Monday, 31 March 2008

Twisted thinking

Prisoners' thinking can be very twisted.

Recently I was talking to a prisoner who was arguing that if he had his way all "junkies" would be given an injection in the neck and put down. This man is an alcoholic. In my usual diplomatic way (!) I pointed out that alcoholism was an addiction too. He wasn't pleased and said that no, alcholism is a disease. I was unable to persuade him that there were any similarities between the addictions.

But jail's like that. There is a pecking order of crime. In a jail containing only sex offenders, the rapists (i.e. rapes of adult victims) see themselves better than the paedophiles. In other jails, prisoners classify themselves as better than some other class of offence. Prisoners often lie to one another about the nature of their offence to make it more "acceptable". Incidentally, murder, which we might (hopefully DO) see as very bad, isn't looked down on so much in jail whereas other offences, like mugging an old lady, are seen as beyond the pale.

I have found this very interesting, and yet I have also found myself wondering if perhaps ALL human beings do exactly this. According to our own various personal measuring schemes we rate others as above or below us. A dear and very ancient relative of mine openly judges people on how good their speech is (she once studied elocution herself).

I heard a prison officer recently refer to all the prisoners collectively and dismissively as "scrotes" - I think he validates himself, in a way, by finding a group of people he feels superior to.

Do I do it? I hope not, but I fear I do.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Admiring God's Creation, Return of

Just for balance, for male heterosexual readers of this blog I thought I'd make up for yesterday.
This, if you didn't know, people, is Deanna Troi, ship's counsellor on Star Trek in the days of Jean Luc Picard's leadership. I used to find her a bit annoying because I felt her role was much less important than all the others busy on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise trying to save the universe. However, occasionally at work I find myself thinking of Deanna Troi and wondering if, as a prison chaplain, I'm perceived in the same way - a wee bit purposeless! Not by the guys, I don't think, but perhaps by some staff. Once a month I sit at the Top Team management meeting and listen to all these very experienced managers trying to work out how to run the jail and tick all the thousands of audit boxes whilst still doing it all on twenty pence a year. My job is so very different from theirs, and since much of it involves apparently chatting (in reality very committed listening) I appreciate I must seem kind of superfluous. And not only that but at least Deanna Troi was a feast for the eyes - I'm just concerned that if the SPS eventually brings in corporate dress I might have to wear that outfit! Time to get back on the diet?

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Admiring God's Creation...

Which Mr Darcy is the best? I like 'em both, for the record. It's the character as written by Jane Austen that I really like, actually, though these two fine examples of God's creation do a good job in the roles.

I was discussing with a friend the other day our favourite classics (hers is Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy) and I was saying that my daughters are all hooked on Pride and Prejudice too. Indeed they've now also discovered the brilliant Bollywood version, "Bride and Prejudice" and we've been enjoying it too recently.

What I'm now wondering though is whether I'm doing the right thing, as a mother. The thing I like most about P and P, and perhaps to some extent it reflects where I work, is that it's all so NICE. Even the baddies speak like gentlemen and there's no swearing, no violence, no gritty reality at all. But life's not like that. Should I be preparing these girls for the general absence of Mr Darcy's out there, or should I be encouraging them to set the bar high? I don't know.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Dangerous killer on the roads.

I decided to go the scenic route to work today, and killed a poor pheasant which walked out from the hedgerow at precisely the wrong moment. I felt bad. So, since confession's good for the soul I'm now telling the world. (Don't think this means from now on I'll be telling you all my sins though). However, I don't feel so bad about the chicken whose death contributed to my chicken salad sandwich at lunchtime. What a hypocrite I am. Perhaps I'll become a vegetarian.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Devil's Beatitudes

Here are the "devil's beatitudes":
Blessed are they who are too tired and busy to assemble with the church on Sunday; for they are my best workers.
Blessed are they who are bored with the minister's mannerisms and mistakes; for they get nothing out of the sermon.
Blessed is the church member who expects to be invited to his own church; for he is important to me.
Blessed are they who do not meet with the church on Sunday; for they cause the world to say, "The church is failing."
Blessed are they who are easily offended; for they get angry and quit.
Blessed are they who do not give to carry on God's work and missions; for they are my helpers.
Blessed is he who professes to love God but hates his brother; for he will be with me forever.
Blessed are the trouble-makers; for they shall be called the children of the devil.
Blessed is he who has not time to pray; for he shall be easy prey for me.

Incidentally, the right version, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is as follows:
Matthew 5:3-11 (The Message)

You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.
You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.
You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'care-full,' you find yourselves cared for.
You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.
You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Hello Dad I'm In Jail

Hello Dad I'm In Jail by Was Not Was is just great. Watch it if you've never seen it. Weird, was not was it?!

