For three continuous years South Mountain Friends Fellowship has provided a source of Light for both those imprisoned at the Maryland Correctional Institution of Hagerstown (MCIH), and for those visitors who attend SMFF at this Maryland state prison located in Washington County, Maryland. This is the third Annual Report by South Mountain Friends Fellowship.
Friends from Patapsco Friends Meeting at Mt. Hebron House, Ellicott City, Md., (PFM), were led to establish a place of Quaker Worship & Fellowship at MCIH based on a request by a prisoner confined at the prison. Now three years later PFM continuously provides the support, care and guidance required for the meeting to exist, which is held every seventh day (Saturday) from 9:30 – 11 AM. A viable place of Quaker Worship & Fellowship has sprung forth in this prison of over 2100 men.
As South Mountain Friends Fellowship entered 2007 discussions focused on an agenda (goals) for the year. Some members proposed that the meeting allot specific time for reading Biblical scripture while the majority was moved to designate at portion of the meeting to read and review a segment from the Religious Society of Friends Faith and Practice each weak. The experience has proven to be beneficial, enabling the members at MCIH to be more knowledgeable and identify with the ways of the larger Quaker (Friends) community. Many of the prisoners who attend SMFF seek to know more about the Quaker (Friends) community and combined with the reading and follow-up dialog with those Friends from PFM, this is being accomplished as these visitors bring an extensive wealth of knowledge. The reading and reviewing of the Faith and Practice will continue through this calendar year. Some members have expressed interest in forwarding input to the Faith & Practice revision committee in reference to the Queries, Advises and Listening for consideration. South Mountain does accommodate and welcomes biblical scripture and/or passages as members are lead to share. An equal opportunity remains available for discussion of issues and topics important to the meeting. One such lingering query is if SMFF attenders could become recognized members of PFM, or other meetings.
During the Summer of this past year SMFF was unable to assemble from mid-June through July due to a combination of a lockdown of the prison following disturbances on the compound and residual concerns for security by the Warden. Each individual had to endure the lengthy lockdown and struggle with the absence of meeting to which all have become accustomed to for their spiritual growth. The lockdown and suspension of meeting for SMFF also affected those from PFM. Fortunately, SMFF worship resumed and everyone shared their own experiences which facilitated a time to heal and permitted the inner light to shine.
As a diverse group in this prison environment, SMFF members attempt to make a better community with their daily lives and contributions. Support for activities and interest include, Meeting on seventh day (Saturday) for SMFF, Prisoners Against Teen Tragedy, (a youth diversion and community education program), Recycling, Teaching others via the Luabach Literacy Tutoring program, the Jaycees, A.V.P., and the Veterans group at MCIH. In addition, each man maintains a prison job assignment some-where within the prison compound.
On February 2, 2008, in recognition of the 3rd Anniversary a celebration was held at the prison. Once again the prison administration permitted everyone to assemble for this special gathering. In attendance were six visiting Friends from Patapsco Meeting, one visiting Friend from Deer Creek, and seven men from the prison who regularly attend. Silent worship, AVP based activities, singing and the availability of refreshments made for a memorable celebration.
As the fourth year gets underway here behind the imposing stone walls of this prison, surrounded by miles of chain-linked fences topped with razor wire, we hope that SMFF is able to provide a prominent beacon for others. The journey is one of enlightenment and can indeed be life changing for all those who are able to experience Quaker worship and fellowship.
And finally, closing out 2007, SMFF would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all who help to make this experience possible at the Maryland Correctional institution of Hagerstown.
South Mountain Friends Fellowship Attenders
March 15th, 2008.