Bringing Humanism to Martin Correctional Institution The Humanist

Martin Correctional Institution (MCI) is home to approximately 1,500 incarcerated males in the Florida Department of Corrections and is situated in Indiantown in western Martin County, just east of Lake Okeechobee in south Florida. The men have been convicted of many different felony crimes that carry a sentence of anywhere from life imprisonment to a year and a day, and a custody level of “close” to “medium” security.

While MCI has been known as “Murder Martin” because of a history of brutal inmate on inmate stabbings, the administration is eager to lose this reputation through enhanced monitoring of gang activity and the initiation of educational, mentoring, Peer-to-Peer, as well as Faith and Character programs. The MCI Chapel has services and classes conducted by a host of religious and twelve- step groups. It also conducts an art program that has brought out the latent graphic talent in many men, and the Gavel Club, an equivalent of Toastmasters in the prison environment. Men learn the finer techniques of oral expression and debate, above all, they learn self-confidence through the ability to successfully express themselves.

As a Humanist Chaplain and Celebrant, I have served as both a staff and volunteer chaplain at MCI and other prison environments for many years. In January of 2023, I was authorized to conduct weekly Humanist Fellowship meetings on Thursday mornings, and I am currently working to form an American Humanist Association (AHA) prison chapter. While the meetings attract men who would definitely identify as humanist, most of the men are just curious what the class is all about. The class engages about eight men per session with at least twenty on the “call-out” list. On Thursday mornings, we compete with dormitory inspections so all the dorms are not released for class at the same time. It’s just part of the prison environment.

I begin each class with the AHA definition of humanism and proceed to discuss how one can live different aspects of the Ten Commitments while in prison and upon release. A topic I work with incarcerated individuals on is: “What does a happy life look like in prison, especially if one has a life or a lengthy sentence?” While it’s definitely not a life one would choose for oneself, one does have control over their response to life conditions. I like to share quotes from people who have triumphed in the face of adversity. I see the quotations as the distillation of a person’s worldview and their tenacity in a few well-crafted words.

I worked in the water and wastewater utility field for 42 years and retired in 2013 as Director of Utilities for a south Florida municipality. During this time, my avocation was Christian ministry, having served as an independent Catholic priest for twenty-seven years until becoming a “card carrying” humanist in 2022. It was while I pursued a Doctor of Divinity degree for seven years that I realized the utter uselessness of supernatural beliefs, choosing to solely focus on leading a kind and ethical life. Once I “came out” as a Humanist, it was important for me to become a Humanist Chaplain through The Humanist Society in order to provide an endorsed affiliation to continue my work in the prison system. I’m also a member of Humanists of the Treasure Coast, a chapter of the AHA.

It is contemplated that the weekly classes will not only create a core community for those men who choose to live a humanist lifestance at MCI, but also to slowly educate the larger MCI population of one’s ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives. By far, this was the major takeaway response of curious men who have come to the classes, learning that to be a humanist, freethinker, atheist, or agnostic doesn’t mean life is just about the individual’s wants, it’s just not about “me, me, me”, but it’s about our connection to all humanity to make good things happen in our world.

While the MCI Chapel library is full of religious texts of all types, there is only a small number of humanist texts. Accordingly, we seek the donation of appropriate humanist books and DVD’s that I can request authorization of prison administration to add to the library. Please contact me at: or 954.278.1926 with any questions or to assist the Humanist Fellowship at Martin Correctional Institution.

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“It’s about our connection to all humanity to make good things happen in our world.”
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