Dorine Phelps’s Legacy to Narcotics Anonymous




This article is written in the spirit of N.A. Step Seven, “God often works through those who care enough about recovery to help make us aware of our shortcomings.” Sometimes we immature addicts get stuck in an emotional state-of-mind of the triangle of self-obsession – resentment – anger - fear. We make fools of ourselves without even knowing it, by standing up and fighting for non-existing virtues without knowing all the facts. Okay, okay, that’s another story. For example: Why are we being asked to do such a thing? Who started verification of addicts’ attendance in Narcotics Anonymous meetings? What was the purpose for this request?  What is the back ground information? If you keep an open mind and are willing to spare a few minutes of your precious time, let’s try to answer these questions together. 

Dorine Phelps was one of us. She was an addict who never went through a drug treatment facility. She started trying to get clean without a recovery program in June of 1968. Finally in 1978 she was able to get clean and stay clean for 33 years until she took her last breath December 15, 2011. Dorine is known as the woman who brought Narcotics Anonymous to D.C.  But few addicts know her as the addict who single-handedly brought the idea of “A second chance for us addicts who were habitual drug-related offenders” to the attention of the legal community in the 1970s. 

Dorine Phelps was also a Federal Law Enforcement Probation Officer in the Department of Justice, located in Washington, D.C.  We heard her share many times how around 1975, she met with Federal Court Judges in our Nation’s capital, advocating for the treatment of us drug addicts rather than warehousing us for decades in Federal prisons for drug-related crimes. She would say “‘Stead of lockin’ em up, why don’t you clean ‘em up?” After deep thought and many debates, the Federal judges gave in and started considering Dorine’s brilliant idea. 

Earlier, Dorine had attended her first Drug Meeting at the local Veterans Administration Hospital. There she got her hands on “The Little White Book” and read about Jimmy Kinnon.  She called Jimmy K., who personally answered the phone, and registered the first Narcotics Anonymous Meeting in Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland and surrounding areas. She said “Hell, Jimmy K. acted like he didn’t even care I was Black.” She talked to him on several occasions. He told her exactly how to start that NA meeting. He even sent her a Meeting Starter Kit. He taught her what the NA 12 Steps meant and how to live them in her life. She taught us what Jimmy Kinnon taught her. Okay, okay, that’s another story.     

The “Why We Don’t Verify Attendance Documents” information pamphlet seems to be based on NA Tradition Six, “We are not connected to any political, religious, or law enforcement groups and are under no surveillance at any time.” If you take the time to read Tradition Six entirely, it also states, “Our relationship with them is one of cooperation, not affiliation.” 

What about Tradition Four’s protection of Group Autonomy? When the groups unite together as one collective body, group autonomy no longer exists. The autonomy of our groups is necessary for our survival as a Fellowship. Are Group Conscience and Group Consensus the same thing? Group Conscience is based on NA Tradition Two, while Group Consensus is based on the NAWS Concept Six. The NAWS Group Consensus concept happens when groups come together as One Body. The Administrator presents an agenda of questions, each group representative votes according to their Group Conscience, and the majority rules. The other groups are forced to go against, and ignore, God’s will for their groups.

This results in NAWS Concept Six, unanimity and uniformity, which destroys the unity as it is expressed in NA Tradition One. This is actually not spiritual because it is in conflict and direct contradiction to Tradition Two and Tradition Four. At this point, a home group is subject to being ruled and controlled by other groups, instead of being led by the one ultimate authority as it expresses itself in that group’s conscience.

One group does not have the RIGHT to rule, dictate, censor, decide, direct, govern and control another group or groups, because each group is self-governing. Is this true Group Autonomy when a home Group Conscience is taken outside of the group and it becomes a NAWS Group Consensus? In this scenario, the majority rules and the individual group is no longer under the guidance of a loving God. At this point, the opposing home groups are being ruled, dictated, censored, dominated, governed and controlled by other NA groups. Is that what Group Autonomy is all about?    

The NA Twelve Traditions encourage creative freedom to each individual group, to utilize our own Group Conscience to create and maintain the atmosphere of recovery in our home group. The Group Conscience aids our group when doing our group financial business, making our group decisions, and carrying out our group meeting’s personal style of our N.A. message to recovering addicts, still suffering addicts, and newcomer addicts, alike. However, it is never a good idea to encourage individual groups to usurp the power and authority to rule, censor, decide, dominate, or dictate to another group in our N.A. Fellowship.

Why? Because responsibility without power is ineffective and unhealthy for the group. Each of us in our home group has the right and responsibility to create an atmosphere of recovery of our own choice. The atmosphere of recovery happens when two or more addicts come together and honestly share our experiences of how we stay clean. It is our most valued asset because without it, we do not recover. In NA Step Two we experienced a personal conscious contact. NA Tradition Two concerns us addicts’ use of our personal conscious contact to reach a Group Conscience for effective, healthy decision-making. On the other hand, NAWS Concept Six also speaks of a collective conscience or collective wisdom on a Fellowship level. 

This NAWS collective conscience is not supported by any of our Narcotics Anonymous principles in the Twelve Steps or in the Twelve Traditions. Why? Because all N.A. groups are autonomous. Our groups are completely self-governing depending upon God-powered leadership. Autonomy protects and ensures that our group will be able to carry our style of the NA message in an effective and healthy manner - that an addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use again, and can find –not a sick emotional way – but can find a new spiritual way to live.

Dorine went back before those Federal judges with her NA Meeting Starter Kit, which came all the way from California. After months of Dorine’s relentless rebuttals and debates, the judges reluctantly agreed to temporary NA meetings on a trial basis. She was assigned a large room “as an addict” and was given the keys for our first 7-day a week NA Meeting Hall. Now that was a true miracle! Can you imagine, a convicted criminal, repeat offender, dope fiend junkie who was just like us being given the keys to a Federal Court House?  Go figure. Okay, okay, that’s another story. Almost five decades later, the Courthouse Meeting is still in existence, even though it has been relocated across the street from its original location. 

The federal prisoners were released on probation instead of being expedited to Federal prisons.  The only request made by the Federal Court Judges was that the attendance of us addicts at these recovery meetings be documented in writing. Thus, the signing of the meeting attendance slips. Twenty years in Federal Prison for drug-related crimes vs going to an NA Meeting - that does not seem like an unreasonable request, to a sane and reasonable person in the Spirit of cooperation, not affiliation. Does it? 

Dorine’s idea started on the Federal level at only one meeting location. Over 46 years later we addicts are still being given a second chance on all Federal, State, County, and Local court levels, as well. Her idea has spread from only one meeting place to millions of meetings throughout the entire United States and many other countries. Obviously, what she started back then is still working today. Take a look at the evidence in our meetings for yourself. Many addicts who were forced to come to NA by the courts are still coming to meetings and have been able to stay stopped for more than 10 - 20 - 30 - 40 years. Clean-time evidence speaks for itself.   

Our Fellowship is not some religious “like-minded” cult. Our strength lies in the diversity of our many members. Okay, okay, okay that’s definitely another story for another time. Alright, Dorine Phelps is no longer here with us in her physical body. However, in spite of this, why can’t we just let each individual addict review the facts and decide for themselves whether or not to accept Dorine’s gift and the legacy that she has left behind for all of us in the Narcotics Anonymous Fellowship? 

In Loving Service,

Antoinette B.

CD: 1/25/82




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