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Freedom of Religion in Correctional Institutions – Where Are We Going Wrong?



Hekate is a goddess of psychological transformation. Her Underworld is the dark recesses of the human subconscious as well at that of the Cosmos. Many have accused her of sending demons to haunt the thoughts of individuals. What they fail to understand is that the demons are not hers, but their own. By the light of her twin torches Hekate only reveals what is already there. These are things which the person needs to see in order to heal and renew. However, if they are not prepared for the experience of confronting their Shadow then it can truly feel like they are being tormented. Hekate is not motivated by cruelty, nor is she seeking to harm. But her love can be tough love. She will prompt a person to face the things that they must, whether they like it or not. 


A couple years ago, I had a woman “Gloria” working at Talisman as a spiritual healer. She was amazing, sadly she is now deceased. She came in to the shop prior to being employed with a request: That I help her son set up a Wiccan support group in the low-security prison he was in at that time (FCI Otisville). Once I learned he was not in prison for a crime against women/children or responsible for the death of another; I agreed and worked in tandem with the resident Chaplain (Father McDermott a WONDERFUL man and priest) to set up what turned into a very successful and supportive spiritual group. I won’t bore you with the details of what happened after Father McDermott retired — the sarcasm, abuse and bullshit that Robert endured to maintain the group in Otisville. He remained a model prisoner, a year out from release, when he was transferred almost overnight to a new moderate to high security prison up in New Hampshire. I tried to intervene, because this move meant he would be too far for visits from his sister and family … and again, so close to his release, but no he had to go. It was BECAUSE he was a “model prisoner” that they wanted him there. He was transported almost 12 hours in ankle and handcuffs, no breaks, to the new prison in Berlin. When he protested the lack of spiritual support for HIS religion (Wicca) and went on a hunger strike he was placed in solitary where he remains to this day. I called his “unit manager” on 4/1 and even though I am listed as his “clergy of records” and have written permission for access to any and all information regarding Robert, I was not given any information other than “he is fine”.  Before Gloria died she called me and I PROMISED to not drop the ball on her son. He is a good man, in his thirties – he has completely owned what he has done, what his decisions were and that bad decisions placed him where he is. However, he is allowed BY LAW access to his religious practice. BY LAW. I have written to Rep. DeLauro and am now asking a favor. Please write to Robert – use Talisman’s address on the envelope if you don’t want to use your own  A notecard with the message “Stay Strong” would be sufficient. And deeply appreciated. Send all mail as follows: Robert Northrup #15044-014 Federal Correction Institution P.O. Box 9000 Berlin, NH 03570. I am embarrassed not to have thought to ask this sooner — but he needs the support NOW. Upon release, he will be living in Stratford and plans to be heavily involved with the CWPN and any/all Pagan groups where he can continue to grow, learn and be of service. This man is a beautiful human being, inside and out, and his mother was very very dear to me. I have since gotten to know his sister and his niece/nephew too. It’s all good, we just need to get him home to his family safely. Thank you all. And feel free to share. I would like him flooded with mail, especially after the terse conversation I just had with prison officials … grrrr.

X X X X X X X X  

February 2, 2014

Rep. Rosa DeLauro
59 Elm Street
New Haven, CT 06510

Dear Congresswoman DeLauro,

I am writing to you at the request of Ms. Kandy Ray who spoke with you earlier this week about the plight of her brother Robert Northrup – currently housed at FCI Berlin, New Hampshire. It is my understanding that my letter will accompany hers under cover of your own (via the Federal government) as part of an investigation regarding the treatment of Robert after his transfer from FCI Otisville, New York to FCI Berlin.  Ms. Ray has been deeply concerned that her letters and monies she has sent Robert since his transfer have not been received. Apparently, our letters going under cover of your own will ensure they are opened and read by Robert. 

I have served as Robert’s “Clergy of Records” for the past four years. His mother Gloria Northrup (deceased last year) was employed at my shop where I got to know her very well. She asked if I would work with her son and the Priest at Otisville in setting up a Wiccan spiritual group – and I happily agreed. Working in tandem with Father McDermott and Robert, a selection of books and ritual tools to be purchased as well as an outline of the Sabbats (holy days) and ritual observances was put together for what was called “The Wiccan Group”. A steady group of men convened regularly under Robert’s leadership. Father McDermott was a wonderful mentor and completely supportive of Robert’s efforts to establish a working group at Otisville. It was an absolute pleasure to work with him. Robert and I spoke weekly on the phone, he asking questions and I providing guidance. During this time, I became very impressed with Robert’s strong spiritual base as well as his deep desire to leave prison a more educated and spiritual person … to make the very best of a less than ideal situation. Our weekly calls continued until his transfer to New Hampshire. 

