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Fireworks and More from Membership!

By Elizabeth Corbett, Programs & Membership Coordinator

Happy July from a retired teacher! I used to love June 1 because it was the start of the summer–such promise it held! OMG, and then July 4–the WORST holiday because the summer was half over and I felt this weight hanging over me of “not enough time, not enough time.” My perspective now is that July is wonderful when one doesn’t have to return to work. But I will say, things are still busy! Here’s a recap of some summer happenings:

The Bottom: You’ve been hearing a lot about The Bottom lately–we’ve been supporting both the reading program for children/teens (they choose 2 books every month from The Bottom’s bookstore) and a quick turnaround request for the summer outdoor program called Black Outside. This month-long program (which ends July 16) introduces a small group of teenagers to activities such as paddleboarding, camping and hiking. Westside provided money to support two days of meals (breakfast and lunch) for Black Outside and a whopping $822 for the Book It program . Coming up at The Bottom this month is the Sew It, Sell It program. Teens over the age of twelve learn some sewing skills, and through visits from local entrepreneurs and UT professors, they also learn business basics such as making a pitch and branding. Participants of this program will be selling their wares on July 29. For more events at The Bottom, go to The Bottom's webpage.

Church of the Larger Fellowship and Worthy Now: Worthy Now was the Share the Plate partner for the second quarter and Westside recently sent them a check for $527. I want to thank everyone who said something to me after the service about Nahshon, my incarcerated penpal. Corresponding with him has been a humbling and enlightening experience. Let me give you a few updates from the questions that were asked at the end of the service. The answers are from Beth Murray, who works for Worthy Now.

Q: How do inmates initially find out about CLF? Do you have brochures in institutions? Make announcements? Visit any institutions?

A: Inmates mostly find out about the CLF through word of mouth. Occasionally materials are left on a random table and inmates read about our resources and write to us. The CLF is also listed in several prison resource guides.

Q: And then once an inmate has inquired about CLF, what is the application process like to become a member or a penpal, or what sort of vetting do you do?

A: When someone wants to know more, the CLF mails an inquiry packet. The inquiry packet contains information about Unitarian Universalism in general, and also information about the CLF. Our inquiry packet also includes a member application form. If interested in becoming a member, a prisoner must agree to the principles of UUism, and sign the application.

Q: Do you know of any instances where you've found out that inmates have lied to their penpals? This came up as I was telling the story that Nahshon told me about setting fires in his cell using books and old t-shirts and towels. And someone asked me if I could confirm that or anything else he's told me.

A: Yes some inmates do lie -- just like some free-world people lie. We do end memberships in CLF if a member (whether incarcerated or free-world) uses racist or homophobic language.

Q: You've mentioned to me that Worthy Now offers classes; are there any other institutions/organizations or universities that offer classes?

A: There are some colleges that offer correspondence courses to prisoners.

Q: Does Worthy Now offer any sort of support after an inmate is released?

A: Sometimes we do not even know when a person is released. But if a prisoner does tell us about their upcoming release, here are some of the resources we offer:

a. We encourage them to remain a CLF member, waiving the financial commitment

b. We ask the free-world pen pal if they are willing to continue writing after release

c. We send the prisoner the names and addresses of other UU churches in the area where they are

d. We look online for re-entry resources specific to their state

And I also asked Nahshon about the woman he attacked and tried to kill, and he says he knows she is still in Haywood County (NC) where he grew up. He is not interested in seeing her, although he realizes there’s a very good chance he’ll see her out in public. He does not want any trouble with her or her family. He says he was a young and naive 22 year old, often under the influence of drugs, and he’s not that person anymore.

Poetry at Westside: Are you looking for an ongoing opportunity to connect with other Westsiders and be creative? I’m heading up the Poetry Writing group that meets the first Wednesday of each month. We’re having a fun time! You can read our sweet little poetry jewels right here. You’ll see some poems modeled after a short little poem in Spanish, after Carl Sandburg’s Fog, and also after Flag by John Agard which we made a bit silly! Reverend Carol wrote in her column last week about how the US is more of a salad bowl than a melting pot, and I was reminded of that element when sitting at the table and creating with Judy, Ellen, Laurie, and Phyllis. We each bring something different to the group, and our talents stand out and complement each other. I invite you to join us and contribute your gifts to our group!

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