23 Oct A Report on Anthroposophical Prison Outreach Canada (APOC); and a Request for Support
Interview with Raun Griffiths, Steward and Director of APOC
In November of 2020, Raun Griffiths agreed to take over the stewardship of APOC. Since then, Raun has been very active, corresponding with prisoners as well as prison librarians and chaplains, sending newsletters and books. Here’s my recent interview with Raun on her work with APOC.
Tim Nadelle: When I asked you to consider taking over the stewardship of APOC, you took a few days to consider. Why did you agree in the end?
Raun Griffiths: I took a few days because I had to know in myself that I could do the task. I am cautious to take on anything that may be too much for me or that I cannot do adequately. I want at least some reasonable hope of meeting the challenge.
I was really inspired by the talk which Fred Janney gave in Ottawa back in 2016. Both you (Tim) and I were present. Fred was the founder of Anthroposophical Prison Outreach in the U.S. Fred’s talk was so inspiring, he was really an amazing person. And he had the right skill set to work with inmates. But I’m not as much an initiator as you. So when you became too busy in your life, it was the right time for me to step in.
There was also a personal connection for me. When I was a teenager I had a friend. He had a lot of tickets – parking tickets, speeding tickets. He had no way of paying the tickets so he opted to go to jail for 30 or 60 days. A girlfriend and I went to the jail to visit him. When we were leaving, he said, “Don’t come back. I don’t want you to see me here.” He was full of shame at his circumstances. And it really struck me that my friend was so ashamed. So when I hear people talking about prison, I believe we underestimate the profound impact that prison has on people. People can be very sensitive to this. Prisoners are people who are in prison. They are people first. So my heart goes out to them.
Tim: How does your process work? What do you do?
Raun: Our American counterparts publish a densely packed twelve page newsletter about twice a year. I print and send copies to each selected prison, now about 28 in total. To keep postage costs down, I send each prison about 15 copies. When you think there could be hundreds of inmates in one institution, that’s not too many copies. The newsletter invites prisoners to request a free packet of introductory anthroposophical materials, mostly on directed meditation. The packet contains a lengthy booklist of Steiner titles that a prisoner can order for free.
Christine Tansley at Hesperus opens the APOC mail, then scans and emails me any requests. Usually I read the request several times and sleep on it for a couple of days before replying. I may add an extra Steiner lecture to the packet or even donate a book that could speak to that individual. The basic packet is generic of course, but the requests are almost always hand written and give a detail or two about the prisoner’s soul needs. This insight allows me to select something more personal. Certainly I tailor every letter to the individual.
Tim: How are prisoners benefiting from APOC?
Raun: If they read the newsletters or order materials, they benefit in many ways, as does anyone with an open mind. Stimulation is certainly at the top of the list. Prison is very boring with limited opportunities for self development and fewer opportunities for spiritual development. Prisoners have expressed gratitude for something they can do that feels meaningful, such as directed meditation or study. The spiritual artwork in the American newsletters stimulates some to try their own hand at drawing. Like many of us, some prisoners have questions about the deepening meaning of existence. APOC provides anthroposophical materials that help to orient them on this path of spiritual discovery. When prisoners request packets or order books, they often volunteer a comment to explain their interest.
For example, M.H. from Alberta makes this request: “I just read your newsletter and am very interested in meditation and finding my inner being.”
C.C. from Ontario: “Your newsletter 33 After Death Experience … I was first drawn in by the cover art then kept reading cause the content kept me intrigued. My father died 21 years ago and your writing finally brought me some peace.”
J.M. from Alberta: “I could use some help and guidance”
D.C. from Ontario: “I really would like to get in touch with my inner being”
Tim: Who are your main contacts at prisons and how do you interact with them?
Raun: The only contact with a prisoner is via mail and they know the sender (me) only as the APOC group.
I consider myself lucky if I can speak with a prison librarian or chaplain on the phone and I try to do so whenever opportunity permits. I call each prison after a mass mailing, with spotty results.
