Prison

I am in and out of prisons. Category A top security prisons typically house murderers, sex offenders or terrorists detained without charge. In order to get into this Category A prison I have to send personal data in advance, provide photo ID, discard all items such as phones and keys, be strip searched - and have my finger prints checked. Aye, there's the rub. I had rubbed cream on my skin because of an ailment. This marred my finger prints. They try once, twice, many times. Eventually my very own unique finger prints show up on their screen. After thirty minutes I am ushered through the first locked security door and then through the next and the next and the next.

I arrive at the chaplains' centre. On a board I note that there are chaplains for Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Pagans, Quakers, Rastafarians - you name it. But I meet the Roman Catholic and Church of England chaplains, plus a marvellous team of volunteers who talk one-to-one with prisoners over coffee after the church services.

I preside at Holy Communion and give the talk at the first service for main-line prisoners and at the second for vulnerable prisoners (who are in danger of being beaten up by the first). I tell them of the Advent Hope that when familiar frameworks disintegrate the Power of Divine Possibility is released, of my experience of this and of The Community of Aidan and Hilda, of Aidan pouring oil on troubled waters and of Hilda releasing the song locked up in the self-despising cowherd's heart. They clap. One young man says this spoke to his heart. How can he follow the CA&H Way of Life? By a miracle his chaplain - who alone could relate to this prisoner - is a CA&H Explorer. The prisoner is now able to read a daily reflection from 'Waymarks for the Journey' and say our prayers four times a day.

I spend a Saturday in another, this time Category C, prison. This means prisoners may be released. The Prison Fellowship's restorative justice course, The Sycamore Tree, ends with some prisoners making apologies which are witnessed by people like me from the outside world. The prison governor says it is the best course in the prison. We wipe away tears as some read poems or letters, and others had invited the course leader to read theirs anonymously. There is no doubt that a significant number of prisoners have become more aware of the repercussions of their actions. I believe the entire prison service needs to be re-geared towards restorative justice programmes. Later the course leaders, Avril and Tom, who are CA&H members, join the Catholic and Pentecostal chaplains (inter-faith manager in current speak) for a curry meal where we swap great stories.

Posted at 00:15am on 2nd December 2015
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