November 28, 1943 is a little-known landmark day in A.A. history. Bill W. himself was the guest speaker at an A.A. meeting held in California’s then notorious San Quentin Penitentiary. The famous warden, Clinton Duffy, had allowed the first A.A. meeting to be held at that prison in 1942, and Bill was anxious to observe the progress of this unprecedented step.
“There were formidable problems to solve,” Bill wrote later, “but Warden Duffy took them, and his faith was justified.” The fact that the majority of criminal acts committed in North America occur after the perpetrator has been drinking (usually heavily) is reason enough for the fact that A.A. meetings in prisons and jails for both men and women are now the rule rather than the exception, not only in the United States and Canada, but around a good deal of the globe. Although he or she may not be inclined to boast about it, a good number of A.A.’s most active members attended their first A.A. meeting while serving time in a jail or prison.
Approximately 500 letters a month arrive at the General Service Office from prisoners who may request literature or ask for information about starting a new group, advice regarding group disputes or help in making contacts with outside A.A. sponsors. Local institutions committees, which have increased in number considerably during the past decade, are often encouraged by correctional officials to bring speakers to prison meetings from outside the walls, especially A.A. members who, at one time or another, have served time themselves. Inmates are almost always grateful for this secondhand taste of a free life and the living reminder of the opportunity for a sobriety that awaits the majority of them, a day at a time, upon parole or release.