A Story from Kirkconnell - August 2023
Often in talking with Custodial Officers in the Compound Office, they’ll ask something like “Why do you bother with those inmates?” And it calls for quick thinking and discernment as you try to see the situation from a Gospel perspective. Hopefully guided by the Holy Spirit, you assess whether the question is more of a jibe than a genuine one. If it’s the former, you kind of have to almost ignore it. But if it’s not so loud or jovial, it can lead to an eternally significant conversation.
One particular example is when I was dealing with all the necessary security protocols ready to take an inmate out on day leave. These are inmates who have been incarcerated for a long time and so as they approach their parole release date, having earned a degree of trust from years of good behaviour, the idea is to help them ‘deinstitutionalise’ when taken out by a sponsor for the day (usually a family or close friend). This is so that they get used to the outside world and coming to terms with all the massive changes.
Unfortunately, some have no family or friend options, either because of distance, or more often, because of the nature of their crimes, their family and friends have rejected them. This is a really good opportunity as a Chaplain to get alongside an inmate for a sustained length of time and have meaningful conversations away from the rut of gaol.
The Custodial Officer on this particular day commented, “You’re a better man than me. I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t stand spending a day with inmates like that guy.” To which I responded… “Got to practice what I preach.”
“… because of the nature of their crimes, their family and friends have rejected them.”
And this officer was open to an explanation, how I too find it hard when I know the inmate’s crime, particularly if it’s a serious child sex offence or brutal murder. I have young grandchildren and would more than hate for anything like that to happen to them. But it’s funny how we don’t seem as repulsed by drug pushing related crimes, when just as much damage can be done to innocent lives?
I quickly was able to affirm the Christian message that anyone can be forgiven no matter what they have done, if they have sincerely taken it to Jesus. It’s uncanny how you then start to see the good in that person flourish, a smidgeon of the image of God when they do. All of a sudden, the repulsive offence is not so front and centre, bearing testimony to God’s word that:
My prayer is for officers like this, (and you and I), to see our own need for forgiveness, and that we don’t hide behind the sins of others – a kind of ‘spiritual reverse tall poppy syndrome.’ We easily lap up the media when they expose the shortcomings of those who have been extremely successful or have looked good in the past, so that we feel better about ourselves, to feel that we are not so mediocre or hopeless after all. When thinking of an inmate’s serious offence, it’s easy to think we’re not so bad (and therefore don’t need Jesus and His forgiveness), and that we’re doing OK because they are so bad.