If a prisoner requests a book, I will contact the person receiving the book to ensure its delivery. Email is my next best way of communicating with prison personnel. Apart from purely logistical matters, I often have to explain what Anthroposophy is. Only one or two of them knew anything about it.
Tim: Have you received any positive feedback about APOC from prisoners or librarians or chaplains after sending materials?
Raun: Because of our process, we generally receive comments from prisoners along with their requests. Only the smallest percentage of prisoners provide any feedback after receiving materials. The few who do, express gratitude for the materials provided, sometimes hinting at how they are putting some idea from Steiner into practice. Here is a quote from prisoner to whose institution I sent several books.
I.R. from B.C.: “Thank you for the beautiful books” “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds – i’m on page 106 but have gone back to page one. i’m learning to listen twice as much as i talk. …. Thank you for the in-sight to the real world.”
Speaking with chaplains and librarians can pose challenges. Some are not open to anthroposophy, something of which they have not heard before and don’t want to know about now. But mostly there are an eclectic, interesting set of people who want to serve their population.
One nice librarian suggested I send only graphic books as her population has such a poor literacy level.
Several librarians are eager for donations, especially newer books that don’t look as tired and out-dated as the current collection. Prison libraries are poorly funded, if at all. The general public may donate but usually give only worn undesirable books. The underlying attitude is that something is better than nothing. Perhaps. But there is an unspoken disrespect in that too. When I can provide a new copy of “Knowledge of the Higher Worlds” for example, I know the librarian will display its attractive colourful cover with pride. This may sound besides the point, after all it’s the content we seek to share. Agreed. But when your library only houses someone’s cast offs, the message is passed along that the readers aren’t worth much. One thing anthroposophy teaches is the knowledge of the true worth of the human being, regardless of circumstance. The message comes in Steiner’s words (always), the newer edition tells the reader he/she is worth reaching.
Tim: What have you learned about the prison system in Canada through your work as the steward of APOC?
Raun: I’m astonished by the number of people housed in Canada’s prisons and I’ve learned that I have a lot to learn about the prison system in Canada. One thing surprised me, is how often the librarian changes in some institutions. Having established a relationship with one librarian does not necessarily transfer to the replacement in a few months. Mostly I am more grateful for my own somewhat unfettered circumstances.
Tim: If someone wanted to support your work for APOC, what do you need right now?
We are going to be out of money in a few months. So I’m now trying to raise funds for 2022. I will need to fund the two general mailings in 2022 as well as the packet and book orders from prisoners. Each round to all prisons costs about $600. This includes paper, newsletter printing, postage costs and books. So I need $1,200 in total.
And let me take this opportunity to thank the people who have already supported us. You are what makes it possible for me to do this work.
Tim: I’d like to wind up by thanking you Raun! The increasing demands of my work life had made it impossible for me to give APOC the attention it deserved. You were the perfect candidate to take this on. Your energy and enthusiasm and results have proven out the wisdom of this transition. Interesting that we both were inspired by Fred Janney’s talk in 2016. Interesting also that we transitioned APOC to you just as both of us had heard of Fred’s passing. Fred continues to be a guardian spirit for this initiative, just as he was the founder and ongoing force for APO in the U.S.
Thanks also to Christine Tansley, who continues to volunteer her time to support us. Christine has been involved right from APOC’s start.
How to make a donation to APOC:
Easy! There are 3 ways:
By mail… Make your cheque out to The Anthroposophical Society in Canada. Mail it to Lynn Lagroix, The Anthroposophical Society in Canada, #131 – 1 Hesperus Road, Thornhill, ON, L4J 0G9. Please include a little note explaining the donation is for Anthroposophical Prison Outreach Canada (APOC).
By Interac… Send your Interac email money transfer to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org . Please also send a separate email to mailto:email@example.com , explaining the donation is for APOC; and in this separate email please include the security word for the Interac transfer.