There’s a world of difference between a kindred in a prison and a kindred in the free world. So many differences, in fact, that it creates many difficulties for those wishing to make the transition.
Understand that this is no way anything other than my own take on this. Having discovered Asatru in prison, becoming an oathed member of a prison kindred and now being an oathed member of a vital, dynamic free world kindred, I am in a unique position to offer some of my own thoughts on this based on my personal experiences. Add to this the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic/addict with 5 ½ years of sobriety and the perspective I offer shifts even further from the norm.
In 2004 I was in prison for the 4th time for a parole violation for a 1992 conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. I was spiritually bankrupt, morally deficient and without honour. I was a slave to my addictions and all else was secondary to that. I was hateful, vindictive, prejudiced, selfish and self-seeking.
At the time of my last arrest I was living in Florida with 2 children and their mother. I weighed 120lbs and wore a size 28 waist. I was strung out on methamphetamine and when I was arrested I was laying in a hospital bed. I had been up for 17 days and was so sick that when I was admitted the doctors thought I had spinal meningitis and I was quarantined. When tests of my spinal fluid revealed that this was not the case, it was discovered that I had almost completely crystallized 75% of both my lungs and had pneumonia. I almost died. The arrest occurred in front of my children, who were 4 and 6 at the time. I fought with the cops and was chained to the bed while my children watched in absolute horror.
This preamble is meant to serve 2 purposes; the first being to establish some credentials, if you will, and the second is to present a point of reference to support my personal opinion of the positive effect a prison kindred can have in a person’s life.
Are there racially motivated ideals in prison kindreds? Absolutely. Are there illegal activities associated with prison kindreds? Undoubtedly. Is Asatru distorted and twisted to support these agendas? Undeniably. Are there Asatruars in prison kindreds who have no concept or interest in what it really means to be Heathen? Of course there are. But that is a far cry from the complete picture. Sadly, they are often the only aspects of prison Heathenry that make their way through the bricks, past the towers, over the razor wire and into the world at large for the media to sensationalize and spoon feed to the public. Sad but true.
There is no way to really compare prison as an environment in which to discover Heathenry with the free world. In most prisons it is a battle of epic proportions every step of the way. First comes the countless lawsuits that have to be filed to force the state to recognize Asatru. Once that is accomplished, the individual battles begin for every single ritual item, every single book, every single Hammer. The fight for the right to gather once or twice a week, to have outside Clergy allowed in, to be allowed to observe our Holy Days. Everything has to go through the chaplain. You might get lucky and have one who doesn’t have a deep seated mistrust and hatred of all things non-christian. Maybe.
The available resources are severely limited, not only by the difficulties of dealing with a hostile administration, but for financial reasons also. Many in prison exist only on what they make while in there, which is often little to nothing. All books, all Hammers, all items must usually be brought directly from a distributor and shipped directly to you via the chaplain. Often times the literature that is available is borrowed, worn, well read and has passed through many hands before you get it.
The same issues that the public hears about, the violence, the hatred, the ‘racial aspects’, are the same justifications the administration uses to make being Asatru so challenging in prison. It’s ‘gang activity’, or ‘an unsanctioned prison group’ or my own personal favourite, a ‘threat to the security of the institution.’
Every activity is severely monitored. The slightest deviation from any rule is grounds for breaking a kindred up, shipping its members to different facilities, confiscating items, etc.
The nature of prison life, in and of itself is transient. Inmates come, inmates go. It is difficult to establish a kindred with longevity and stability due to this transience. This difficulty makes it a challenge to illustrate to the administration how a well functioning, legitimate kindred can function.
Everything in prison is racially divided, so when I arrived at Lansing Correctional Facility, I naturally gravitated towards other white inmates. Needless to say, it does not take long to figure out who belongs to what clique. The majority of those I was talking to were wearing Hammers. In fact that’s how they were referred to as, Hammers. I asked about them one day and heard the word Asatru for the first time in my life. I was 40 . When I started asking questions about it the Chieftain of the kindred, (or as he’s referred to there; the Jarl,) loaned me a copy of The Book Of Troth by Edred Thorson. I read it in its entirety that night. I was absolutely floored, so much so that every few pages I had to stop because the things this book said spoke to me. It felt like a key and been slid into the lock and all the tumblers fell into place. It was, literally, a life changing event.
So, much like any kindred, there was a period of time in which I got to know the members of what was to become what I like to refer to as my Birth Kindred and in which they got to know me. There were some fundamental requirements that had to be met to be part of this kindred. First and foremost was absolutely no sex offenders. Anyone who wanted to even hang around kindred members had to produce their ‘face sheet’, a paper that had all their information on it; what you were charged with, how much time you were doing, etc. After the point was reached where they felt I would be a good addition to the kindred, I had to request permission from the Chaplain to attend the ‘Asatru Callout’. The kindred met twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Wednesday was the study group and Saturday we would hold a faining, although we always referred to it as a Blöt.
The study groups in the Northman’s Way Kindred were intense to say the least. We had ‘homework’, so to speak and we would be quizzed on this homework. Three wrong answers, or three I-don’t-knows, or any combination thereof totaling three, and you got to take a lap around the table and everyone got to give you a rib shot. Not some light hearted tap, but good solid make-you-feel-a-rib-break shots. You would lift your arm and take it, all nine or ten of them. It added a little impetus to studying your homework. The ‘warrior’ mentality runs deep in a prison kindred.
An applicant had to learn the Elder Futhark, be able to recite it, be able to write it and have a basic understanding of what each rune symbolized. He had to be able to name 12 of our Gods and Goddesses and had to be able to name all nine worlds.