I'm struck by the line, "I like it here". It was probably meant sarcastically but the truth is some of our guys do like jail better than life outside. If you've been in jail for years, being outside is seriously scary and even crossing the road or catching a bus is pretty daunting. Above all, in jail, everyone else is in the same boat as you and there's a sort of "fellowship" there. Yesterday I was talking to an officer about a certain prisoner and we were agreeing it's kind of a shame that when his sentence is over he couldn't just be given a job and allowed to stay! He gets on fine in jail but makes a pig's ear of life outside.

20 years ago I worked as a visiting officer for the Dept of Social Security at the time when under "Care in The Community" institutionalised adults with learning difficulties were being put out of their institutions into flats in the big (and in places wild) council housing estate. Good news for those on the look out for vulnerable people to relieve of their benefit. Some of them perhaps should never have been in an institution but, given that they had been, the transition was tough. Many had the mental age of children and just because they had been taught to shop and cook and clean didn't mean they were going to be happy living by themselves.

Before that I worked in a night shelter/ day centre for single homeless men. One fellow, D, had done really well and was drug free. Aged 34 he was allocated a flat and I was sent off to The Barras in Glasgow to help him spend his DSS grant of £500 (this was before loans came in) on everything he needed for his flat. I said, "Right you definitely need a cooker". "Oh no", says he, "I'll just light a fire". "D, you can't do that, you're on the twelfth floor of a multi-storey block. You must have a cooker". "Okay, but can I light the fire on top of the cooker?" He had lived in children's home followed by List D school (as it was then called) followed by Young Offenders Institution followed by jail followed by the Night Shelter. He was definitely institutionalised. And yet D actually did really well and got on fine, even with his cooker!

Lots of guys (and women) do get on fine, even if they've been institutionalised for a long time but an awful lot don't. I know prisons are overcrowded as it is, but sometimes I just think, you know, can't we just keep this guy and give him a job and a home? I'm not really being serious. Obviously we can't. But, expensive as it is to keep folk in jail, how much more costly in every way not just financial, to have them out wreaking havoc on themselves and others?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Just recently, within days of each other I've attended two very interesting training sessions in the jails. The first was about how to watch out for being conditioned and manipulated by prisoners. (It is undoubtedly the case that many a prisoner would sell his granny, and lie his head off, to achieve his own ends, and all staff are fair game). The second was about how to manage prisoners who are in a frame of mind where they are tempted to self-harm or attempt suicide, with some consideration of the types of prisoner and the types of circumstances that can lead to such a state of affairs (anyone, any time would be a slight exaggeration, but not much).

It's interesting that in a way these two courses highlighted almost opposing attitudes which prison staff must hold in tension at all times. First of all we need to be suspicious and never to forget that we are staff and they are prisoners and they may be manipulating us (of course staff may also be manipulated by staff, prisoners by staff, and prisoners by prisoners but let's keep this simple). But secondly, and at the same time, we need to be caring, respectful and observant, picking up on signals about how the prisoner is feeling.

A challenge? Indeed.

Life's like that, though, isn't it? People that don't hold opposing things in tension and swing to one extreme position are not usually right to do so, in my opinion. The older I get the more I haunt the middle ground. When I was a young hothead divinity student I had such ready opinions and was way too judgemental. Now I feel like some kind of chameleon. Whoever's company I'm in, I'm thinking about stuff from their angle, if I'm able. I've recently started to read and enjoy blogs by police, ambulance crew and others who're so often dealing with the same section of society I run into every day at work. When I'm reading their blog I'm totally into their perspective. If I were reading a victim's story, or was with a victim I'd be right into their story. But if I'm talking to a perpetrator, then notwithstanding I'm on the lookout for whether he's trying to manipulate me, I'm standing with him too. Not liking what he's done. Not offering mindless support of the, "Yeh, yeh, yeh, poor you" variety, but nonetheless seeing, when I can, how he got to where he got to, and seeing, when I can, how he might make the rest of his life better than the bit so far.

Sometimes I worry about this chameleon brain thing that's befallen me (I didn't do it on purpose) but lo and behold I'm in kinda good company. Paul, one of the most important leaders of the early church said this: "I am a free man, nobody's slave (clearly he'd done the SPS course about not being manipulated) ; but I make myself everybody's slave in order to win as many people as possible. While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them.... when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile... in order to win Gentiles.... Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all men, that may save some of them by whatever means are possible".

Monday, 24 March 2008


A prison officer at work told me that one day when she was supervising the visiting, a wee 2-year old who was in visiting his dad came up to her, pointed at her white shirt with black epaulettes and said, "Polis" (Scottish for police). She said, "No, my name's ....., what's your name?" The wee fellow couldn't yet say his own name, but already he could say, "Polis". She thought, "there goes one of our future customers". Hopefully he won't be, but I know what she means. Sometimes you feel some kids haven't a chance, don't you?

