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July 1988

Climbing the Hill

I've just attended the best birthday part ever! "Farmer" Jim and I were among the fourteen outside AAs invited to a local prison which was celebrating that group's twenty-fifth anniversary. I was delighted to be asked; Jim was not! He had hoped that he would never spend time of any sort "inside." He said he'd go, but he didn't like it.

There was much laughter and a feeling of anticipation as the guards inspected our belongings, frisked the guys, and ran electric metal detectors over all of us. Then we were led through double-locked cages, through the prison yard, and up to the meeting place.

The inside AAs were ready for us; they had prepared name tags, printed programs, and refreshments of pizza, coffee, and cake. As we scanned the programs, I noticed with some amazement that I was scheduled to give a fifteen minute institutions report.

The amazement was caused mainly because I don't really know an awful lot about institutions. I started to go to the area assemblies about three years ago because somebody said that old line, "Get in the car," and I kept going back because I developed a real affection for the assemblies. When asked to chair the area institutions committee a year ago, I didn't think I was the right person for the job because: 1) I have never been a GSR (general service representative, the liaison between the home group and area); 2) I am a woman; and 3) the local county jails do not allow women at AA meetings held there, so I'd never been to any of those meetings. But I have been trained well, so I didn't say no, and have been chairing the committee for a year now. Oh, what grandiose visions I had at first, visions of file cabinets in my living room and perhaps a home computer; I was really going to get on top of this job and do it right! Then I asked the delegate from this area what the area institutions committee chairperson should do, and he said, "show up at the area assembly and chair the institutions committee." So that's what I do.

To get back to the birthday party, a couple of the inmates heard me say that if I were going to make a report I'd better make some notes. "Champ" rushed from the room and returned with a couple of pieces of typing paper and a pen, and he and "Stinger" commiserated with me as I scratched my head and scribbled thoughts onto the paper. Champ said that speaking makes him nervous, and I just told him to check me out when I returned from making the report (my hands were shaking like crazy).

"John," who is the inside sponsor at the prison, had told me that the members of the prison group had, through a group conscience, decided to become an autonomous group and to register with the area assembly. A big part of the report I gave came from information gained at the Northeast Regional Forum I attended last summer: meetings held "inside" can become autonomous AA groups if they meet all six qualifications of a group (found in the pamphlet "The AA Group"); it is possible for a group, even in a maximum security prison, to have a GSR communicating with the area either through his district committee member (DCM) or through his alternate GSR, elected from among the "outside" AA members. It tickled me to be able to bring congratulations to the new group from all seventeen states which were represented at the Regional Forum.

To heighten the excitement of the anniversary and the new group status, the first edition of the group's news letter was announced by its editor, and inmates passed it out with glee.

John passed the hat to us outsiders as we left the prison, then proudly handed me twelve dollars and said that as a representative of the Hill Group, he was asking me to see that they were registered at the next area assembly.

Do you know how hard it is to express the way we feel sometimes? I was so happy, delighted, and proud as I handed that twelve dollars to the area registrar and saw the boys on the Hill become a registered, autonomous group of Alcoholics Anonymous. Congratulations, Hill Group!

(Remember Farmer Jim? He didn't want to go, he wasn't comfortable being there, and he was relieved when we left. But he couldn't stop talking all the way home, and he's going back to the prison next month!)

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