fortunate she was. Among other things, she had learned to crochet in prison, and had designed and crocheted the outfit she was wearing—for this very occasion, her initial meeting with her "Church family." She also explained that she was completing her schooling, doing lots of reading, and now looking forward to visits from us. The hour and a half raced by, and too soon we were on our way home. All of us were talking at once. Aside from complaints about having to wait a whole month to return, everything was superlative: Wasn't she cute and fun! Wasn't it remarkable how much she was gaining from her prison experience? How was it possible for us to love her so much after only one visit? We were unanimous in feeling that somehow we had gained far more from her than she could possibly have gained from us. The Lord had clearly sent Victoria to us, and not us to Victoria. Though immediately impressed with our charming inmate, I was early on guard and somewhat introspective. Could it be she wanted to use us, ask us for money or request special favors, like others we had heard about? And why were we so excited with the assignment? Was visiting a prison simply an exotic and daring experience? Was there a pious condescension in helping someone incarcerated? And did these visits to a Black girl constitute primarily a romanticized flight back to our beloved Africa? But she made no requests—except that she longed to see us more, and the introspective doubts vanished. "Victoria" became "Vicki." We became "Mom" and "Dad," and she became part of the family. The once-or-twice-a-month visits multiplied to three or four, and before long it was rare if we didn't see her weekly. She participated quite naturally in our family home evenings, and afterwards