About 14 years ago I joined the Catholic group that visits Mt Eden prison every second and fifth Sunday. I knew little about the work of this ministry but I did feel a strong urge to be part of it. This feeling was strengthened by the words of Jesus (Mt25:36) “………………. I was in prison, and you came to see me”
Prison visiting is an ecumenical ministry coordinated by the prison chaplains and facilitated by the Corrections Officers. The officers are welcoming and at times will join in the services.
The visits do require patience as they always include security checks and waiting in safe assembly areas until the cell block to which you are assigned is ready to receive your group. This does give the opportunity to meet with the groups from other churches. Before we go to our assigned cell blocks the Chaplain leads the groups in prayer.
Our group shares the three readings for that particular Sunday, gives a reflection on the readings, sings hymns and prays with the prisoners. The reflection is normally given by our group leader Jason Diack.
The prisoners seem happy to welcome us into their place and usually participate well in the service. The Chaplains tell us that the staff say there is a better feeling among the prisoners after a visit.
It is a great privilege to join with the prisoners as they pray. In their prayers you can often hear the suffering caused by the separation from their families and friends and their deep concern for the safety and wellbeing of their wives and children. At times they will pray for forgiveness for what they have done and you join with them in the hope that they will be able to change their lives.
I am not sure what our visits actually achieve for the prisoners in the long term. Prison is not a good place for a man to be and the prisoners are not saints, but then, nor are most of us.
I like to hope, that at the very at least, for some of the prisoners our visits bring the following:
- At least, for a brief moment in time, God’s Word gives them hope and belief that Jesus loves them no matter what.
- A sense they are not forgotten – that someone from society still believes they have worth (this is based on their feedback)
- That in a fairly joyless environment the singing brings them joy
For ourselves we are blessed to be called to do this work. We are given the grace, more and more, to see all prisoners as our brothers and sisters in Christ and this blessing tends to go beyond the prison into everyday life.
While prison visiting is not for everyone, we can all respond to Jesus’s call by praying for the prisoners and for all who care for them – the Correction Officers and all who work for the prisoner’s rehabilitation
I am happy for you to call me if you wish to know more.
If you are wanting to know more about Prison Ministry, Greg is happy to be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.