You can imagine my surprise when Robert called me, deeply alarmed that he was being transferred to a new medium/high security prison in New Hampshire (he being low security, with many privileges) with less than 48 hours’ notice. There was nothing that could be done to stop this transfer and when I called Otisville to inquire WHY a “model prisoner” was being sent FARTHER away from his family to a higher security facility with LESS privileges … no one was able to answer my questions. I spoke to his acting case manager “Kocho” who assured me the reason Robert was being transferred is because they WANT “good” prisoners to go to the new facilities – although she agreed with me that it did seem like more of a punishment than a reward for good behavior. I also spoke to Rabbi Richter (acting Chaplain) who told me he had only had good experiences in dealing with Robert but could provide no input as to the reason for the transfer. 

Following up with calls to FCI Berlin, I spoke with Judith Nichols who arranged for signature of a paper (release by Robert) that would enable me to speak directly with their chaplain. In speaking with Chaplain Joe Connors, I was shocked to learn that Robert was in “shoe” (solitary confinement) “for his own protection” (but would not explain the reason for this) and that having gone on a hunger strike had finally been force fed via a tube down his nose! Having just spoken with his sister earlier this evening, I know that Robert is STILL in solitary confinement at this time. I am unclear why someone who is close to release, who wants nothing more than to come home – would do ANYTHING to jeopardize his release. I have not spoken to a single person who has had anything but praise for Robert’s work ethic, kindness, polite demeanor, and overall dedication to his spiritual path. 

My interest in Robert is twofold: One, I promised his mother I would never drop the ball on her son and would continue to offer guidance and support as long as he needed it. Two, as a Wiccan in a leadership/clerical role myself, I want to be assured that his religious beliefs have not played a part in his treatment in any way whatsoever.

I can tell you that after Father McDermott left FCI Otisville, a Mr. Zuk took over as Chaplain. During this time, Robert was absolutely bullied – told there was no “holy book like the bible” of Wicca after being asked repeatedly to produce one; the Wiccan’s locker with supplies was searched (and in one instance, Robert was put in lockdown until they figured out that the ceremonial salt – provided by the prison – was not rock cocaine!) and while the Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Christian etc groups were given refreshments and ample opportunity to meet – the same was NOT afforded the Wiccan group. Mr. Zuk did eventually leave but I am not completely certain that Robert’s insistence on continuing the Wiccan group meetings and his filing of complaints did not lead to his transfer – or at least, put him on the short list for removal.

Ms. DeLauro, in addition to owning Talisman (a new age shop in Monroe CT – I am a blog writer for all the Hearst-owned Connecticut based newspapers (“Metaphysical Musings”). I do guest appearances regularly on local radio/TV shows and lectured a few years back at Yale Divinity School on the Changing Face of Spirituality as part of their alternative religion curriculum. I plan to write about Robert’s experiences as a pagan in the prison system and it would be nice for this story to have a happy ending. I do have an extensive amount of correspondence from Robert as well as my own copious notes. Wicca is a recognized religion by the United States Government and as such, Robert has every right to practice his faith without fear of retribution.

Thank you in advance for your support and investigation into this matter. I am sending copies of this letter to the President of the CWPN (Connecticut Wiccan Pagan Network) as well as Rev. Christopher Penczak – noted activist, author and co-founder of The Temple of Witchcraft in New Hampshire. At the very least, the Wiccan Group in Berlin is in DIRE need of support – since adequate reading material as well as the simple matter of obtaining refreshments (cookies and juice) to ground after ritual is apparently “unavailable” to the group. It is important to note that every other religious group in both facilities do have full access to books and all their respective spiritual tools/meals/observance times etc. I am hopeful that a New York pagan group can be contacted to provide support to FCI Otisville as well, to ensure the group Robert worked so hard to create will continue. 

Brightest Blessings, 

Rev. Laura Lenhard

Laura Lenhard