Inmates got scared out of a Ouija Board

   A circle of inmates set an Ouija Board on the floor and gathered around.  They leaned in and together prayed to the devil.  At one point, inmates said they lightly placed their fingers on the board and called up the spirit of a woman. 
They asked the spirit how she died and followed the message indicator around the hand-crafted board as it spelled out I was murdered.  They asked how, and then watched the indicator move letter to letter spelling out, investigate.  The inmates were spooked but the game wasn’t over. 
According to  Santa Clara  County  jail officials, the inmates went from asking a few questions to praying to Satan to—three of them screaming out loud after they thought they were possessed by demons.  The bizarre situation became so intense jail officials said, the correctional officers called in a priest who, one by one, blessed twenty-nine prisoners as he sprinkled them and then, the group’s dormitory with holy water.  We have never had anything like this occur here, said Brian Paretti, County Department of Correction spokesman. 
The Ouija Board, a plain board with the alphabet and words, yes, no, and good-bye, printed on it, is said to have been around in some variations for hundreds of years.  Some sit down to the board out of curiosity, others seek spiritualistic or telepathic messages.  The jail inmates, all documented gang members, said they spent an entire night earlier this month crafting the board.  They used the underside of a scrabble game as the base, fancily penciled in the alphabet and shaped a piece of cardboard into a tear drop to use as the message indicator which, according to superstition, mysteriously moves from letter to letter spelling out messages after a question is asked.  On three separate nights four to five inmates gathered at one time in the bathroom.  It’s the darkest place in the dorm with just a flicker shining in from afar. 
Before long, inmate Isaiah Valaskas, twenty-one, said he and others thought they felt a presence in the bathroom.  They asked the board if anyone was in there and the teardrop began spinning uncontrollably, he said.  Everyone bolted!  When they went back in, Marcos Vasquez said he looked at the board on the floor, and then turned to face the others.  I felt cold and bigger, the twenty-six year old said.  I was filled with anger and talked in this deeper voice I had never had.  Inmates thought Vasquez was acting but the drama continued. 
By the third day, three inmates, including Vasquez, feared they were possessed.  They tore up the board and threw it away.  But, on the morning of August 5, two correctional officers, who never saw the inmates toying with the Ouija Board, said they heard screams coming from the inmates’ dorm.  They went inside and confronted a chaotic scene in which inmates were crying and flailing their arms.  Paretti, the corrections spokesman, said officers soon realized the inmates seriously believed they were possessed. 
After interviewing all the inmates involved, jail officials said they don’t believe the fear was feigned.  They called a priest away from his other prayer duties and asked that he bless and counsel the inmates.  The clergyman spent two days counseling the three inmates most overpowered by fear. 
Marylou Etter, who has been Director of Detention Ministry of the Diocese of San Jose for about fifteen years, said this is the first time she has heard of the county’s jail inmates using an Ouija Board.  But it’s not unusual, she said, for some to pray to the devil.  She said she counseled one woman who contemplated praying to Satan because someone told her it could get her out of jail faster. 
Some of the incarcerated have asked to see a minister after claiming to have seen dead loved ones.  Others Etter said, want ministers to cleanse their cell after seeing or hearing their cell mates pray to Satan, but in all her years of working inside of jails and juvenile halls, this is the only Ouija Board. 
Most of the inmates involved were probably overcome by guilt, she said.  They were doing something they weren’t supposed to Etter said, and they were probably fearful of what they might have done.  Some did have a religious turnabout.  Vasquez said he was raised Christian and before this incident, sort of believed in God.  Now, there is no “sort of” about it, this was a sign to believe. 
Both Vasquez and Valaskas are awaiting completion of their trials.  Vasquez is jailed on charges of being under the influence of drugs and willful harm, injury or endangerment to a child and a parole violation.  Valaskas faces charges of spousal abuse, false imprisonment and parole violation.  According to an internal memo about the incident, the priest told jail administrators one thing he neglected to tell the inmates. 
The Catholic Church doesn’t believe a person can become possessed through use of a Ouija Board.  Etter declined to say whether she believed the board could evoke spirits.  It’s not for me to say whether they are or are not possessed.  We need to honor whatever people think is going on with themselves, Etter said.  The board, she added, goes into the same grouping as Tarot cards and fortune tellers; it’s nothing to play with.  Vasquez is now taking that advice seriously. 
The inmate who has tattoos that run up his arms and cover his chest and neck said last week that he was counseled twice and still has a hard time sleeping.  He still can’t explain what came over him but said one thing’s certain, he’s never touching a Ouija Board again.

(From the Orange County Register, August 2000)

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