Alcoholics Anonymous
as a
Correctional Technique

by Warden Al Dowd

Indiana State Prison at Michigan City

Alfred F. Dowd, "Alcoholics Anonymous as a Correctional Technique," The Prison World, Official Publication American Prison Association and National Jail Association, Vol. 14, No. 4 (July-August 1952), pp. 12-14 and 31.

  Editor's note: Warden Dowd was the one who ran the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City when the A.A. group was started there in 1944. He wrote this article in 1952:  eight years had passed since the A.A. group had been started at his prison, and he had now been converted to a complete believer in the program, a highly vocal friend of A.A.'s whose enthusiasm was only surpassed by his occasional ignorance of what the principles and traditions actually meant.

One of the more outrageous suggestions he made in this article was for parole officers to attend A.A. meetings regularly, both within prison and outside. If anybody ever dreamed up a better way of totally stultifying the open and honest exchange of thoughts and feelings at an A.A. meeting it would be hard to imagine!!!

The issue of the Prison World containing his article was included in a scrapbook belonging to C. W. Mackelfresh, Secretary of the Fellowship Group, Indiana State Prison, Post Office Box 41, Michigan City, Indiana. The inch-thick scrapbook contains a number of valuable archival documents dealing with the prison A.A. program in 1952. This book was donated to our archival project by Ed C. -- Ed and his wife Carla are A.A. members from the Elkhart, Indiana, area. Ed believes the scrapbook had been saved by his grandfather, Willard C., who had been one of the founders of A.A. in Elkhart during the 1940's.

Prison World editor's note at beginning of article:  Upon request of the editors, Warden Alfred F. Dowd of the Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, prepared the following comment based on the recent First Regional Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous Prison Groups held at the Indiana State Prison. In attendance were many outstanding wardens and correctional personnel, and the group was honored by the presence of Governor Henry F. Schricker of Indiana.

  All over the country, in both federal and state fields of penal jurisdiction, there is a great and gratifying growth of interest in the rehabilitation of alcoholic inmates. This broadening hope for alcoholics has also reached out to the city and county jails, road camps and other levels of penal institutions to which alcoholics are sentenced. As a direct result of proved successes, the Alcoholics Anonymous program has been inaugurated in 134 prisons and penal institutions, an increase of 63 during the last 12-month period.

The founding of the Michigan
City AA group in 1944
In April, 1944, a short time after Warden Clinton T. Duffy offered the AA program to the alcoholic inmates of San Quentin, the AA group was formed at the Indiana State Prison. For most the intervening eight years, I have watched with considerable interest the influence of the AA precepts and philosophy on inmate life. At first, we, the institution, could not fully understand what Alcoholics Anonymous was all about, so we went content to simply sit and watch. That point of view could be expected when we consider how few outside the top medical profession and AA members themselves possessed an understanding of the alcoholic malady and its effective treatment.

Indiana State Prison AA group
at Michigan City held back by overly
restrictive prison rules
Shortly after my return from Japan in 1949, I found that our ISP-AA group had made little progress, despite the fact that, through widened education, a vigorous assault was being made in combating alcoholism, our fourth major public health problem.

AA making enormous
advances worldwide
AA was not only sweeping the United States, but was encircling the world. The World Health Organization, a United Nations agency, created a sub-committee on alcoholism; 39 states and the District of Columbia passed alcoholic legislation offering medical care, research and rehabilitation. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. recognized alcoholism and gave Alcoholics Anonymous wholesale approval in its advertising. The American Medical Association issued a general statement to physicians accepting responsibility of the problems of alcoholism. Industry became seriously concerned with alcoholism and many plants set up special programs to reclaim alcoholic workers and aid the manpower shortage by cutting down absenteeism and accidents. Society became awakened to the growing destruction of family and community life caused by the alcoholic. It was then that many theologians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists, employers and political scientists approached AA to see how its principles and structure might fit into their fields of work and meditation.

Indiana State Prison study begun:
positive practical effects of AA programs
In finally acknowledging the reality that alcoholism was a disease as a result of this universal, broadened education, we penologists also resolved to cope with it to the best of our abilities, the same as we do with other disorders coming within our sphere of jurisdiction. Our interest at the Indiana State Prison intensified and we began a comprehensive study of the AA program and its relative merit in prison environment. As a result we found, in almost every instance, that AA is the greatest rehabilitation program ever inaugurated behind the walls.

We learned that many of our so-called incorrigibles and troublemakers, who sincerely and honestly embraced the AA program, became quiet, orderly inmates. The self-discipline of the AA group was by far more effective than other forms of corrective treatment we had used in these cases.

