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AA Meetings in Prison

Meetings provide a crucial support system for recovering alcoholics behind bars, prisoners tell The Fix.

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AA can help recovering inmates find support.
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By Seth Ferranti

12/11/12

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People may think AA meetings aren't necessary in prison because there's no alcohol. But on that account they're wrong: prisoners are adept at making their own hooch and some guards will smuggle in real liquor, for the right price. But even beyond helping people to stay sober, AA meetings can provide an important source of emotional support for recovering alcoholics in prison. "The meetings take place in the prison's psychology department at schedule times," one prisoner tells The Fix. "No staff members are present but they are on duty in the building." AA meetings often begin with the group reciting the Serenity Prayer in unison. Then, one person may read a section from the Big Book and go over the 12 Steps, followed by a reading from a book of quotations. "From there the meeting is open, we can discuss whatever we want to bring up and everyone in the circle has an opportunity to respond, give advice or relate to what is being talked about or decline if they want," says the prisoner. "Everyone announces themselves as 'I'm Mr. So-and-So, and I'm an alcoholic.'" Unlike what you may suspect, no one is forced to go to AA—meetings are attended and run by volunteers. In some cases, AA members from outside are permitted to visit prisons to facilitate meetings and share their stories.

All over the world, AA meetings may vary in format, size and demographic—but they all gather around the same basic principle, which is to "stay sober and help others alcoholics to achieve sobriety," according to the official "AA Preamble." In prison, it's no different. "It is mostly a positive group of guys trying to change their lives and spread a positive message," the prisoner says. "You see dudes getting real emotional and even crying when discussing their problems or past lives. These are big bad dudes and known killers just breaking down like babies. The concept of an alcoholic helping another alcoholic is noble—especially in here with all the racist, criminal and convict attitudes. But we try to help each other as much as we can. We understand where each other are coming from."

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