i spent yesterday afternoon at MAP – the Melbourne Assessment Prison. MAP is in the melbourne cbd. i’ve passed it often and not realised that this innocuous brick building with landscaped edgings is a prison. this is the place where the men who are in the court processes wait… those on remand wait for their court cases, those who have been convicted wait for sentencing, those who have been sentenced wait to find out which prison they will be doing their time in.

for some the wait is short – ten days or so – for some it’s months.
there’s a different atmosphere in MAP to the other prisons. In the other prisons, there’s absolute certainty about the next years – which, of course, causes its own issues. In MAP there’s the anxiety of a completely unknown future – of there being numerous possible outcomes, and of those outcomes depending completely on other people.
there were about 8 men at worship yesterday. they were a curious bunch, mostly men who had been part of the church in their childhood – but they weren’t at worship out of nostalgia, or even out of some desperation for hope (at least visibly), they were just there to worship like any group of people who gathered on sunday to worship in melbourne. they were deep thinkers. they wanted to question every nuance of the bible passages, but they were questioning them from a perspective of faith. i was reminded of the theology that pete rollins talks about in How (not) to speak of God – it makes sense here.

robbie and i talked for a long time after worship. he wanted to know what was happening on the outside. i talked about news stuff, but he knew that already from reading the newspapers. it was when i said, in desperation to offer something interesting, “the trees are all losing their leaves” that he smiled and said, “I haven’t seen a tree for six months. that’s what i want to know”. so we talked about how i have two parrots who have taken up residence in the tree out the front of my apartment, how the fruit bats fly over my house at night, how we’re about to have further water restrictions, and how much petrol costs. in MAP, every conversation is about appeals, solicitors, musters; every conversation is intense. a “normal” conversation offers some promise for a future where petrol prices will matter again.

“toby” also hung around for a while. he’s up for sentencing on tuesday. i recognised his crime from the newspapers – drug related stupidity. it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be sentenced, but i wonder how that will cure a 15 year drug lifestyle. he’s clean at the moment, but he’s really scared he doesn’t have what it takes to stay clean. he’s so frightened about the future, he hates where his life has got to, but change will take so much than an act of will. his story very closely mirrors that of someone in my family. it’s confronting to be faced with it from another perspective, and to feel unbidden and (i confess) unfamiliar compassion.
i’m going back in a couple of weeks to spend some time with those living in the psych unit. this afternoon the prison chaplains coordinator and i are going to plan worship for the opening of a worship centre in another of the prisons. this is beginning to be the major part of my work. i quite like that.


  1. angry young thing

    I am loving your writings about worship in prison!

    I identify a lot with some of the feelings you touch on (and probably imagine a lot too based on my own experience.)

    My worship community is currently a drug rehabilitation centre in New Delhi India, prior to that it was the

  2. Cheryl

    not that eloquent? this is fabulous stuff… thanks for taking the time to write it…

    i’ve been contemplating today how jesus didn’t tell us to go and visit the prisoner to take him to them, but to find him in them…

  3. angry young thing

    It is true, Christ is certainly to be found in the prisoner (drug abuser, broken person

  4. Cheryl


    it\’s when talking to a paedophile that all my theology and idealism crumbles. still.

    for me, part of the reality about meeting Jesus in the prisoner is that it forcees me to recognise that all i think i know about jesus – my urban, liberal, pc theology – is woefully inadequate. my theology gets stripped back, and i recognise that my human understanding of justice and mercy are not enough. that actually no human understanding of justice and mercy can be enough. that\’s why we have to meet Jesus there – to recognise the limitations of our understanding of God, and our absolute dependence on God. (God, rid me of God, as Meister Eckhart / Pete Rollins would say)

    (does that make sense? i don\’t think i\’ve found the right words to explain this yet)

    i think my failing is that i don\’t seem to have the brain capacity to hold all the truths about someone in tension with each other, i keep lapsing into dichotomies – someone can\’t be bad if they\’re good; somone can\’t be powerless if they have power – but i\’ve learnt they\’re false dichotomies.

    it just occurred to me that\’s why jesus\’ imperative to love is not in response to any behaviour. it\’s just to love. there are other things in the equation of human relationships – seeing justice done, offering mercy and compassion, holding to account, etc.. love is separate to, and beyond, all of those, though. Each of those things are in response to an action. Love is not in response to anything, it just is. so love, justice and mercy aren\’t equal, in a sense. we love, and in the middle of the loving we do justice and mercy. (i\’m not sure if i agree with that, yet, just putting it up there to see how it tastes!).

    so yes we weep with the crack addict, but we also hold them to account because they have done unspeakable wrong. and we do both out of love. and we have to do both together. and to do that takes some kind of divine help, because it\’s well and truly beyond our human capacity. and there will be times i simply can\’t do it – but thank god god can.

    i really hesitate to write all this, because i\’m scared of doing an injustice to the people for whom this is their whole life – both the prisoners and the crack addicts, and the people they have hurt so very badly. and i still haven\’t worked it out in my head. tell me what you think…

  5. angry young thing

    Ok, this is becoming a thinking out loud space. We

  6. Cheryl

    I think I agree with all of what you say, especially about the reducing the prisoner

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