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Prison Mondays

Quest for Adequacy - Wed, 11/27/2013 - 15:08
I used to have an office with a desk that overlooked some trees, where I would sit at my computer and do legal work.  This semester, I sometimes think my office is a corner in a prison hallway next to a trash can.  I stand there while an inmate sits on the lid of the trash can, telling me what is on her heart.

Prison is loud and chaotic.  The dorms where I work as an intern are L-shaped, with open shared rooms down one hall and a break room on the other hall.  The rooms each have four sets of bunk beds and the lights never completely turn off.  It is nearly impossible to find a place for private conversation.

Sometimes I sit in the break room, talking with women or waiting for them to come to me.  Other times, I sidle up to a woman as she is sitting on the trash can, one of the quieter places in the dorm.  I ask if she wants to talk or if she would rather be left alone.  The other chaplain interns and I have found that the women are more likely to talk with us if we stand next to them instead of in front of them.

The women tell me about their children and their grandchildren (the majority are mothers).  They worry about sick family members and pray for the day that they will be able to return home.  Once I stood next to a woman whose eyes filled with tears as she told me that she had been driving drunk and the passenger in her car was killed in an accident.  "Will his family ever forgive me?" she asked.  "Will the pain ever go away?"

It's not all hard and heavy.  The women and I laugh together and share stories.  They tell me about the day-to-day frustrations of being in prison, and I agree that it must be hard.  They ask me questions about esoteric Bible verses (Jude 1:9, anyone?) and show me pictures of their families.

The women want to know what I can do for them.  Can I get them a bar of soap, deliver a letter, help them get into a class?  I tell them that I am there to listen.  We can talk about God if they want, or we can pray together, but mostly I am just there to be with them.  Some days, that's enough.
Categories: Blogs

Reuben Mitchell: a tribute

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Mon, 11/11/2013 - 12:45
This is a repost of an excerpt from a blog post I originally published last year on November 17th, days after Reuben Mitchell was killed. I was in rehearsal for the Arden Theater production… Read More →
Categories: Blogs

MYRLK

Benjamin Lloyd's blog - Mon, 10/28/2013 - 02:41
Photographs by Sarah Bloom, A White Pines Exchange Sponsored Artist. *** Last spring my company, White Pines Productions, received grant support to produce two original plays. Our application described the plays we were… Read More →
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Bars to travel

Jez Smiths blog - Sun, 10/27/2013 - 19:23
Today I got quite annoyed with a train car when I banged my head on this annoying bar. They never used to have them in Southern trains but I’ve been noticing them more and more. They’re a symptom of overcrowded trains as (i assume) they’re put in to give people something to hold onto when […]
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The view from Nimes station

Jez Smiths blog - Sat, 10/26/2013 - 20:06
Looking out from the central doors at Nimes station, you can see straight up the boulevard to the Roman tower on a hill over the city. It’s a great view so I took a picture only to find that my phone had whiteouted the main feature. I got a great picture of the woman entering […]
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Something I love about you

Jez Smiths blog - Sat, 10/26/2013 - 19:53
Something I love about you is that when we are out walking the country paths on our holiday, you pick plants to add to our dinner or that we can make tea from. And when we are returning from Aujargues to Congenies, I’m looking at the vines of grapes in a field on our right, […]
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The mysterious case of pricing in Brockley Sainsburys

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 10/18/2013 - 21:04
I went into my local Sainsburys to buy some apples. A pack of 4 pink lady apples from South Africa is marketed as being reduced from £2.95 to £2.45. A bargain? Not quite. A single pink lady apple from South Africa is 60p so 4 would cost £2.40. I don’t understand why a company as […]
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Getting ads right

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 10/18/2013 - 17:18
Traveling home, an ad by Amnesty International caught my attention, above left. It has an interesting and arresting image but the main body of text is just too small for me to read from my seat. I can see the bold text about signing a petition but its not enough to get me to act. […]
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A Week

Quest for Adequacy - Wed, 10/16/2013 - 12:57
I am halfway through my first semester of seminary, and I feel like I have finally settled into a routine.  Some days I am amazed by how different my life is than when I was working an 8-5 job.  I am enjoying myself very much, though. 

