I have spent a frustrating day and a half negotiating what I have come to affectionately call the volunteer prevention system at a nearby state women's prison.
There is an Al-Anon program operating in the prison and a handful of Al-Anon volunteers attend meetings there. It's both a way to carry the message and to be of service. I've been thinking about it for a while now, and after an impassioned plea for more volunteers at a recent meeting, I decided to make the commitment.
It sounded easy enough. Attend one meeting a month on a regular meeting night. It would just be a longer drive. There would be a background check, an orientation. No problem, right?
After an initial screening interview, I was told to expect an invitation from the chaplain to orientation.
I got the call on Christmas Eve. Before I would be invited to orientation, there was the matter of a little paperwork. He'd e-mail it to me that day.
The paperwork included a 50-page training manual, with something like 15 pages of exercises to be completed. An 8-page background questionnaire. A volunteer application, which, frustratingly, asked many of the same questions that were on the background questionnaire.
The cover letter came with bolded and underlined admonishments such as:
* All forms must be completed in black ink and returned to me no later than January 11, 2010.
* When you make copies of the background questionnaire (Form 602-1), only duplex (double-sided) will be accepted.
* On the Volunteer Application (Form 204-4), if you do not indicate why you want to volunteer or what training and experience qualifies you to present services, your application will not be processed.
*Unless you return this book by the close of business January 11, 2010, you will not be invited to attend orientation.
The exercises in the training manual must be completed, it said. "Please write in a legible manner, as I have to grade each book."
The 8-page background questionnaire wanted me to list
* the dates of all my parking tickets and the disposition. (Seriously, who can answer that question?)
* Scars and identifying marks (So they could ID my body?)
* Every school I attended beginning with high school, with dates and addresses.
* My personal references (three people who have known me well for five years or more) must include addresses in addition to at least one phone number!
The exercises included scenarios that would undoubtedly be useful at an Al-Anon meeting such as: "You direct inmate Collins to clean up an area. He ignores your directions. You tell him again to get the job done. Inmate Collins tell you to clean up the *@* mess yourself. What would you do?"
In all, I'm mailing 25 pages of materials today, so that I may be invited to orientation. (Which, by the way was rescheduled from two months ago.)
I had to laugh, really. Getting upset would serve no purpose other than to make myself unhappy.
I had to admit that I was powerless over the state prison system.
I had to remind myself that I needed to be willing to go to any lengths for my recovery.
I had to remind myself that I was not doing this for the people who run the prison, but to be of service to the women who might benefit from this program.
When I had finished, I was reviewing my paperwork and the cover letter to be sure 1) I had not left any blanks (which could result in my application being delayed or rejected) and 2) that I had included everything asked of me.
I had to call the prison coordinator when I saw that I had failed to copy my background questionnaire in duplex. Would this be grounds for immediate rejection of my application? It was getting late, it had to be in the mail the next day to make the deadline. My willingness was waning.
She put me in touch with another woman who was doing her own application. She hadn't done that either, and hers was already in the mail. I decided that if they would reject me for this infraction, at least I wouldn't be alone.
That's the best part of this program. I never have to do it alone.