A Different Kind of Freedom – Traveling With the Big Book

Some A.A.s in the Central New York Area who carry the message into prisons have also found a way to “carry” some inmates out from behind the walls and make them a unique part of the larger A.A. community. Area delegate Liz C. reports that she has been taking an A.A. meeting to prison for years, and also carries her “guys” outside to all sorts of A.A. events. She asks all the members of her prison group to sign her copy of the abridged, softcover Big Book. Then she takes the book with her to various events, photographs it there, and takes the pictures back to show members in prison— “Where I go, you go,” she tells them, and comments that a lot of the guys have traveled more widely than most other people she knows.

“Since 1998, I have written about 200 first names of A.A. members in my copy of the Big Book, from three prison groups: Helping Hands at Cayuga Correctional Facility, Back on Track from Camp Georgetown, and Living for Today from Five Points. We have been to meetings in New York State, Florida, Tennessee, Ireland, and Hawaii.” The book has been with her at all the area conferences and conventions as well as the International Convention in Minneapolis and, most recently, the 55th General Service Conference. It has also gone camping in Canada, cruising in the Cayman Islands, and enjoyed a vacation at Disneyland. “One winter we stood on a really cold street to ring the bell for the Salvation Army, which prompted the guys to make a little overcoat for the book to keep it warm.”

Tom K. is another member from the same area, who picked up the idea from Liz. He says: “For the last 15 years I’ve carried the A.A. message into prisons. Almost since it opened nearly five years ago I’ve been the outside sponsor for the Living for Today Group at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, New York. Inmates who want to attend meetings apply in writing to one of the counselors. Attendance is voluntary, and no special consideration is given, nor is any record of attendance added to the inmate’s folder to impress the parole board. They come because they want to come.

“One of the traditions of the group, which we borrowed from Liz, is the signing of the group’s Big Book by every inmate who attends his first meeting there. They can add a phrase or two of strength or hope if they wish—I tell them it’s even okay to write that they hate A.A., if they want to. After about three years that book was filled, not just with signatures, it was filled with members of A.A.

“The other half of the tradition is that when I, who have found true freedom through an ongoing involvement in our program of recovery, take a vacation or just go somewhere, I take the guys with me. Maybe it’s a solo motorcycle trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway or a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, or to Akron to visit the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous. Setting the book on the seat of the bike and snapping a picture with a spectacular view in the background conveys to the group members, in a way my words cannot do, the life I am able to live because of sobriety. I bring the book to the meeting so the guys can see that it’s a life within their reach as well.

“I said that the book is full of A.A. members. There is strength in numbers. I’m always going to be an alcoholic and will occasionally have the urge to drink. One hot, humid night, alone in a tent in a state park, that thought flooded in—who would know? Next to me was that dogeared Big Book. My Higher Power pointed to the book and said, ‘They would know.’ I didn’t drink. Some of those guys are serving life terms, but that night they saved my life.

“The first signed book is now gone. One day I put it on the top of my car when I got out to take a photo, then got back in the car and drove off. Seventyfive miles later my heart sank when I realized what had happened. I drove all the way back looking for the book, but never found it. . . . But I’d almost be willing to bet the farm that in my old age I’ll be serenely relaxing at an AA conference, and the featured speaker will begin, ‘I was ready to end my life, but I took one last walk down the road and I saw this ragged looking Big Book at my feet, with writing on every page.. . .’ ”

Originally published in
News and Notes From the General Service Office of AA. ®
Box 459 Vol. 51, No.4 / Aug-Sep 2005

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