“When speaking of God’s children, not the children of men, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you;”
~ Mary Baker Eddy
~ excerpts from Andrea McCorick’s article written for the CSICNY Newsletter
From Mrs. Eddy’s time forward, institutional work spread across the United States throughout the century. A young, class-taught Christian Scientist from San Francisco was a particularly outstanding example of the dedication and success of the early days of this work. Julian Alco believed there was good in everyone, that there was no such thing as a hardened criminal – that criminality was a learned behavior and not man’s true nature. He was the perfect candidate to serve in the prisons.
From 1916 to the late 1940s, Julian Alco was engaged in institutional work on a level that few, if any, of us has ever achieved.
“As Warden, my job was to discipline; but I realized the impossible task of trying to make a really bad man good. It was much easier to make a good man know that he never really had to be bad. If I estimated Red Jarvis as the man that he could be, and in truth was, it was easier to follow up the admonition to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ That did not mean to love your neighbor as a bad man, but rather to love him as the best you knew God had made him to be. I found the saying true that people measure up to your silent estimate of them.”
In 1916, Julian was asked by his church in San Francisco to serve in San Quentin Prison. When he accepted this opportunity, he had no idea where it would lead, nor the enormous impact it would have on his life, and the lives of thousands of others. There was no Golden Gate Bridge back in the early 1900s, so, Julian took a ferry from San Francisco, and then a train ride, and then walked over a mile to get to the prison. I know, in New York City, people devote hours to get to and from the prisons, so they can relate to his sacrifice and devotion.
On his first day at the prison, the Warden told Julian they had all the Chaplains that were needed and he would not allow Julian to conduct services nor meet with any prisoners. In spite of this, Julian continued to make the trip to the east gate of San Quentin every Saturday. He would sit on a bench outside the prison and prayerfully work for the prisoners, and speak to their family members who were also waiting.
Julian persevered every Saturday for a year and a half, until admitted… thinking how can I help prisoners get out of prison, if I can’t pray my way in?” And then one day, a convict who had indicated his religious preference to be Christian Science, and who was awaiting execution, asked that his last spiritual counsel be from a Christian Scientist if at all possible. That simple request changed the course of history.
The Captain of the Guard and the Warden both remembered the crazy person who called himself a Christian Scientist who sat on the outside of the prison every Saturday, while all the other chaplains were admitted. They decided that having Julian confined with the condemned man the night before his execution, and walking him to the gallows the next day, would surely result in this religious worker never bothering them again. So they said yes, and allowed Julian to spend the night with him.
The quality of the time spent with the convict, his calm state of mind, lack of emotionalism, and final walk up the steps to the gallows the next day so impressed the Warden and Captain of the Guard that they told the Christian Science worker that he could come inside the prison from that moment on and do the job he had so patiently been waiting to do. What they didn’t know was that they had admitted not just a man into their prison system, but also the transformative power of the Christ. San Quentin was over-crowded at that time and was the largest prison in the country with 6,000 prisoners.
Julian served faithfully as a Chaplain at San Quentin every Saturday for the next five years. Although he resigned to become a Journal-listed practitioner, he wasn’t finished with his life’s work devoted to aiding the prisoners. He crafted an ingenious Assembly Bill, which was passed in 1923 by the CA State Legislature, resulting in major changes to the Prison Road Camps in CA. It was named after him and called the Alco Plan.
This plan motivated inmates to qualify to do service outside the prison walls and to earn money for a savings account available to them after release. A good-time allowance was built into the program whereby each worker’s sentence was reduced by one day for every two days worked. Julian called this service an “Honor Camp”. He knew their innate character to be honorable, and this program gave them the opportunity to prove it. Prisoners clamored for admittance into the program.
In 1937, The Christian Science Monitor wrote an article about Mr. Alco and his prison reform. The headline read:“California Builds Highways to Re-Build Men. Prison labor camps set example to world in convict rehabilitation: men paid daily wages, work without armed guard, or within walls of confinement.”
The Alco Plan was considered a great success, and the news of it spread throughout the world. Julian received invitations from foreign governments inviting him to inspect their prisons and make recommendations for reform. Just think if he had given up on trying to get into San Quentin after a month, or two months or even three months. No one would have faulted him after such a noble attempt.
But when we are obeying the two great commandments, loving God and loving our fellow man, nothing can keep us from our destiny. Mrs. Eddy says, “Such is the sword of Science, with which Truth decapitates error, materiality giving place to man’s higher individuality and destiny.” (p.266:2)
Julian was invited to the Far East, France, England, Spain, Greece, Russia and Yugoslavia. As a result of getting the road bill passed, CA Governor Richardson appointed Julian to be a Director of the CA State Board of Prisons and a member of the Terms and Parole Board. The Mother Church made an exception and allowed Julian to remain as a Journal-listed practitioner while serving as Director of the State Board of Prisons for California.
In keeping with the requirements for a practitioner, Julian accepted no money for the position. One day in 1935, Julian was led to make a wise decision. Instead of attending a luncheon meeting with several high prison officials at the Warden’s home at San Quentin, he chose to attend the Wednesday noon testimony meeting at a Christian Science Church, and arrived after lunch for the business portion of the meeting.
Unbeknownst to prison officials who were at the luncheon, a number of prisoners were hiding in the Warden’s basement and planned to escape by taking the Warden, and other members at the lunch, hostage. They succeeded and left the Warden beaten with a pistol on the ground. They fled in a stolen car with the other members as hostages. Julian was spared this trauma, and more importantly, was the only official who had not been captured and thus could do something about getting all of the prisoners and hostages safely back.
All the hostages were returned safely and all the prisoners captured. During the Warden’s recovery period, Julian was appointed Temporary Warden of San Quentin Prison. Just think – a Journal listed practitioner as the Warden of the largest prison in the United States! We can’t possibly orchestrate these things ourselves. Only unrelenting faith such as Joseph had in the Bible and Julian had in this instance, will pave the way for such opportunities.
Julian saw each of these prisoners as children of God, and as such, treated them with great respect. He did everything he could in prison and out of prison to help these men and women get on their feet. Once prisoners were released, Julian got businesses in the community to offer coupons for free food and free lodging that the prisoners could use until they could care for themselves.
Julian constantly helped prisoners offering odd jobs to work around his home, painting, doing repairs, any excuse to pay the former convicts a fair wage. Clearly this man saw himself, along with each of these men, in the Kingdom of Heaven. His work blessed not only San Quentin, but also inspired and changed the way prison systems around the world thought about the worth of incarcerated individuals.