Harry S. Resigns as Sponsor
of the Prison A.A. Group
Editor's note: In a protest against what Warden Alfred F. Dowd was doing with the regional conference in 1952, Harry Stevens resigned from his role as principal outside sponsor of the Michigan City Prison A.A. group, the job he had faithfully carried out since the program was begun in 1944.
In the following letter, dated June 18, 1952, Harry wrote to C. W. "Mac" Mackelfresh and explained his reasons for doing do. The letter was received at the warden's office at the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City on June 21, 1952, according to the prison date stamp at the top, and passed on to Mac. The letter is preserved in the latter's scrapbook (along with Warden Dowd's article in Prison World, see above).
Harold E. Stevens and his wife Pearl lived at 127 E. Marion, Apt. 316, in South Bend, Indiana, according to the city directory for 1943. Harry was listed there as a traveling salesman by occupation.
June 18, 1952
Thank you for your letter of June 6th inviting me to attend a meeting on June 29th or July 13th. I regret that I'll be unable to attend. I have never been one, I hope, to seek glory or tributes for any help or service I may have given in A.A., and a meeting for that purpose would only be embarrassing to me. If, in the past, I have been of help to anyone in the prison group -- or anywhere else -- that fact alone is reward enough. I am happy and grateful for having been given such an opportunity.
Your letter stated that you were advised by authoritative sources that I had decided to withdraw from the prison group because of my health and increasing business demands. At this time I would like to clarify this situation by explaining the actual reasons for my withdrawal. At the time of my withdrawal, I gave my reasons to Warden Dowd and Bob Heyne and am positive that I made no mention of health or business in my explanation. I also gave a letter to Walter Kelley in which I stated the same reasons and, at that time, I also mentioned that, healthwise, it was probably a good thing for me. My decision to withdraw was made when it became very obvious and evident that my sponsoring and services were no longer needed or required.
I think it is only fair to all concerned to quit "playing ostrich" and get their heads out of the sand. Let's face facts, look at the record and then it will be clear as to why I decided to withdraw. In my opinion, things had become too involved and, under the trying circumstances, I thought it was best for me since, as an alcoholic, I cannot afford to repeatedly get upset.
Further, I was truly upset and concerned when you told me you were sending several press releases out before the meeting, as well as having a lot of pictures taken at the time of the meeting. My thinking on this procedure was that A.A. neither needs nor benefits by this sort of publicity. Not wishing to act entirely on my own feeling in this matter, I discussed it with others who had many years of A.A. experience behind them and found they agreed with me. In turn, I called Warden Dowd and informed him that, unless the press releases were stopped and pictures banned, I would have no part of the meeting, other than to continue to get the invitations out and aid in getting visitors into the prison. I felt that I simply could not go along with all the publicity and "hullabaloo" that was building up. At that time the Warden seemed fully in accord with my thinking. However, he apparently deemed it necessary to further confer on the issue with Kelley or someone else and ultimately reversed his decision.
During the past eight years, as the recognized A.A. sponsor of the prison group, I have always felt a great deal of a sense of obligation to the prison group, to the outside groups and to individual members. One of the prime objects of this feeling of obligation has been to protect the anonymity of the members I invited to the prison. Conscientiously, I feel that anonymity is of the utmost importance to many of us. Without it, A.A. may not survive. I must stand by my convictions and the traditions of A.A. as I understand them, even if, in so doing, I am forced to disagree with some of you.
By this time I had begun to feel that the Warden had ceased to value my judgment on the issue of publicity. Consequently, I felt my services were no longer wanted and there was little else to do but step aside in favor of someone whose judgment would be valued a little more.
In the second paragraph of your letter, you mentioned that you all regretted that I had been unable in the past year, because of my health, to be as active in your A.A. group as previously -- that you have missed that outside contact so necessary to the life blood of te group. With the exception of the two months I spent in Arizona, I had been more active, due to the daily meetings, during the past year than ever before. I thought I had left the group in good hands and well taken care of at the time I went away. In fact, on my way to Arizona, I made it a point to stop at the prison to arrange for the changing of the time of the Sunday meetings from mornings to afternoons, in order to make it easier to get the Sunday visitors there.
I would like to make the suggestion that you refrain from using the expression "outcasts of society." Since you have become associated with A.A., it seems that you have been exaggerating this subject and ultimately you and your fellow inmates will really begin to believe it a true expression. You will no doubt recall that you were gravely criticized at the sponsors' meeting for stating that no member of A.A. would be seen walking down the street with an ex-convict. They not only walk down the street with them, but many A.A.'s have seen fit to take ex-convicts into their homes to mingle with their families in order that the ex-convicts may regain confidence in themselves. This remark was greatly resented by those members who have gone "all out" for the discharged or paroled member. Frankly, we can't think of a single case where a released man, if he wanted A.A., was not treated with the greatest care. Even those of us who have been taken in financially would gladly do it over again, hoping that the next man would be the one who would make the grade.
