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.