Outside Cannon ChapelBefore I came to Candler School of Theology, many people warned me that seminary can be challenging for ones spiritual life, so I have been very intentional about my spiritual practices: setting aside at least 15 minutes in the morning for prayer and worship, reading a chapter of the Bible each night, giving thanks before meals, getting regular exercise, and blessing roadkill that I pass by on my bike.

My typical week looks pretty much like this:

First Day: Worship

On Sunday mornings, I have been worshiping with Atlanta Friends Meeting, a large, unprogrammed meeting in Decatur.  My friends Sadie and Chris live just a mile up the road from my apartment, so they usually give me a ride to meeting, which also gives us a chance to catch up.  Worship begins at 10am and lasts for an hour of silence and messages, with a few minutes at the end for holding people or other prayer requests in the Light.  After getting home from meeting, I often nap and then do any schoolwork I have left for the coming week.

Second Day: Prison

One of the unusual things about Candler is that the program includes two years of contextual education.  In our first year, all of the first-year M.Div. students spend four hours a week in social ministry or clinical settings.  On Mondays, I spend the day with eight of my classmates at Lee Arrendale State Prison, the largest women's prison in Georgia.
Chaplain Bishop (left) and the Candler chaplain interns
We meet up around 8am to take a van up to the prison, located about 66 miles northeast of Atlanta.  I have
been assigned to two dorms in the general population.  Two other chaplain interns and I spend about an hour and a half in each dorm, and we meet up with our other classmates for lunch and a 90-minute reflection class in the middle.

Working in the prison is one of the highlights of my week.  When I walk in the dorm, I never know what will happen.  Sometimes a woman will approach me immediately and I will spend most of my time with her.  Other days, I wait in the break room for women to come talk with me.  Most of the time I listen as they share their experiences and concerns, and we pray and talk together.

Third Day: Classes

Other than the reflection group at the prison, all of my classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The day begins with History of Early Christian Thought (8-9:20am), a large lecture class where we are learning church history from the time of the early church to the Reformation (we will take a class that covers the Reformation to the current day next semester). 

Some of my school booksNext is Pastoral Care (9:30-10:50), a smaller class that is designed to complement our contextual education work.  My prison group is combined with a group that is working in another prison for a class of fewer than 20 people.  We are learning a lot about ministry in the prison setting and pastoral care and counseling for women, and we practice pastoral care with and for each other.

After Pastoral Care, I usually skip chapel so that I can eat some lunch and stop by the on-campus farmers market before choir practice with the Candler Chorale, a one-credit class (12-12:50pm).  Our choir is about seven people, and we usually spend our time on Tuesdays preparing the music we will be singing and leading in the Thursday chapel.

My last class of the day is Old Testament (1-2:20pm), another large lecture class.  This is also a year-long class, and we are currently working our way through the Pentateuch.  We started talking about Leviticus last week and will be moving on to Numbers tomorrow.  I think this is the class that many of my classmates have found most theologically challenging, but I am really enjoying learning about the sources of the Old Testament and reading the text more closely than I ever have before.
Pitts Theology Library
Fourth Day: Reading

Thursday is usually my busiest day of classes, so I spend most of Wednesday in the library, reading and preparing for that.  I also try to fit in a lunchtime swim at the Emory pool, and in the afternoon, I meet with a therapist in the Emory counseling center.  Counseling sessions are free for students (or, rather, included in our tuition and fees), and it has been really great to have someone to meet with each week to help me through all of the transitions.

Fifth Day: Classes

My schedule on Thursday is pretty much the same as Tuesday, with a few exceptions.  Instead of choir practice, my choir often leads the singing in chapel (11am-12pm).  After chapel, I sometimes have another one-credit class called First Year Advising (12-12:50pm).  As the name suggests, this is a class that is supposed to help all of us transition into seminary.  We meet regularly (though not every week) with our faculty advisor to talk about things like financial literacy and what we need to do to satisfy the M.Div. program requirements.
Inside Cannon Chapel
Sixth Day: Schoolwork

Friday is another day without classes and it is tempting to take the day off, but I have been trying to get most of my schoolwork done before the weekend.  It is also a day when we sometimes have special programs at school (for example, next week I will be taking an afternoon workshop on the Enneagram).  Again, I try to fit a run or swimming into the day.  In the evening, I might go out to dinner or do something else to unwind after the week.

