Even though Odinists are usually allowed to have runes in their cells, Tarot cards are often forbidden in state prisons. The belief is that people will use them to gamble, um, like you can’t gamble with chess, the weather, sports scores, “which rune will I pick?” and any other number of things. Now, IF the Pagan group had an outside volunteer, that person could bring in Tarot cards for the class or ritual. But there’s .01% of the Pagan volunteers needed.
As luck would have it, it’s really easy to make a Tarot deck for about $8.
First, go online and search for images of each card. You want to choose from the sample cards of decks being advertised or no longer have copyright. If I can see something for free online, then so can my friend who can’t go online. That’s MY rule. I don’t know what the law is, but no one makes any money from this and it actually promotes those 50+ decks, not anything I do. Prison is incredibly understimulating visually with no access to visual arts. I send photos of shrines, deity art, and cool stuff on DeviantArt.
So make your deck very diverse. I worked my ass off to find cards that weren’t just Caucasians. Also, mix art styles. Digital collage amazed my bestie because he’s never once used a computer. And he found new things in the symbolism of other cards. I have Yoruba Orisha religion, steampunk, Celtic, psychedelic, Greek, Marvel superheroes, Buddhist, pop culture, you name it, there’s variety in the deck I made my friend.
Scan the card for female nipples and any genitalia. Artists love topless women and they can be difficult to notice with a brief glance.
Second, you’ll probably need to crop most cards because they are much longer than a photograph. When you cut off the name of the card, make sure that you add big, clear text stating which card it is. I always assume that the photo place will do more cropping to make it fit exactly and stay away from the borders.
Third, upload the images to a reliable, cheap photo website. I like York. The first 20 pix are free and there’s always sales. With something this large, the free shipping deal is best. The one day pop up sale of 3¢ prints is also helpful. I’d wait for one of those deals. York can usually send the photos straight to your friend or family member. There’s no receipt with any personal information about the buyer. (The receipt is emailed to you.) If you write using jmail, which keeps your address secret, you’ll be glad to know that your address won’t be included with the photos.
The mail room is looking for nipples and labia, maybe gang symbols, so a bunch of artsy pictures should be approved. The cards all look so different that it doesn’t look like a Tarot deck. As with anything involving prison, the rules fluctuate depending on the moods of staff. Predicting what gets to a prisoner is impossible as far as I know, even with Tarot cards.
There’s probably simple short guides to Tarot online. Just copy, paste, make narrow margins, use a space saving font, print and mail.
I wrote my friend my own Tarot guide. I wrote my first guide 25 years ago (feeling old!) and read professionally for a long time. The Lovers card always meant sex, pure and simple, while 2 of Cups was a loving romantic relationship. I wrote that, and explained that’s just how it worked for me. My friend has studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a lot of cards suggest that you need to “CBT it!”, such as the 4 of Cups and 9 of Swords. Because he’s studied Observer Mind in mindfulness meditation, I am lucky and can note which cards need that ability to notice that emotions, thoughts and physical urges aren’t who we are. And he’s studied value-based living, so cards that indicate “You’re reacting, not choosing” have advice to re-read his values. I know his religious beliefs and practices very well, so I can add prayers and rituals.
(You can play creative games together like “Pick 3 Cards, Write a Poem” now!)
This is all added to the usual meanings I’ve memorized or discovered while reading for clients or teaching apprentices. By including a lot of “what you can do” to the Tarot guide, I reinforce what I believe is the most important use of Tarot: empowerment. The present, right now, is where the future is created. Nine times out of ten, the future will be more of the past if you don’t change. By giving examples of ways to work with the cards, he has freedom in a place that is extremely controlled and erratic. It’s not enough to tell people that they can develop a new, adaptable freedom that will serve them for their entire lives – You have to teach how. And remember that in prison, there’s no therapy, nothing to provide skills for anger management or realizing that feelings are not facts. (I suggest sending the Happiness Trap by Russ Harris and the Dummies Guide to CBT. Of course, my awesome pen pal asked for psych skills help because he’s so freaking awesome!)
This fits nicely with our discussions about Wyrd. The momentum of similar behavior joins with the path of least resistance and you’ll get a future that isn’t very different than where you’ve been. But, change your behavior repeatedly and the path of least resistance changes; the present creates a past that is a foundation for the future. This is really important for everyone to understand but especially people in prison. The brain will actually “rewire” itself to think in a more helpful way. My pen pal and I love that Ireland’s Lora O’Brien teaches that before trying for “second sight” you learn CBT and get your “first sight” clear.
Wyrd also fights any New Age “You create your reality” victim blaming or Western ideas about karma as sin being tallied by God. There’s much bigger Wyrd at work than his. There’s the horrifying history of how the United States has always treated African Americans – It’s got so much momentum, he can’t choose to escape it. The U.S. has a massive prison industrial complex and incarcerates the largest percentage of its citizens of ANY nation. The U.S. is still working with the failed 1980s “War on Drugs” mentality and gives extremely long sentences. In the 1980s, anything that would teach prisoners ways to succeed without crime and addiction was cancelled. Punishment was all that mattered and rehabilitation is no longer the goal. Prisons rely on recidivism to keep the industry strong. Parole officers no longer need social work skills; a large number of them are “tough guys” who failed the police entrance exam. The Wyrd of fatherless children, the life long poverty usually experienced by single mothers, people historically afraid for good reason of social services, the punishment of poor people who have mental illnesses and self medicated, the Puritan nonsense that the individual can do anything if his morality is “good” and bad things happen to bad people so don’t interfere with “God’s plan” by helping anyone – That’s the Wyrd he was born into, just like the Wyrd of his family and community. The question of how much free will do we get is largely based on the randomness of invisible privilege.
Aside from self awareness, artistic inspiration and broadening occult knowledge, Tarot could be a legal way to make some money when released. I worked at everything from Lords of Acid concerts to Planned Parenthood fund raisers. It’s a chance to offer something as a volunteer and meet decent people. As long as prison is hoping for your pen pal to fail in life, any useful skill is greatly appreciated. In many ways, prisoners who were good hustlers have an edge in the “gig economy” – as long as we demand “Ban the Box”* on job applications.
* “Ban the Box” seeks to eliminate the box on job applications asking if you ever were convicted of a felony. If someone has (in some Sadistic way) “paid their debt to society” by eating hi-fructose corn syrup sandwiches trying not to be raped or beaten for 10 years because they were charged with possession of crack cocaine without intent to sell and kicked cold turkey, then why the constant penalties to prevent them from getting a job at Old Navy or Wendy’s?
O’Brien, Lora, A Practical Guide to Irish Spirituality (Sli Aon Dhraoi). Wolfpack Publishers (2012)