A prisoner I've got to know well, who claims to be a Christian, will be "libbed" (liberated, released) this year, and although I've spent a lot of time with him, I've yet to be persuaded that he has the faintest idea how to live honestly and within the law. The more I learn of his background and the number of his relatives in jail, and so on, the more I think that he actually doesn't know how to live honestly. And yet, he's never been in jail before, he's hated it and he's determined never to be back. He wants to provide for his family. He plans to work. He plans to go to church. But I think he's like a grown up version of that wee 2-year old and won't succeed unless he can somehow unlearn all he learned as he grew up. I am really really really thankful for my upbringing, in which I learned right from wrong, and I worry for this guy's wee ones, that he'll be equipped to teach them right from wrong.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Him Indoors celebrated a significant birthday this weekend (he's catching up with me) and, not wanting a party, chose instead to have those who wanted to join us for a five mile walk at the Hermitage, Dunkeld, on Saturday. It wasn't warm, but was fine if you kept moving, and it was sunny, and we had a lovely time. The photo of the "empty tomb" I posted for Easter Day yesterday is in fact the hermit's cave that you pass on the walk. Apparently there was never a real hermit in it. The Duke of Atholl allegedly paid a servant to pretend to be a hermit whenever he was taking his guests out for a walk. Shocking, eh? If you look closely at the photo you can see our kids' Auntie P. Here's the crew who assembled to help us mark the occasion.

And, finally, yesterday I was allowed to take 3 prisoners from the jail to our church for the Easter Day service where, at the coffee time afterwards, one of our members who is in his day job a Chief Inspector in the police (but at church is a Sunday School teacher and family man) gave them a creme egg each (left over from the ones that were given out to the kids). That's one of the things I like about church - it brings together wonderfully random combinations of people. I love the fact that even in just our church I have friends of all ages and from all types of background, in all levels of maturity in the Christian faith, and with problems and hang-ups and obstacles, just as I have, though not necessarily the same ones. Church is a great leveller. The guys enjoyed the service and indeed it was a great service yesterday and the church was bursting at the seams. The songs were good ones anyway but the big crowd made them sound even better.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Happy Easter!

The stone was rolled away, not so that he who was in could come out, but so that we who were already out could see that he who was in was no longer in but was now out!! Clear?

Poem for Easter

Tell me:
What came first
Easter or the egg?
or daffodils?
Three days in a tomb
or four days
in Paris?
Bank Holiday Monday).

When is a door
not a door?
When it is rolled away.
When is a body
not a body?
When it is a risen.

Why was it the Saviour rode on the cross?
To get us
to the other side.

Behold I stand.
Behold I stand and what?
Behold I stand at the door and

knock knock.

Steve Turner

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Guess what. It's Easter at Church.

Christmas is really
for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they'd do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there's any connection.

Steve Turner

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Passion of the Christ

Today I at long last screwed up courage to watch Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ". I don't do Certificate 18 films at the best of times, being more of a Pride and Prejudice gal, and this is particularly gory. I think the critic Mark Kermode, who must have seen many a film in his day, said it was the most violent film he'd ever seen.

But I wanted to show it to the prisoners, and so I sat with six and a half men (well seven to start with then one left before the end!) and watched it with them this afternoon. The bits with "the mum" (Mary) got to us all and I confess I didn't physically watch every second of the film. I had to stare at the floor or the wall several times, and for longish periods, particularly during the scene where Jesus is whipped mercilessly. But I did my best. I kept thinking, "if he went through all that, and I have benefitted so spectacularly, the least I can do is give up two hours to watch this".

If you're the praying kind, please pray for the guys who watched it, some of whom I know and some I don't, that it won't be just another violent film, but that they'll understand. It was Good Friday 1979 when I first began to "get it" about what the cross was all about. I pray they'll all "get it" too.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

You're on a beach. Er, no I'm not!

Advance, sincere, apologies to those of you who really love guided meditation.

This is for all those like me with monkey brain and a touch of the smart alec thrown in, who just can never get into them. I got it from the Ship of Fools website and it's by Andrew Rumsey. It made me laugh.

The Beach.

GOOD EVENING. I'm just going to be leading you in a brief guided meditation, to take away the strains of the day: a chance to remember that with faith, nothing is possible.

It might help if we begin with some simple breathing exercises. Just become aware of the rise and fall of your breathing and allow the stresses of the day to leave you as you exhale. You may immediately feel the need to breathe in again. Try to resist this temptation and, so that you are completely relaxed, simply continue to breathe out as I count: one... two... three... four... five... six... seven (continue counting for as long as you feel is necessary for people to be resting in peace).

