CA’s Prison Chaplains
Prisoners can often be seen in one light; people who have made mistakes, now paying for their crimes. We often forget that they are people like us, with hopes, dreams, and fears. Many have families who love and miss them, and they will one day return to society. One of the ways that helps prisoners through their time in prison and to prepare them for a positive and fulfilling life outside is prison chaplaincy. It is a vital service that provides much-needed support to both prisoners and prison staff. It has been shown to reduce reoffending rates and improve prisoner health and wellbeing. For many prisoners, the relationship they develop with their chaplain is one of the most positive relationships they will have while in prison.
Prison work has long been part of Church Army’s work and we have CA Evangelists who serve as chaplains in some of the UK’s prisons. Gill Martin is one of those Evangelists and is a chaplain at HMP Eastwood Park, a closed category prison in South Gloucestershire.
Meet Gill Martin
Gill says ‘I have been at this prison for almost three years now but before this I really thought God had forgotten about me and prison chaplaincy. When I was training, I did a placement at Holloway Prison and I loved it. When I began trying to pursue this calling I couldn’t find the right thing. I wondered if I had got it wrong about being a prison chaplain, maybe God had a different calling for me. But later, when the role of being a prison chaplain came out of the blue, I knew I was being led by God and He hadn’t forgotten me after-all.
‘Do you have someone in the community who loves you?’ is one of the first questions I will ask a new prisoner at the start of their sentence. It’s a way of asking “do you have any friends or family who will visit you?”, but without using the words friends, or family. These words can hold vastly different meanings for different prisoners, sometimes bringing up painful thoughts or memories, so I try to avoid them. Their answer though, is vitally important. It lets me assess their need for support, but it also tells me a lot about the person behind the prison sentence. Sadly, some prisoners can’t name anyone who loves them or would visit them.
Whilst prisons are full of people, they are often lonely places and those feelings of loneliness become magnified when a prisoner doesn’t have anyone to visit them. As prison chaplains that is one of the things we can help with as there is a volunteer visitor scheme.
We answer requests for spiritual support; this can be anything from lighting candles for anniversaries and birthdays, to providing prayer for difficult situations or pastoral support for prisoners with ill relatives or suffering a bereavement. COVID was a difficult time, visitations, group meetings and fellowship stopped. To keep contact with the prisoners we wrote weekly reflections for each person and delivered them to their cells. During this time we reached people who wouldn’t normally visit the chapel but looked forward to receiving their reflection and seeing a friendly face at their door.
It’s a very privileged position to be in. Some of the prisoners have suffered abuse and are really broken and for some, the offence that sent them to prison was the last straw. Our constant message is that we can’t change what happened, but we can walk with them, and support them through the next steps. Every day I am reminded that it could be any one of us in that prison and I feel blessed to be able to share with these prisoners that God loves us and loves each of us equally. There is nothing we can do to spoil his plan because he is more powerful than us. I have seen and felt God work in my life and I am not the only person whose life He can work in. I want to share that message with others who feel they are beyond God’s love because no one is. Just like he didn’t forget about me, He won’t forget about them.’
Prayers in Focus
Pray for all those in prison and their families, that the Holy Spirit will bring them the hope and peace of a new life in Jesus Christ.
Pray that all prisoners who have contact with chaplains feel warmth, support, encouragement and will be inspired to explore a life of faith.
Pray that the positive impact prison chaplains have on prisoners has a lasting effect during their time in prison and after.