The unity in this particular kindred was very strong. Long before I heard the word frith, I was immersed in it. If a kindred member had any kind of problem with anyone outside of the kindred, no matter whether he was in the right or wrong, the kindred would absolutely stand behind him. If he was indeed in the wrong, it would be dealt with ‘in house.’ In addition to all the positions known to free world kindreds, Chieftain, Skald, Gothi, etc. there was a Hammersax. He could be termed an enforcer. If someone in the kindred was ‘violated’ for whatever reason, maybe using drugs, or amassing gambling debts, or any kind of trouble he had to be bailed out of, or any behavior that put the kindred or its members at risk, the Hammersax would pay him a visit, usually in his cell and administer whatever degree of physical punishment had been ordered by the Jarl. If he had to take another member with him to enforce this violation, he would. Or two. Or three. Whatever it took to get the job done.
Obviously, testosterone runs high. We walked tall. We walked proud and when we hailed the Gods in a ritual it was deafening and powerful. I remember holding a horn to the sky and feeling the energy coursing through me so intensely that the horn was shaking violently enough to splash its contents on the altar.
The administration established an outside worship area for us. They had to. Every other religious group received concessions, such as the Native Americans being allowed a sweat lodge, and we were allocated an area outside of the medium security camp that was ours. It was, obviously, fenced in but we had a large stone altar on a mound, a fire pit and a large Eye of Odin made out of stones laid out on the ground. About three times a year all three Lansing Kindreds, the Northman’s Way from the minimum security camp, Bilskinir from medium and Herjansfane from max, would be allowed to gather in this area to celebrate Holy Days. We would be provided sack lunches that included ham sandwiches and for a few hours we would be with our Brothers. We would have a faining and then spend time building the bonds between kindreds and among each other as individuals. It was very powerful. I took a blood oath of kinship with one of my Brothers on that altar and it was a very intense ordeal. My blood, your blood, our blood.
When I left this environment, I was paroled to a half way house in Kansas City. I had never been in KC before and I knew nobody. I would use the computer in the library to look for other Heathens. I was almost completely computer illiterate at that point, so this was certainly a challenge for me. I looked and looked, day after day and eventually resigned myself to walking this path I had now been following for a year by myself and I did, for six months.
While I had been in prison, the mother of my children had lost custody of them and they were now in the hands of the state of Florida. It seemed impossible that I would be able to fulfill every requirement Florida had in order to get them back. I was stressed out to say the least. I hated almost everybody. I was angry. I was antisocial…but above all I was Heathen. This was a point of great pride and importance to me. It was the things I had learned in the Northman’s Way Kindred that helped me through this monumental test. It was the pride in who I was that kept me away from the drugs and alcohol, that made me determined to no longer be a slave to those vices. It was the virtues of self-reliance, industriousness and perseverance that kept me showing up at day labour at 5:30 in the morning to work all day next to Mexicans of questionable immigration status for $40 a day. For six months. It was courage and honour that kept me strong and focused so that eventually, 18 months later, I could drive down to Florida to get my children who I now have full custody of. It was the belief in that what I was doing and who I had become was absolutely meant to be and that the blood of my Heathen ancestors had been quickened in my veins. This is what I had learned in a prison kindred.
I went to the first Asatru meet up that became the starting point of what is today Jotun’s Bane Kindred. I met Mark and Rod and Craig and a few others that showed up who have since faded into obscurity. I respected and admired their goals, their vision of Heathen unity, but I was still a little rough around the edges and I still had the intensity of a prison kindred ritual ringing in my ears. I still envisioned every Asatruar as a soldier, a warrior and free world Heathenry felt alien to me. It felt lacking and watered down and I really had nothing to bring to the table.
As the months went by the Heathen qualities I now tried to infuse into everything I did, everything I said and everything I thought slowly changed me. The toxic hatred that had eaten at me for so long began to dissipate. I realized at some point that this hatred and my anger were as much a drug to me as anything else and I had become just as addicted to them.
I participated in kindred activities. I attended open kindred events. All at a somewhat limited level, of course, but I suited up and I showed up and as time went by the deeds of the members of this fledgling kindred starting speaking for themselves, the honour and the integrity they lived by started outweighing my misconceptions of how Heathenry should be until the realization came over me that there is not just one way, that there are almost as many approaches to Heathenry as there are Heathens.
The dynamics of the kindred, the cohesion, the unbreakable strength of the bonds between members, the passion and integrity present in all they did became evident to me over time and I came to understand that Heathenry is not always about volume, not always about physical presence, that it runs much deeper than that and manifests itself in different ways in different people. I had been suffering from a case of contempt prior to investigation and it had been stunting my growth.
In February of 2007, I was released from parole five years early. For the first time since 1978, I was free of The System. I had a job. I had my first legal vehicle. I had documents, for the first time in fifteen years. I was living in my own house. I had my kids and I had a wholly revised understanding of what it meant to be Heathen. Now I had something to bring to the table. Now I might be someone who would be a good addition to the kindred.
I asked to join Jotun’s Bane in September of 2009. At LATP 2010, I oathed to the kindred. Five years and four months after getting out of prison. It took that long for me to make the transition from a prison kindred to one in the free world. A lifetime in some respects, but a blink of an eye in others.
Comparisons between the two types of kindreds is like comparing apples and oranges. Each has its own benefits, its strong points. Each has its own challenges. I would not be who I am today if not for the Northman’s Way Kindred, but who I am today would mean nothing without Jotun’s Bane Kindred.
It’s too bad that the majority of those who claim to be Heathen while in prison choose to return to a life full of the same activities that got them sent there in the first place. The fire of prison can forge steel of great strength, and when wielded effectively can be devastating and unstoppable.
Jotun’s Bane Kindred
January 21st, 2011
HAIL THE GODS AND
HAIL NORTHMAN’S WAY
HAIL JOTUN’S BANE
HAIL THE WAY.