Varying results from AA programs
at different prisons, and (afterwards)
with different parole officers
In the breakdown of all available information from other prison groups, we found that some boasted larger membership than other prisons of equal inmate population. We also learned that the ratio of men who entered inside groups and continued with the AA program while incarcerated varied, in most cases, as did the percentage of AA parolees who continued with the AA program when released. We became aware that some parole officers were more fortunate than others in their work with the alcoholic parolee.

These and other variations came to light during our research, and thus it became imperative that all prison groups should pool their common experiences with the AA program and share them with one another for the common good.

Midwest prison administrator
conference on AA groups
On this premise, the First Regional Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous Prison Groups of Midwest States was formulated, and to everyone participating it proved a highly enlightening and educational experience. We discovered that prison administrators had barely tapped the great AA reservoir of dynamic power and help available to aid in work with the alcoholic prisoner. We visioned for the first time the many overall benefits to be derived by putting the program on a practical basis. We, as well as the other prisons which participated, profited by this mutual exchange of experience and found ways to improve the AA structure at ISP. These changes will gradually be made until the program is permanently set up as a substantial part of our inmate welfare work.

Rules which conflicted with AA traditions
kept groups from being effective
A great many of the differences in our findings were attributable to the restrictions and rules of each prison and their accompanying influence upon the manner in which the program functioned. Our experience at ISP is that the AA program is a self-contained program, and unlike other rehabilitation programs which can be processed by varying supervisory opinions and dogma, the only way for AA to flourish and properly function in any prison environment is within the framework of the AA 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. During the past 15 months we have proceeded, hesitatingly at first, to relax a few prison rules which were as old as the prison itself. To our deep gratification, nothing unusual happened, except the inmate AA cherished and zealously guarded these small privileges. We have continued to further grant more privileges to the AA group as they earn and deserve them, and the spirit of honest cooperation on the part of the inmate holds deep significance for us.

We learned, too, that the other maximum security prisons which participated in the conference had like experiences and not one reported a violation of any privilege accorded their respected AA group. The State Prison of Southern Michigan, Jackson, Mich., which could not actively participate because of recent disturbances, reported, however, that not one single member of their AA group was involved in the recent rioting.

Topics at the midwest conference
The picture of the future for prison AA that is visualized as a result of the conference is a composite one and the many direct benefits will become apparent in the days ahead. The four morning panel meetings were, in reality, full and open discussion periods on problems that seem to be common to all prison AA groups. Here are some of the topics discussed, in brief:

  1. Outside literature for inside AA groups.
  2. The value of inmate AA publications.
  3. What part officialdom should take in active participation and supervision of their AA groups.
  4. The benefits of small daily meetings in addition to one large weekly meeting as compared to only one large weekly meeting.
  5. Whether election of secretaries, etc., best serves the group purpose or the program in prison environment. As an alternate it was suggested that selection could be made by officials from a penel of men submitted by the entire group.
  6. The importance of outside AAs attending inside meetings and the advantages of good outside leadership.
  7. The need for contact with the AA groups in every community within the individual state and major cities surrounding.
On the subject of official supervision, Warden Joseph E. Ragen told of the Joliet plan of appointing a civilian AA member as a full-time coordinator of their AA group. He stressed the many advantages of this type of setup, particularly its value with working in conjunction with outside groups. He said that, with the help of the AA Joliet Committee of the Illinois Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners, the coordinator was chosen and would continue to be, as any other method would be a detriment. He cited that Joliet had early recognized that any money needed and available for the use of the AA program would have to be without strings and without administrative interference. Governor Schricker of Indiana also commented at this meeting that the AA work was too important to be cramped for the want of a little money for any purpose.

The round-table discussions clarified many points for each warden and created new plans for the AA program within the prisons. These plans will gradually unfold in the near future.

A part of the overall plan, as visioned here in Indiana as a result of the conference, will become a reality on June 26 when we form the Indiana Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners. The Indiana institutions which will actively participate in the benefits of this fellowship include: the Indiana State Prison, Michigan City; the U.S. Penitentiary, Terre Haute; the Indiana Reformatory, Pendleton; the Indiana State Farm, Greencastle, and the Indiana Women's Prison, Indianapolis. A solid core of 23 Citizens of AA, representing 21 AA groups in Indiana, will serve as the planning committee, with an ultimate fellowship roster of 200 to 300 other Citizens of AA. Full details of the Indiana Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners, as well as the already existing Illinois Fellowship, are available for other interested prisons.

A closely-knit working unity between parole authorities and AA groups in their localities was unanimously endorsed and approved. J. C. Copeland, director of the Division of Corrections, and Maurice O. Hunt, adminstrator of the Department of Public Welfar of Indiana; Joseph D. Lohman, chairman of the Illinois Board of Parole; and Glenn R. Klopfenstein, chief of Probation and Paroles in Ohio, have advocated, and in some instances have begun, indoctrination program on alcoholism and AA for parole officers.

