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Thursday, 29 September 2011 12:14

Meditating on forgiveness

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Fr Peter Carroll MSC represented the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life at the international conference for Catholic prisons chaplains in Cameroon held in August this year, which is where the photo on the left was taken.

In March 2010 he participated in an ABC Encounter program called 'Circles of Support', focusing on the spiritual lives of inmates and their hopes for the future. Some excerpts follow:

Presenter, Kerry Stewart: Father Peter Carroll is a priest with the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in the Archdiocese of Sydney. He works mainly at Long Bay Correctional Centre and offers sacramental support at some of the other jails in the metropolitan area.

Peter Carroll: Well there's a guy I know who was in gaol twice. He had two 13-year stints in gaol, with a 12 month break in between, and he left after the second 13 years, he went back to some old friends and they were shooting up in the flat and he thought to himself, 'What am I do here? I'm just going to end up in exactly the same place as I was before.' So he got up at 2 o'clock in the morning and went home. The next day he went out and bought a cat. I said, 'What did you get the cat for?' He said, 'Because I've got to come home to feed the cat, so if I'm coming home to feed the cat, and the cat wants me to feed it, I can't be out there with these people that are shooting up and doing all sorts of things that I don't want to be involved in.' So at least he had a cat. But I mean people deserve more than a cat. They deserve relationships. If people are going to change, you have to have a real relationship. And so if the only thing that somebody's got to go back to is a cat that they purchased at a pet shop, surely Australia can do better than that.

Kerry Stewart: We walked along a dark corridor until we came to the door of the chapel, also locked. Once inside we arranged eight chairs into a circle for the meditation group.

Peter Carroll: So what I've got at the beginning is a CD, and it's from the World Community for Christian Meditation. Laurence Freeman is the speaker, and the title is 'Peace'. So that's just to set the tone, and also the mediators can then pick up that theme and use it for their motivation, or for their intention of the meditation. And then straight after that we have 30 minutes of silence, there are three gongs to indicate the beginning of the silence and then three gongs will indicate the end of the silence.

Kerry Stewart: Have you noticed personal deep change within from doing the practice of meditation? Have you changed the way you think about the world, or the way you behave in the world?

Long Bay Christian meditator: I think I'm more in touch with my own feelings, I'm more in harmony with myself. There's clarity to my thoughts, and I'm thinking about my actions, to benefit myself and others, not to harm others. So I've possibly found balance in my life. There's certain things from my past have caused me to come here, and it overcomes certain stresses and anxieties, and I've had extensive counselling prior to coming here, and it's just a reinforcement of what I've already known. But I look forward to these meditations weekly, and I practice that during the week as well.

Kerry Stewart: Do you? So you take it out of the space and you meditate in your cells, or you meditate in other places?

Long Bay Christian meditator: I suppose like, every morning I pray and read my Bible, but this is better because it's very quiet.

Kerry Stewart: And do you talk to each other about what you've experienced here? Is there communication between you? Because it's a small group, there's only six of you. So do you talk to each other about how you're developing and things you're finding?

Long Bay Christian meditator: Yes, sometimes when I need to talk to somebody, that there are people in this group around that I can lean on and talk to about my faith, and how I'm feeling, and then how to help support me I think more than anything else, it does open you up a little bit to be more open about yourself in front of other people, because you tend not to be sometimes, so it's good that you have a common ground that you can get together and share things with.

Kerry Stewart: When prisoners are released from gaol, change can be difficult for family members and friends. Father Peter Carroll again.

Peter Carroll: Sometimes people go back to the same old routine, the same family, the same circumstances, and if they're changed, sometimes their families I know, have even said to them, 'Well we don't like the new you. You know, we want the old you back, because we know how to deal with that.' And one woman I know, she said she found it so hard, because she couldn't come to terms with the fact that her partner didn't beat her any more. She didn't know how to cope with that, because she at least knew when her partner was hitting her, what was happening and what he was going to be like, but when he stopped hitting her, her life was chaos. She'd been experiencing the trauma of being hit so long that she didn't know how to deal with not being hit.

Peter Carroll: There's one thing I'd like to say about community, is that I think the community sometimes is not ready to forgive people, to take people back, so I think it's very difficult, certainly in our community, and I've been to one community overseas in Fiji. They have a program there called Second Chance, and you can adopt a prisoner before they leave gaol, and welcome them back by establishing a relationship while they're in gaol, whereas so often in the press in Australia I see, the headline is 'Well keep them there, we don't want them back, they're not worth a second chance.' Well I think everybody's worth a second chance, so that's why the church is here, that's what it's about, forgiveness and coming back.

Peter Carroll: There's a lot of individual communities who do adopt, put out a hand to inmates, like St Vincent de Paul, Prison Fellowship, a lot of groups like that come in, and meet with prisoners and establish relationships, you know, visits with prisoners and then when they are released they keep the relationship going.

Kerry Stewart: Does anyone here have a relationship with someone from the outside, from a faith community?

Long Bay Christian meditator: There's a chap that comes in once a month from Prison Fellowship to see me. He and his wife write to me regularly, which is a great support. I was put in touch with him right at the start of my sentence, and he's been able to support me and encourage me right through my sentence time. They're going to support me to some extent when I get out. That's part of the hope that I have for my future release.
Long Bay Christian meditator: I suppose, like, I haven't got the amount of visits that I would like to have had from Christians, but my plan after jail is to be involved in Prison Fellowship, once I'm off parole and then to be visiting or supporting people getting out of gaol, because I know how much it means to have someone there; that's what I'd like to do.

Kerry Stewart: And how about forgiveness? Forgiveness of yourselves for what you've done and having others who may have harmed forgive you, is that important?

Long Bay Christian meditator: Most definitely is. When you reflect on your past and your offences, and you really look at yourself within, you identify all those things, so forgiveness for ourselves is when you've asked the good Lord upstairs, and he's already made his mind up, it's up to us to take their path.
Long Bay Christian meditator: Yes, I think with forgiveness, I know like God forgave me straight away and my family forgave me next, and me's the hardest one to forgive myself for what I did, so it's constantly reminding myself to forgive myself for what I did and to plan for a better future, that doesn't have any offending in it, and to contribute to society again and my family.

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