The acquisition of one’s faculties by the creationists begins the moment you arrive at jail or prison, and continues ad infinitum. One soon experiences the “penitentiary.”
Taking the career criminal out of the equation, most people coming into the system are emotionally vulnerable. I know I was. I was scared senseless and willing to gravitate towards anything that wasn’t “jail.” The first person I saw in normal dress attire (most staff are militarized in their appearance and demeanor) happened to be the chaplain. I often accepted his invitation to hear “the Word.” Let out of a cell and taken to a well-furnished, air-conditioned office to sit on a real chair (instead of the floor) for an hour? Sure! And this is coming from someone who is firmly at milestone six of Richard Dawkins’s spectrum of theistic probability.
The privileges in prison (vs. jail) are even greater. Want to hear live music? Just pop into church on Friday night. Want your breakfast, lunch, or dinner delivered to you without having to stand in line for an hour? Just be in church. Want to enjoy the visitation room and not have 200 people to compete with over seats, tables, vending machines, microwave, games, restrooms, etc.? Just schedule a “religious” visit. Want to enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables? Just declare one of the “religious diets.” If you want one of the premium jobs (jobs that pay the most, have desired working hours, and other perks)— jobs like library aid, visitation clerk, education tutor, building maintenance crew, and, of course, chaplain’s clerk—simply show the chaplain that you’re a God-fearing man and he’ll pull the right strings. And it doesn’t stop there. Here in Arizona, the chaplains are considered administration and even have clout concerning where you live. All of the chaplain’s leg-hangers live in the more desirable buildings (those with the least amount of maintenance issues, and so on).
As far as overt religiosity and proselytizing among fellow inmates, of course it’s common. They’re like mindless God-zombies roaming the prison yard trying to infect you. You’ll know when PBS has aired a special on evolution because the next day the God-zombies are out in hordes obtusely announcing: “They didn’t show any intermediates.” And sadly, most guys eat that up. But then again an overwhelming majority in the prison population don’t even have a high school education. Out of 972 inmates on this yard, I’ve found only four others who have a college education. And not surprisingly they are all atheists too (of varying degrees).
During my childhood I was given the freedom to believe what I wanted. My mom was a 1960s/70s flower child. The closest thing to religion I ever saw was a statue of Buddha on her dresser. (My mom died when I was a teenager.) My father, as I learned later, was nonreligious as well.
My grandparents are another story. My maternal grandparents were Catholic, and later born-again Christians, and my paternal grandparents were Mormon. So, I spent some time in Sunday school (a prerequisite to weekend visits). More than once I heard how my parents were going to hell for their lack of belief. I spent my fifth-grade year trying to save my parents’ souls. I remember taking a red marker and going through the house and writing, “Jesus is love” all over everything—even the paintings on the wall. In spite of my vandalism my parents weren’t visibly upset with me.
That same year my uncle and I (we’re the same age) ditched class and were hiding in an alley behind my grandparents’ house. Surprised by my grandmother, I quickly asked God to help us out of the mess. My uncle and I asked her how she knew what we were doing. She told us that Jesus sent his angels down to inform her. Well, I had an issue with that. Just whose side were these celestial beings on? The next morning I stopped by my grandparents’ house so that my uncle and I could walk to school together. Waiting outside, I saw the nextdoor neighbor, Mr. Lenny. He told me that he’d heard us out in the alley and told my grandparents. What?! This was Jesus’s snitching angel? I had to get to the bottom of this. I asked my grandmother again to recount the story of angels descending down from heaven to inform on us. And she did. I knew then that she was making it all up. All of it… the whole theory of God.
My point is that I’ve been nonreligious since I was a child. So I don’t really have a conversion story while in prison. I am interested in bringing humanism inside these walls. It’ll be an uphill battle, and I’ll need to be well-equipped (knowing my rights and so forth) in order to deal with the chaplain and the administration—and the horde of God-zombies.