AA in Prison Conference in Kalish, Poland, and Prison Service Experience in Vilnius, Lithuania

Doing service is an uncomfortable action. It is against my nature. I’d rather make a hundred people around me uncomfortable than do something myself. I need to believe to start doing service and I came to believe because of the people I met through doing service.

I want to share some thoughts about the AA in prison conference which was held in the Polish town of Kalish last year. It was not an AA event, it was financed by Polish government to show the specialists that cooperating with AA is a good thing. Both AA members and prison employees were invited from across Europe. We heard a lot of statistics there, but all of that went straight to the spam folder in my head. We heard all kinds of different opinions.

The Polish officials talked about the miracle of AA, how it is helping without outside money. They shared about how sponsors are allowed to take their sponsees from prison to meetings.

There are more than two hundred small prisons in Poland and most of them have AA groups. The first man to start this works as a prison psychologist. I asked him how he managed in the beginning. He only said he was naïve, and if he had known what he would need to go through, he would never have done it! It is a story how the strong belief of one man can change a whole country. Of course he also needed friends. His boss, the prison manager, supported him a lot. There was also another prison manager who shared how uncomfortable he felt bringing five prisoners to a meeting—how he was afraid his friends might see him in that company. I felt like all those people really earned their positions, their ranks.

I met some Ukrainians who drove to the conference for thirty hours. I took a plane. I met people who drive to a meeting in prison a hundred kilometres away. I ride my bike to get to my meeting.

They get out of their comfort zone to do service.

At the moment at our local prison in Vilnius, Lithuania, we have three weekly meetings. One is at a rehab, one is in the main ward and one in the officers’ ward. We only have four or five people who do the prison service regularly. It really takes some courage to do it. I can’t say that I really wanted to go there at first. It happened by chance, really. But that’s the way it had to be.

In my head I had this list of “my sobriety—greatest hits” and I used to share these depending on the meeting topic. When I got to the prison meeting I understood that I couldn’t give the prisoners the same old story every time. I started to feel bad a few months into doing service in prison and I was forced to look for a sponsor—an uncomfortable. I didn’t like the Big Book hype at all, but I went through it and nothing bad happened to me.

Doing service in prison is specific. It is a very closed environment. People do not share openly and I understand why. I wouldn’t like to share in front of the people I live with. Another thing is you don’t get quick results. You need to believe. There was one moment when I thought I should quit. I thought that I could be making more money instead of going to those meetings. But then I met this guy at a meeting downtown who I thought would be back to prison in months. He told me that because of our stories he came to believe and he started going to AA. That made me believe too. Sometimes you see a guy who is in prison for the first time and he finds it funny. But then you meet someone who’s there for the fourth time and he understands that life might be unmanageable.

I feel that this kind of service is changing me. I came to believe because of going to prison meetings. I don’t want to waste my time any more. I have a lot of free time and I am going to prison because I don’t want to lose it. It pays back double every time I do it.

 

Ruslanas, Vilnius, Lithuania

Translated by Balys K, Vilnius

 

First published in AA Service News, Autumn 2019