I was back at the prison today – the Marlborough Unit in Pt Philip, [maximum security, men with intellectual disabilities]. I was last there in February when we were writing statements of faith. Today we were writing psalms of lament.

There were two men who came to worship today, Phil and Alf. A couple of regulars weren’t well, and another – Cory – has been released [please may the world treat him well…].

Ross, the chaplain, and I spent half an hour or so wandering around the unit before worship. There’s a nasty cold going through the unit, and a glumness that might be just as infectious. It was one of those weeks where things generally weren’t going the men’s way. There’d been fights – with parole boards and each other. There were the usual stories about the immovable, unrelenting bureaucracy that sucks life and hope out of people. i’ve heard so many of these stories – each of them a breathtaking example of how an individual must never, ever be reduced to a system – that i’m in danger of becoming inured. i’m no longer surprised [is that the first sign that the system is winning?].

i’d spent this morning preparing for the prison, and it had occurred to me, again, that this was a completely mad idea. it wasn’t just the idea of us creating poetic writing – which in itself is a tricky process with any group of people. I was also aware that this could come dangerously close to manipulation – with any other group i would let psalms of lament end where they ended. if there was hope, so be it. if not, that’s reality. could we do that with this group? What if we ended up in a really black place? the idea of that felt cruel and dangerous, but the idea of artificially tacking hope onto the end seemed completely manipulative. i still don’t know what i would have done if that had been the result.

In the end i decided to use a page of sentence starters, adapted from a list in Ralph McGinnis’ book, Writing the Sacred. i wasn’t sure whether to write the psalm/s together or separately. Alf, who’d sat there looking quite blank, disinterested and distant as i’d started things off, decided for me. He got his piece of paper and started writing furiously. Phil, who’d been talking passionately to Ross and I for the previous 45 minutes, froze up completely. He and I wrote his together. We added the lines in the middle to give some rhythm.

Alf and Phil were really keen for me to put their psalms up here. they were so proud of them [i am too! ridiculously so]. They’re not pretty or poetic, but they’re absolutely from the heart. I’m going to type these up, put an image behind them, and give them to them next week when we’ll be writing psalms of hope – and the week after, psalms of boredom, as inspired by Steve’s. i made that suggestion flippantly today, and they loved the idea… i can’t take in a copy of the qt file, but i can take in some printed images from it. i’ll see if that works…

Anyway, here they are: Psalms 151 and 152.

I am troubled by evil, my life is changed. Why do they sin against us?

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

It hurts me to admit Lord that they have hurt me in my troubled time, that others haven’t forgiven me. Lord please unlock all my secrets of my desperate life.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

I despair for the world. I wish I could save the world and that every heart would be opened.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

In my silence, I cry for justice Lord. Everybody deserves a second chance.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

I still love you God and I will be there.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

If only I could see God in the skies

then God would be in my world forever.


I am troubled Lord.

I do not know when I am getting out of here. The promises they tell me aren’t the truth.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

It hurts me to admit that I do not know what’s going to happen.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

I despair for my children, that I cannot be the father I want to be.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.
In my silence I cry for my nana who will die soon. I will not see her before she dies.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

I am distressed and upset. I want to turn back time so that I wouldn’t do the crime and be in here.

I wait for God’s voice in the darkness.

I can change my ways, God. Give me the strength to keep trying.


  1. Jen

    Cheryl – these are amazing. PLease thank Phil and Alf for letting you share them with us

  2. Thank you for this and for going to that dark place and sitting with them in their lament. This is beautifully horrible. So painful and yet so life-giving.

    I echo Jen where she said “please tell them thank you” – let them know that those Psalms had more life in them for me than those written eons ago. I am grateful.

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