if there isn’t a god, we need to invent one fast

I went into the prison last night to do worship with the men. All week i’ve had Ben Bell’s image of Mary sitting by my desk. She’s challenged every word I write. It’s been a nice way to work.

Last night I had long conversations with a couple of the men, both of which i’ve been contemplating since. One brought home to me again the complexity of life, and the impossibility of redemption: he’s an older guy, in his early fifties, been in and out of prison for his adult life – the longest stretch out is 2 years 3 months, and this 12 year sentence is his longest stretch in. He’s due for release in a year or so. He’s one of the people I meet in prison who would scare me on the outside – but inside, I’ve had the chance to learn to like him. He sat next to me and we watched the tv for a while. We talked a bit about the week, and after a while he said, It’s killing me in here. It’s doing my head in. I asked what it was that did that – it’s the grind of the every day, he said. It’s the same, for the whole of my life. I can’t wait to be out of here. I asked him what he planned to do when he got out, and he talked about the bender he was planning to go on, and then about the safe he was going to rob. He caught my look, and answered it: crime’s the only thing I know how to do, he said. To which I replied with the obvious truth: but you’re no good at crime, you keep getting caught. And as I said it, i realised the deeper truth. This is home, he said, confirming it. I don’t belong anywhere else.

If the impossibility of his life isn’t enough to make you cry when you’re driving home down Bell Street, I don’t know what would.


  1. oh my, his story does move one to tears. thank you for sharing the stories of the unseen forgotten people in our prisons. we’ve been exploring the story of Christmas in our Esther Project spaces through Advent, and have wondered who some of the characters might ‘be’ in our time – mary, the shepherds. Because I read the stories you share, Cheryl, I had in my mind those in prison as like the shepherds – the lowly, forgotten, unclean, unseen people in / on the edge of our communities … has been a powerful exercise of imagination, and I thank you for helping us into this imagining.

  2. It’s the worst kind of heartbreak, realizing the price some pay for brokenness.

    Grateful for every little bit of redemption…

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