Humanist Inmates in Iowa Are Busy Keeping It Real
Over the last few months, the Fort Dodge Correctional Facilities Humanist Organization has been striving to get involved with the community both inside and outside. The facility, located in Fort Dodge, Iowa, recently sponsored a “Meals from the Heartland” event, where we as inmates volunteer one of our mornings to prepare and package meals for the hungry across the nation. Our humanist group was able to run two tables this year with some twenty volunteers who packaged around 6,000 meals.
On September 19 we were involved in our facility’s Relay for Life event, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. Our humanist group woke up early and made sure all the stations for the event were set up, supplied, and maintained throughout the day, where sunburns were plentiful! We were also in charge of selling tickets for the games and food offered, and we sold close to $1,400 worth by the end, all of which goes directly to the Relay for Life cancer fund. To top it off, I performed a “hillbilly puppet show” at the event, which gave us all a good laugh and was an excellent catalyst to spread the message of cancer awareness (plus, now I have a bag full of puppets to mess with people).
In the coming months we hope to be involved in other charitable events. One will be a peanut butter and candy cane drive, the proceeds of which we’ll be sending to our local food bank for the holiday season. We are also hoping to find a vendor to donate non-spiritual greeting cards so that we can pass them out to the inmate population like the churches do every year in every institution across the country. (Hint, hint, AHA and AHA members!)
My hope is that the humanist group here will continue to be involved in as many multi-group, in-house events as possible. Last weekend, we participated in the Toastmasters-sponsored inspirational speech contest. The member who represented us was not only able to do so as a humanist but also as an outspoken member of the growing transgender community within our facility. Transgender individuals have found welcome support from the humanist group here.
Our speaker did not place, but we had a strong showing of support for him in the crowd. As well as participating in the speech contest, we also were able to supply a portion of the raffle prizes from our group fundraiser, all of which brought us more awareness and tolerance within the facility. (We have participated in many debates, winning and losing them equally. One debate brought over 200 inmates peacefully into the gym, plus five outside volunteers as judges and was a pleasant and educational time for everyone.)
Our next big venture will be to organize a science fair competition as part of our next Darwin Day celebration. (Pending administration approval, of course.)
We have also been striving to grow our meeting lessons and have gained new volunteers from a local college that we greatly appreciate. These volunteers come to our meetings and teach us courses from their own curriculum. Our first lesson was in creative writing/composition. We are also on the path to start a sociology and introduction to psychology course soon.
We recently finished a great series of lessons with former Humanist of Iowa president, Dr. Paul Knupp, on Lyle Simpson’s book, Why Was I Born? (We’re now planning a theory of religion/world religions course with Knupp.) Simpson has been one of our group’s outside supporters from the beginning, and he asked for our feedback on the new fourth edition of his book. It’s great to hear young men within our facility actually reference some of his materials during day-to-day conversations, and we are very grateful for all of our supporters.
In addition to all of this, we still have time to do individual lessons because our group has the privilege of meeting once a week. And we are even in the process of getting another time slot mid-week, which will allow us to expand even more. We’ve had vast success in getting our membership to form their own lessons to present to the group. In fact, a member will be speaking to us in our next meeting about Teddy Roosevelt and his work to set aside portions of our nation’s forest, and how they are now in danger.
Of course we always have time for a fellowship day here or there, where we kick back and enjoy each other’s company with a little popcorn and a movie. I believe our next film is Weird Science, and everyone is invited.
Being a humanist and an outspoken atheist in an environment that crams Christianity down your throat is certainly hard, but our humanist group here at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility is busy demonstrating what humanism is all about.
Ben O’Donnell is an inmate at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and is the president of the FDCF Humanist Organization.