i spent today visiting the Fulham Prison in eastern Victoria – a medium security prison for male offenders. part of this project is to work in the prison system, creating opportunities for worship that takes seriously the relationship between the Gospel and the culture and context of prison (you can read more about this here).
I have only had a fairly limited experience of the prison system, but i understand that my experiences are not out of the norm – it’s a soul destroying example of institutionalism at its worst. to survive the system requires extraordinary resilience. to come out better – for there to be some redemption – requires enormous determination. i wonder why it is, then, that i seem to leave prisons with an irrepressible feeling of hope, and a genuine, perverse, belief in the goodness of humankind?
i met a number of people today who, until now, have only been names and photos in newspapers. i do not want to diminish their crimes (i’ve been a victim of a devastating crime – i am always holding that in tension, especially when i meet people in prison for similar crimes), but the conversations i had with them were a reminder that everyone in prison is more than the story of the crime that has put them there. (i was having a conversation with someone recently, wondering how you talk about the story of the Good Samaritan to people who are the bandits in the hills… today it became clear that you can do it, because they’re not always the bandits in the hills. sometimes they’re the rabbi, sometimes they’re the person near death by the side of the road, sometimes they’re the samaritan…).
i was apprehensive about today. it’s the first time i’ve been in a male prison. there were numerous reasons why i should have been really uncomfortable, but i wasn’t. i was talking with the chaplain, rob, as we were leaving. he and i agreed that our faith makes sense in there. it’s almost a relief to find a place where it works. i feel really priveliged. i don’t know if that makes sense…
there’s much more to say, but it will wait for another day.