Prison Chaplains in Britain
The historic Quaker concern for prisons continues today through the contribution of Quakers working within prison chaplaincy teams. At present, over ninety prisons in Britain benefit from a Quaker Prison Chaplain (QPC).
Quaker Prison Chaplains work within multi-faith prison chaplaincy teams to offer spiritual support and friendship to prisoners of all faiths and none. QPCs reach out to some of the most vulnerable people in our society when they are very often alone and unsupported within the prison environment. This witness by QPCs also functions as a valuable form of outreach, not just to prisoners and prison staff but others working in chaplaincy teams as well.
The law demands that prisoners have access to a minister of their chosen faith, and prison chaplaincy teams exist to fulfil that task. In reality prison chaplains or ministers perform a much wider pastoral role. Some tasks are easy to define, such as visiting prisoners who are ill or are confined to their cell and ensuring that new or transferred prisoners receive a chaplain visit within 24 hours of arriving in prison. Others are less definable such as providing an external, ‘neutral’ presence around the prison, which is not part of the prison structure. Chaplaincy team members need to be able to provide care and support for prisoners’ individual problems arising from issues such as family problems, bereavement, bullying or self-harm.
The contribution that each QPC makes differs enormously. Many QPCs are heavily involved in the day-to-day generic work of the chaplaincy team; others are available for occasional visits to prisoners who register as a Quaker. Most QPCs find themselves in a uniquely positive position to work within a multi-faith chaplaincy team. the Quaker non-credal approach and silent worship often acts as a bridge between different faiths.
Some QPCs have particular skills that they are able to make good use of whilst in prison. This can include counselling, creative writing, yoga, AVP (alternatives to violence) training etc. Others are able to offer their friendship, conversation and a listening ear.QPCs Mary Brown, Yvonne Dixon, Paul Funnell, Maggie Hunt, Virginia Membrey, and Marian Middleton write about their own experience.
Prospective chaplains are nominated by theirArea Meetings, who then support them in their chaplaincy work.
Quaker Life (QL) provides central support. and hosts a Quaker Prison Chaplain Group consisting of six to eight serving QPCs. They meet three times a year to discuss issues of concern to QPCs and to oversee the work of the QL staff member who supports them.
Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre provides training at two levels.
The first is a weekend course, This covers the role of ministering in prison, practical skills for relationships with prisoners and prison staff, handling God language, and QPCs’ own Quaker grounding
The second is optional, and is for those wishing to explore their role in prison more deeply. For them there is an ‘Equipping for Ministry’ course, which features a module on prison ministry. Completion of this course also makes the QPC eligible to apply for employment as a co-ordinating or assistant chaplain.
An annual conference is provided for QPCs. Over the course of the weekend participants have the opportunity to hear from experts on issues of interest to them in their service, join others in facilitated group sessions plus opportunities for informal networking, sharing and mutual support.
QPCs also receive a comprehensive handbook, regular newsletters, Quaker resources for use in prison and a directory of all serving prison ministers. The Quaker Prison Chaplaincy Group maintains a relationship with the Prison Service Chaplaincy team on behalf of the Yearly Meeting.
“It seems to me that Quakers have a tremendous message of ‘that of God in everyone’. For our very damaged men, what a wonderful way to build on true self-valuing; not just He loves me, but He is in me. Tremendous!” (Quaker Prison Chaplain, February 2006)
One prisoner who became a Quaker when in prison, wrote: “It has made a huge difference to me by becoming a Quaker. I have been able to forgive myself finally and move on. It has given me a new direction and hope for the future. So a real big thank you to [the QPCs] and thank you to all Friends who offer support to prisoners everywhere.” (Prisoner AW, 2008)
QPCs often get substantial support from other Quakers, who come as regular visitors to help and participate, especially in meetings for worship. Sally Mason is one of these, visiting Usk prison regularly to support the work of the QPC.