Mendocino, CA 95460
By Andrew Scully
The Mendocino Undercurrent
November 11, 2023
The next time you’re in Fort Bragg, be sure to stop down and visit Chris’s Bench, in Noyo Harbor, on the working waterfront of this historic little town. It’s just in front of the small, nondescript building that serves as the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hall in this town on the secluded and majestic Northern California Coast. Hewn out of solid redwood timbers, bolted to a steel frame, the bench was designed and built for sitting and for years of use. It is a gift actually. Designed, built and installed by a team of men at Parlin Fork Work Camp #6, the bench is a gift to honor Chris D., a local woman who has sponsored AA meetings on Sunday afternoons at the Camp for more than 10 years.
Like most AA meeting spaces, the building located at 32341 North Harbor Drive is very plain and does not call attention to itself. Prior to the addition of the bench just recently, there was nothing much to distinguish the building, and no place to sit outside. Now however this beautiful bench – a symbol of friendship and community – provides a place for people to sit. It is a welcome new addition to town, a sanctuary for weary travelers to rest for a bit.
Parlin Fork Conservation Camp #6 is a minimum security prison jointly operated by the California Department of Corrections and the.California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Located on Highway 20, about halfway between the inland town of Willits and coastal Fort Bragg, the primary mission of Parlin Fork Camp #6 is to “provide incarcerated firefighting crews” to support local, state, and federal agencies in emergency response. Inmates also manufacture furniture for state agencies at the facility shop.
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded almost 90 years ago, and most people are familiar with the service outline of that organization: It is a an abstinence-based recovery program centered on service, unity and recovery. Millions of people around the world have found lasting sobriety in AA in community and through service to other alcoholics. The importance of service to others is reinforced in AA’s statement of primary purpose:
“To carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
The means to accomplish this goal are spelled out in the AA Responsibility Statement:
“I am responsible, when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to always be there, and for that, I am responsible.”
Working each day with other alcoholics is a task happily practiced by many, but it seems Chris D. has taken it to heart, and brought service to the next level. For more than 10 years now Chris, often accompanied by her friend Katie S., has spent a good portion of her Sunday getting materials ready, driving up to the camp, and then conducting an AA meeting for some of the inmates, a group of men trying to find a new way. There, for a couple of hours on Sunday these people share stories of struggle and recovery from alcoholism following the AA program.
Over the course of many weeks and years Chris has helped to carry the message to hundreds of Alcoholics in meetings at the Camp, and has gotten to know many of the men that got sober. In meetings and over coffee in the brief fellowship time afterwards, Chris and Katie made an impression on many people, and it was during a conversation over coffee that Chris told the fellows how much she admired the beautifully crafted wood furniture and signs made by work crews at the camp. Although Chris didn’t know it, the seed planted in that conversation germinated and the inmates proposed building a bench in the Camp furniture shop to honor Chris and her good work over many years.
A team of inmates from the Camp designed and built the bench over several weeks earlier this year. And in late August a corrections lieutenant at the Camp contacted Chris and let her know that he was supervising a crew that would soon be on their way to town with a gift.
It turns out that the crew arrived at the Hall early for the installation, and so Chris was surprised and delighted to see the new bench, already there, bright and shiny, as she pulled into the parking lot.
It is a beautiful gift that honors Chris and the AA program, a useful monument and a living testament to service, devotion and friendship.