Parole officers should
attend AA meetings
Parole officers were urged to attend AA meetings inside the prison, as well as AA meetings in free society, to learn the nature of the work which the alcoholic AA inmates are doing to prepare themselves for readjustment upon release. It was agreed that this integration of parole officers with AA inmates should encourage better understanding on the part of both as to their mutual and common problem. (Walter C. Hock, parole supervisor for northern Indiana, was guest speaker at the June 8 AA meeting at ISP. The many benefits to be derived from continuing such association were apparent after this first appearance.)

The problem of parole rules prohibiting
any association with former felons
The value of enlisting the help of an AA parolee who is making the program work in a substantial way, to aid the new alcoholic parolee, was also discussed and taken under advisement. The merit of the plan was recognized, but, as permitted association of ex-inmates is prohibited by provisions in existing parole rules, no definite action could be taken.

(We would like to mention that several other institutions have permitted former inmates to visit with outside AA groups and have found this experiment most beneficial. Wallkill Prison in New York, and the Westchester County Penitentiary at East View, New York, have both made use of this procedure. Wardens Wallack and Brown are continuing this practice with selected former inmates. The Editors of The Prison World).

Free society has for too long rejected the inmate and shunned him upon release because of the stigma attached to his having served time. The genuine interest of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of citizens of AA who daily visit the alcoholic prisoners in jails and prisons everywhere is of immeasurable value in removing that stigma. To have society accept a part of the ever increasing load of prisoner rehabilitation is eviden[ce] that here, at long last, is the help that prison administration has been needing so badly.

The outside AA s, by their attendance at inside meetings, offer the inmate AA a human understanding, a companionship and an acceptance that he had long forgotten existed. This integration instils hope, faith and confidence in the inmate and holds definite promise for his future well-being upon release. These men, in the most part business and civic leaders, offer wise counseling and understanding, based on their kinship of common suffering, and because of this fact, there are no class barriers.

There, but for the
grace of God, go I
Many of our visitors say that the program of carrying hope and help through barred windows comes from an old AA recipe for successful accomplishment -- man hours of persistence. And they say that each meeting with their incarcerated fellow-men reminds them of an old familiar motto which hangs in every AA meeting room. It reads . . . "But, for the Grace of God!"

The Indiana State Prison's ties with the outside AA s and AA groups will be strengthened and the fullest use made of their tremendous help through the formation of the Indiana Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners.

The significance of the
conference just held
At the beginning of his talk at the afternoon conference meeting, Governor Schricker said, "This conference has been the highlight of my official career . . ." I, too, can say that it was indeed a privilege and a highlight in my 30 years in penal work. It was inspiring to witness this gathering of authorities and free world society, to see them offering in true Christian charity their wholehearted, unbiased help and encouragement to their less fortunate fellow-man, the alcoholic prisoner. Here, without guard supervision, 800 free and imprisoned men had gathered for but one common purpose. The tavern owner, the bartender, the police officer, the prosecutor, the judge, the sheriff, the warden, the parole board member, the parole officer, the Governor, and free society from all walks of life and eight midwestern states, from beginning to end, the people and the agencies which are directly concerned in the life of an alcoholic prisoner, were represented. Where before has such a comparable and significant meeting taken place and under what other auspices could it be possible?

I honestly believe that through good leadership, both inside and outside, the Alcoholics Anonymous program should and will become an integral part of every prison system. It most certainly will prove to be our greatest ally in combating the growing problem of alcoholism and its indirect cause for crimes resulting in prison sentences of all types. This is of great portent when we consider that over 60 per cent of all men entering admit to an excessive use of alcohol.

The prison administrators and other authorities who attended the conference now see only a wide, clear road ahead for the AA program as it unfolds behind prison walls and thence into the free world. We vision the day, in the not too distant future, when Alcoholics Anonymous, through closely-knit co-ordination of the efforts of prison administrators, parole authorities, judges, free society, Citizens of AA, the alcoholic's family and the alcoholic himself, will establish new concepts of penal work and new heights of prisoner redemption and salvage.

  Editor's note: So we see that in the 1950's, just as today, there were sincere and well-intentioned people within the criminal justice system who admired and respected what A.A. was able to accomplish, but whose immediate response was to attempt to co-opt A.A. and turn it into just another of the cogs in their own machinery. Judges who nowadays send people to A.A. meetings under court order, and counselors at treatment centers who want to sit in on closed A.A. meetings, come out of the same mindset. Non-alcoholics have lived lives so different from that of alcoholics that they simply cannot understand exactly how and why A.A. must remain an entity apart, with no outside involvements or linkages whatever, in order to accomplish what it does do so well.  

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