A week in the life of a maximum-security prison chapel.
After spending a year visiting the chapel at the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Graterford while studying for his dissertation, Dubler (Religion/Univ. of Rochester; co-author: BANG! THUD: World Spirit from a Texas School Book Depository, 2006) capped off his studies with an intensive week of observance and interaction with four men in particular: Baraka, Al, Teddy and Sayyid, who are all serving life sentences. The prison chapel presented a mix of religious beliefs all but impossible to find elsewhere under one roof: Muslims, Protestant Christians, Catholics, Jews and variations of each of these groups. “Is it not truly bizarre,” Dubler asks, “how unremarkable it has become that for so many Americans—black men, especially—the practice of religion takes place in spaces like these.” He observed the worship of followers of the Moorish Science Temple, an intriguing mix of sermon and chant, looked upon with some skepticism among other believers at the prison. Dubler discovered certain constants at the chapel, not least of which was the full-time chaplain, whom he calls Baumgartner, a wise, beleaguered and caring man who knows only to trust the prisoners to a point. Around him swirled almost daily worship services, debate, discussion and other activities of faith. Dubler presents a highly detailed account of his week of immersion, but he cannot escape the simple fact of his own identity as an outsider in this setting. Even Baumgartner admitted to not really knowing what happens inside the prison at night. Once the prisoners leave the sanctuary of the chapel, readers lose them. Dubler knows that the prisoners enter a different world, far removed from the trappings of chapel life, but he is unable to relay that part of the story.
Intriguing and diverse, but necessarily skin-deep.