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Tuesday, 20 September 2011 12:11

A listening presence in prisons

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‘Prisons are People’ is a sticker on the entrance to the Chaplaincy Office at Long Bay Correctional Centre where I minister three days a week.

The 1,200 people who live within the walls of Long Bay are men who in some cases have made terrible mistakes and some who have even done evil things; but they have already been judged and are being punished and now need someone who will listen to them, someone they can trust, and someone who will treat them with the dignity they deserve. 

A listening, non-judgemental ear is what I can offer them. Sometimes it is simply a ministry of presence. As a Marist Sister I am conscious that the charism of our congregation is lived in this environment to be like Mary.  Staying with the struggle in a non-judgemental way; holding the fragile parts, the hurt and the pain.  Providing a safe place to allow the story to be told and to midwife the emergence of reconciliation, new hope

I work with Father Peter Carroll MSC, who is full-time at Long Bay. We have Masses on Sunday in different areas of the centre and also during the week. During the week I take Holy Communion to those inmates who can’t get to the Sunday services. Often they will approach me to ask for prayer, particularly if they are worried about their chance of parole, or worried about family matters or if a family member has died and they have not been given permission to attend the funeral.

When I did the security training prescribed before beginning this ministry I was told by a Corrective Services Officer that there is an unwritten law in jails that religious women are deeply respected. I have found that to be true. I have experienced little acts of gentlemanly behaviour from men who have done horrific crimes on the “outside” and it has taught me that there is always that spark of potential for good in everyone.