With reference to the forming of the Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners, I don't believe anyone would have objections to that. However, outside of an impressive sounding name, it would seem to gain little more than you already have. Actually, all you have to do is give the man the name of the Secretary in the city to which he is going. If the discharged man makes the contact, he will, without a doubt, receive the help and guidance needed where his alcoholic problems are concerned. The rest is up to him. If I'm not mistaken, this procedure was followed long before you entered Michigan City. If this has not been the case, it's been due to neglect on the part of someone.
I expect to carry out my twelfth step work regardless of my health or business, as it is a "must" with me and I cannot afford to relax with my A.A. activities.
With kindest regards to all --
H. E. Stevens
Letters and notes from
|Editor's note: In the Mackelfresh scrapbook (where the copy of Prison World and the Harry Stevens letter were preserved) there are also two letters and a note from Bill Wilson. In the first letter, Bill gives the planning of a Prison AA Conference his approval as an experiment.|
February 20, 1952
Mr. C. W. Mackelfresh
P.O. Box 41
Michigan City, Indiana
Dear C. W.,
Thanks very much indeed for your cordial letter of February 7th, telling me of the very interesting proposal for the first Regional Prison AA Conference.
This idea seems to me, from where I sit, to have immense possibilities. I do hope your outfit and the others will be able to go through with it. Of course, there is no reason in A.A. Tradition why you should not. Moreover, you really need never ask my permission in these things. After all, I am just a drunk trying to get along like the rest of you. As long as any action taken is reasonably within the framework of the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions, please always feel free to experiment. As you may know, the principle of "trial and error" is a part of A.A., also. In this case, it seems to me you have everything to gain, nothing to lose. And, in this connection, please carry my best to Warden Dowd. He is but one more proof that A.A. could never have been, or functioned at all, without friends such as he.
Now about my coming out there. It is with the utmost reluctance that I shall have to take a raincheck. My next main job is that of serious writing. Excepting for a few pamphlets, the whole AA story and its lessons of the last twelve years has scarcely been put on paper at all. Though no greybeard, I'm not so young as I used to be. And most of my friends agree that I had better spend most of my time on this sort of thing for the next few years. This will, I am sorry to say, almost entirely prevent further traveling. Then there is also the long standing difficulty. If I were to make a special appearance at your Conference, I would get hundreds of prison and group invitations at once which I would be obliged to decline. Then the places I didn't visit would be disconsolate -- the alcoholic temperament, you know.
Please, though, keep me posted on your progress with this Conference. When the time comes, if you will remind me, I shall be glad to send a word of greeting and best luck. Please carry my best to all my friends behind your walls. And take the same for yourself.
|Editor's note: In a second letter, a month later, Bill W. seems still quite willing to send a letter of greeting, put something in the Grapevine about the conference, and so on.|
May 20, 1952
Mr. C. W. Mackelfresh
P.O. Box 41
Michigan City, Indiana
Dear C. W.,
We are eagerly looking forward to a report of the First Regional Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous Prison Groups. I'm so very glad the Grapevine is going to run such an account.
I sincerely hope I did not slip up in sending you a word of greeting. It seems to me that I wrote Mr. Dowd well before the Conference date and gave him a greeting from me to be read. I truly hope that was the case.
Meantime, please carry my greetings and congratulations to all AAs in your good part of the world.
|Editor's note: There eventually however seems to have been a reaction in New York to some of Dowd's ideas, though phrased more diplomatically than Harry Stevens' letter. Eve Lum, Secretary of the Alcoholic Foundation, sent a letter to Warden Dowd on September 10, 1952, praising the conference which Dowd had organized and the article in Prison World. Nevertheless, in the midst of this fulsome praise, New York headquarters also inserted a paragraph politely but clearly pointing out (1) that A.A. was pleased to continue cooperating with what Dowd was doing as long as it remained clear that there was no organizational relationship between A.A. and Dowd's own special programs, (2) that A.A. did not officially endorse Dowd's efforts, and (3) that what Dowd was doing had to be construed as falling outside the framework of the Twelve Traditions.|
|Your complete understanding of our A.A. Traditions and the attendant appreciation of what we are equipped to do and what we cannot do, is gratifying indeed. For example, the new Indiana Fellowship of Alcoholic Prisoners, which in itself is such a tremendous stride forward, is properly launched when you state so vividly in the preamble: "The Fellowship is not related, nor is it endorsed, by Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole, and not necessarily by any A.A. group. It functions independently and in the same manner as any activity not coming within the framework of the A.A. Twelve Traditions." In this way we can stick to our primary purpose, that of helping the sick alcoholic recover through our Twelve suggested Steps and yet we can continue to cooperate with you whenever you feel that we can be helpful.|
|Editor's note: To help take the sting out of this backing away from Dowd's activities, Bill W. himself added a personal postscript.|
Dear Warden Dowd,
I'd like to enclose with Eve Lum's letter a further word in praise of the magnificent occasion that the First Regional Conference of A.A. Prison Groups was. After reading the accounts of it, I find myself more deeply impressed and moved than I have been in years. Which, my friend, is saying a great deal!
Please carry my best to all who participated in making that historic occasion a thing of such great moment.