Seventh Day: Sabbath

One of the reasons I try to do so much schoolwork on Friday is because I have set Saturday aside as a no-schoolwork day, a sabbath of sorts.  It is amazing to me how tempted I have been to do schoolwork on Saturdays, especially when midterms are looming, but I have managed to stick with it so far.

On Saturday mornings, I have been going to a yoga class at a local ashram, then I usually spend the rest of the day hanging out with friends, reading (fiction!), or catching up with things around the house.  So, it's not a complete sabbath, but at least one day a week when I am not completely focused on school.
Categories: Blogs

Exploring parkrun and the Quaker way

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 10/15/2013 - 08:34
A great passion of mine over the past 13 years has been discovering the Quaker way and living with Quaker faith. And in the past year or so another great interest has come along – parkrun. I’ve not thought before about combining them but my great friend Marisa Johnson has! I didn’t even know that […]
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Getting to the point at Parkrun

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 10/14/2013 - 13:14
Parkrun on Saturday was a mixed affair. I’d started with running to the park as my warm up, which was a good idea. When the run proper started, I was feeling good and I made it around about 3/4 of the first lap pacing myself just behind someone who runs within my PB time but […]
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From boasts about profits to moral outrage in 14 months

Jez Smiths blog - Mon, 10/14/2013 - 12:17
WHSmith have been in the headlines after they took down their online business after discovering ‘unacceptable titles’ within their e-stock. The action took place after a newspaper had exposed the sordid situation, with books offering bedtime stories for children being found next to books with fantasized accounts of rape and incest.  Part of the problem was […]
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Stating the obvious

Jez Smiths blog - Sat, 10/12/2013 - 05:38
I spotted this headline in the guardian online recently… “Leigh Ledare: the man who photographs his mother having sex – in pictures”. And wondered if Leigh Ledare might have photographed his mother in something other than pictures.
Categories: Blogs

More expensive by weight

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 10/11/2013 - 13:19
Today in Sainsbury’s in Bethnal green I found that Zovirax, at £324.50 per 100g is even more expensive than bathtime squirters. Result! My quest for the most pointless cost comparison in Sainsbury’s goes on.
Categories: Blogs

Telegraph Hill Playclub needs you!

Jez Smiths blog - Thu, 10/10/2013 - 08:30
I happened to see this poster on the Brockley Central blog yesterday and off I trundled to this meeting last night. There were about 8 of us there, discussing how the playclub will run when it becomes volunteer-led and managed from 1/1/2014. The club was going to close because of local government cuts but now […]
Categories: Blogs

Expensive by weight

Jez Smiths blog - Wed, 10/09/2013 - 17:41
I was intrigued to discover in the sainsbury’s in whitechapel today that a baby’s bath toy costs £299 per 100g. I hadn’t realised that anyone would want to compare this product by weight.
Categories: Blogs

From apple day to…

Jez Smiths blog - Wed, 10/09/2013 - 07:35
On Saturday, toddler and I went off on our adventures. The primary destination was Ian’s apple day at One Tree Hill allotments. There, I chopped apples while toddler slept. Then, when he awoke, we chatted to each other. I met 4-5 people and saw a lot more. Fast forward to this morning and I found […]
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Passing on the running bug

Jez Smiths blog - Tue, 10/08/2013 - 08:09
On Saturday, I was all geared up for Parkrun. I had run on Thursday night and had recorded a great time so this was to be the day of my next Personal Best attempt. After recording 25:07 in August I had hardly got within 2 minutes of that time in the following 2 months. So […]
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Bug club

Jez Smiths blog - Sat, 10/05/2013 - 18:58
The challenge at Bug Club in Frendsbury Gardens today was to find 100 different kinds of leaves. The 15 or so kids found 104! We had loads of fun too. Toddler toddled and we took home a bag of harvested potatoes. Result!
Categories: Blogs

When a baby becomes a toddler

Jez Smiths blog - Fri, 10/04/2013 - 05:55
My baby has just become a toddler! And the giraffe pictured here above has helped. We borrowed this rather lovely item from Lewisham Toy Library. Taking it out into the local parks and the streets has helped give toddler lots of practice walking and now he’s doing it unaided. Meanwhile, I ran my NCT route […]
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