It’s been almost a year since I’ve been in Port Phillip prison. It was both lovely and terrible to walk in and pick up conversations with some of the men right where we left off last Christmas day… to hear them talk about we what did last christmas, to see the return of some who left a few years ago and didn’t quite make it on the outside.
I have the feeling this will be the hardest year we’ve done. The make-up of the unit is completely different to the last few years. There’s been a big changeover of population in the unit and the whole feel of the place is different. In my notes last night I wrote down that we need to use language we’d use with 6 year olds. Which is tricky of course – there’s not much language i’d use with 6 year olds that makes sense of the most complex human and theological issues that we can grapple with. Though i guess there’s not much language i’d use with 36 year olds that makes sense of that either… The group also seem to be mostly non-readers, and very concrete thinkers [most are on medication that would make it difficult to hold a thought for more than a sentence]. And among them they’re dealing with massive issues: the illnesses of people they love, who they quite probably won’t see again; the vagaries of a welfare system that means post-release housing is oppressively hard to come by; the breakups of their most significant relationships; the movable feast of truth and justice… All of those practical issues are tangled with shame and grief and fear and anger. The group seem more vulnerable this year. I certainly felt more vulnerable alongside them.
Funny, with all of that, how it seems so right to be back there. It’s good to be taken beyond myself; and very good to be with those so desperate for hope that they won’t let me give up on it.