we’re all in this together

Thanks to Fr Michael O’Brien for the use of the image ‘Jesus laid in the tomb’

I know I keep saying that being in the prison is surreal, but, you know, it really is. Last night when i left the prison I went to meet a friend for a drink, and when he asked what i’d been doing on the weekend i listed the shopping, the garden, the other friend i’d had breakfast with… it took me five minutes to remember that i’d been in the prison, even though it had filled most of that day, and the one before; even though i’d driven straight to the bar from the prison. It’s that disconnected from everything else, that incongruous.

I was reminded this weekend, though, that when you’re in prison, it’s impossible to forget that you’re there. It’s not just the physical reminders [the razor wire, the incessant loud speaker announcements, the bloody musters]; it’s that every story comes back to being inside. Every relationship is defined by separation, loss, grief. Every conversation about the future is clouded with ‘what if’s’ and ‘perhaps’.

We sank into the easter story this weekend – i kept holding my breath, wondering whether we were pushing it all too far and expecting too much, but the women kept coming back for more, and participating above and beyond our expectations. Doing the three days was a great idea, although absolutely exhausting. The attendance was amazing, and the women just kept coming back for the whole weekend. Last year there were 6 at the good friday service – this year there were 45. For some reason this was the right moment to do what we were doing, and they come from nowhere to be there. and they hung around for hours afterwards… we couldn’t get rid of them.

We offered each service in mainstream and then again in one of the protection units [the protection units house those who would be in danger in mainstream]. In protection we had the same four women come to worship all weekend. It was very intimate, and quite terrifying in a sense – i was so aware of the responsibility behind what we were doing. I kept thinking yesterday, as we were talking about Jesus’ presence in hell, ‘i hope we’re right… i hope we’re right…’. What we’re offering is so dangerous if we’re not.

You can always tell when worship has ‘worked’ – it becomes more than what you took into it, more than the sum of its parts. I know that what we prepared was good, but it means absolutely nothing if it doesn’t go beyond that. Each day, though, the worship became a thin space, very raw, really quite beautiful.

The three handouts from the weekend are here:
[i added in the artist credits, where i had them, to put up here – that’s changed the formatting slightly, but you’ll get the idea]
[I wasn’t able to get permission to put Sunday’s image up here, so i stripped it from the pdf -but trust me, it was gorgeous…!]

Thanks so much to the artists whose images we used, especially on saturday – Fr Michael O’Brien, Jan Richardson and Jonny Baker. It’s the first time we’ve relied on images to tell much of the story, and it worked, largely due to the quality of the images themselves. For the vigil we had a number of images printed up largescale and laid on the floor on pieces of black card and the different reflections… the women wrote their prayers onto the card. My favourite: ‘Dear God, we are all in this together. Amen.’… One of the women asked to keep the large copy of Jonny’s photo – she said she wanted it as a reminder that razorwire could be beautiful.

You never forget you’re in prison. As I mentioned in a previous post, we invited women to sign letters to the Nepalese Government and to Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister as part of the Amnesty Stop Violence Against Women campaign. There were a few letters left unsigned at the end. One of the women who’s in for fraud amongst other things, gathered them up in a pile and brought them over to me. ‘I could sign the rest with made up names if you’d like’, she said…


  1. Kel

    we’re all in this together

    what an experience you have had this easter
    how blessed those women are to have you holding space for them

  2. Cool blog. I think your last wee story about the offer to sign the letters with made up names is brilliant. It rings so true for me – prisoners really keen to be kind and helpful and yet bringing their amoral ideas of how to go about it! Guys at “my” jails are constantly offering to get me teaspoons/biscuits/etc – they just want to be helpful!

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