Letter of the Day | Prison chaplains - working with the wounded
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Few persons are aware of or appreciate the work of prison chaplains in Jamaica. Prison chaplains are unsung heroes who are underpaid, not recognised for the service they give, and are only celebrated by the community they serve.
Those who are sentenced by the courts to serve time in our nation's prisons as punishment for the crimes they committed are also deemed to be in need of rehabilitation. Whether they are juveniles or adults, male or female, Jamaican or from a foreign country, poor or otherwise, they are all wounded. As part of the rehabilitation thrust of the government through the Ministry of National Security, the Department of Correctional Services engages ministers of religion to serve this wounded and despised community. So, in a brief yet practical description, prison chaplains are tasked with the awesome challenge of working with the wounded.
Prison chaplains have to contend with the fact that their duty puts them to work directly with persons convicted of all ranges and types of crimes. This is undoubtedly a high-stress environment that predisposes chaplains to hightened risks and heightened security challenges. The only tool they bring is their experience grounded in their ministerial training and pastoral skills coupled with their belief in the dignity of the human person. Rooted in their spiritual traditions is a significant element of humanitarianism.
Chaplains work closely with inmates and wards of the state in an attempt to help them identify what they did, understand why it was wrong, and show how to create new patterns of behaviour that will break the cycle or desire to recommit other crimes when they are released
from the confines of their prison cells.
Of import is the fact that most of the persons who are in prison have been given a defined term of imprisonment. This means that at some future date they will be returning to their communities, our communities. The transformation of thought and life of inmates are therefore essential for the overall well being of all citizens of Jamaica.
Prison chaplains are not super humans and so they often leave their less than ideal working environment at the end of the work day overloaded mentally and emotionally with the issues of their charges to go home to their families. Whilst they will not complain, rest assure that this added stress adversely affects their mental, emotional, and physical health. Chaplains will tell of having sleepless nights as they contend with the realities of limited resources, confessions and the needed care and support for inmates and wards.
Coupled with all of the above is the even greater responsibility of pouring oil and wine into the lives and souls of correctional officers when their fellow colleagues die or are killed. The deceased officers are often persons with who the chaplains have had working relationships and while ministering to hurting staff, they too must grapple with their own pain and loss.
So, what keeps chaplains going?
Chaplains draw strength from the word of God, and the presence of God together with their caring and understanding families. Psalm 61:2 "...when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
Rev Mark A. Hardy
Latin America & the Caribbean Representative
International Prison Chaplains Association