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Just another day at work

A prison chaplain's story

"We assumed you were carrying a duffle bag with all your clothing in it." Photo by Libershot

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have some unusual and unique jobs. But I think this latest one might just take the cake.

When I got to work this morning (7:10 a.m.—leaving St. Louis at 5:45), I found I could not get in because my temporary identification card had expired last week. I got the temporary card the beginning of September. I was a bit surprised at first that I didn’t get a permanent card right away but then I forgot about it. It’s now November and I can’t get into the institution. I have to call out my workers at 7:30, and chapel officially opens at 8 a.m. I was told I would have to walk down to the training center to get my permanent I.D. card, but they didn’t open until 8 a.m. So I went to the business office and picked up a big duffel bag that is to carry mail in. That used a little time, and I’d been wanting to do that anyway.

The training center is about a mile down a road that follows the outside fence of the institution. It’s the third line fence and therefore a “kill” fence with electric and barbed wire, etc. So I started walking about 7:45 and got there by 8:00. I got my new I.D. card without any problem and decided to put all my stuff in the duffel bag so I only had one bag to carry back.

I was dressed in a nice black outfit, and I threw the duffel bag over my shoulder and began the long walk back. The search dogs were in a large pen and started barking at me. I was enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful day when all of a sudden a swarm these correctional officers came running up. “Stop!!” they shouted, and I did. Then one of them said, “Oh, we thought you were an escapee because of your dark dress and assumed you were carrying a duffle bag with all your clothing in it.” “Oh no, I’m just the new chaplain,” I said as I shook in my boots thinking, “Please don’t shoot me.” But soon we were all laughing about it!

But then I got to thinking, I bet no one else has such problems getting to work in the morning! I’m still laughing about it. Glad I had got my identification card by then and that it was current.

Reverend Kalen McAllister

Rev. Kalen McAllister was ordained by Rev. Shoken Winecoff in 2007 at Ryumonji Monastery near Decorah, Iowa. She is a long-time practitioner of Zen, and was active in the operation of the Missouri Zen Center for many years. In March, 2009, she received an award from the Women's Buddhist Council in Chicago for her work with prisoners in several eastern Missouri prisons. In 2004, she co-founded Inside Dharma, an organization dedicated to assisting prisoners in practical matters, as well as supporting their practice of meditation and Buddhism. Rev. Kalen received Dharma transmission in March, 2012, from her teacher, Shoken Winecoff, at Ryumonji Zen Monastery. In April, she traveled to Japan to be formally recognized (Zuise) at the two major temples, Eiheiji and Sojiji, in ceremonies where her robe was officially exchanged to brown and she was recognized as a Dharma teacher. (Source: Shinzo Zen Meditation Center)

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