And now, having relaxed, I want you to shut your eyes and imagine that you're on a beach, a lovely sandy seaside, somewhere in Britain. In the quiet, perhaps you'd like to name which seaside it is – either out loud or in the silence of your hearts (feel free to mention one or two locations to encourage others – Frinton... Cleethorpes... Clacton and so on.)

What's the weather like on the beach? Is it raining? Yes, of course it is... What do you notice as you wander along the beach? Looking up you see a flock of lovely seagulls swooping and diving overhead. It's almost as if they have been put there just for you – a lovely feathery gift. And one of them appears to have a gift for you, too. Something inside you wants to raise your hand to your forehead to wipe it off, but how wrong that would be. No, you will leave it there, you will accept the gift – and perhaps say aloud with me – thank you, my seagull friends (repeating with emphasis) thank you, my seagull friends.

In a way you are now one of them, and so you begin to gently jog along the beach and, with your new friends, start to flap your arms up and down... Perhaps you'd like to do this now – just flap your arms up and down like... like a nutter. No one will mind – all our eyes are closed...

NOW THEN, HERE'S A LOVELY SCENE. In front of you is a family group building a wonderful sandcastle. What time and care they have taken with it – all those seashells gently pressed into the walls, the seaweed and driftwood carefully collected and pushed into place. A little flag flutters from the tower – and the father and his children step back to admire their work. But something is wrong; somehow you feel sad... And then you notice what it is – their sandcastle has walls around it... walls to keep others out. All that beauty and creativity – shut in behind high walls. How sad...

In an instant, you realise that you cannot leave this scene – these people need your help- to take their walls down. So, with the seagulls' lovely gift freshly dripping from your forehead, arms still flapping up and down, you gently swoop across... and flatten the walls of the sandcastle – freeing the seaweed and driftwood from its sandy prison and strewing them around the beach to share with everyone.

A strange feeling of peace comes over you – but not, you notice, over the father and his children who you have helped. What do you notice about them – are some of them crying? Are some of them cross? How hard it is for others to break down their walls – how hard it is for them to thank you for having helped them. But a seed has been sown in their lives, nevertheless, something they won't forget. And as they pick you up and hurl you bodily into the sea, you realise the need to flap your arms again – in a different way... Amen.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It's a gift!

I worried for many years when I heard sermons in church about using your gifts etc. For many years I just thought to myself, "What gifts?"
I couldn't do anything artistic. I have no artistic gifts, unlike my dad.
I couldn't do anything musical. My piano teacher used to hit her head off the piano.
I couldn't be a nurse. I am squeamish and can't even watch Casualty.
I couldn't be a policewoman. I'm not brave.
I couldn't be a teacher. I'm not patient enough. My own kids exhaust me.
I couldn't be in catering. I'm not domesticated.
I am quite good at spelling and jigsaws but I don't know how to make a living out of those gifts.
However! In prison chaplaincy I have found I do have two gifts which I use all the time.
I'm good at drinking coffee and I'm good at listening to absolutely fascinating stories. Who knew?

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

This is fab!

Check out this poem. I think it's great and I've read it to prisoners in three different prisons over the last few days. Him Indoors read it in church on Sunday too. Powerful stuff.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Two decades already...

20 years ago today me and him decided that perhaps after all we were not content to be just good friends...!

This was something that had been patently obvious to everyone around us for many months. We were the last to know. Even then it was two years more till we were engaged and another three after that till we were married!

Even after all these years, I'm still quite pleased with what I got. Beats me how he puts up with me.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

"My son makes aliens", and other stories

"What does your son do?"
"My son makes aliens".
Of course he's only ten and one he grew out of some gunk in a test tube and one he made out of magnetix, but I think "My son makes aliens" has a good ring to it doesn't it? I wonder what he will do.

Youngest Child was dead proud this week because she got to go with her fellow Primary-3ers to Pizza Hut and make her very own pizza. All pleas from her siblings for a bit went entirely unheeded and the child who supposedly doesn't like pizza had it for tea, with a big side-helping of pride.

Penultimate Child is also a proud wee bunny having got through this morning's trials (8am on a Saturday - woe is me!) for the Swimming Club.

Firstborn? Well, no photos to prove it, thankfully, but (whispers) she's not in a great mood. She had two pals for a sleepover last night (that should read "wakeover") and between armfuls of sweets and some late night video watching, followed by having to be at the school at 8am today to get to an away hockey match, we are now all suffering. To be fair I admit I'm jolly grumpy when I'm tired too. (I appreciate you'll struggle to accept this is so.)

We went to visit my mother-in-law today, whose cancer which was in remission, has taken a poorly turn. It's sad. Please pray for her, and my father-in-law too. He's very anxious. Despite their best efforts to appear the opposite, they really are devoted to each other.

Workwise, it's been a good week, with some meaningful conversations, interesting meetings, and a good service on Friday. The previous Friday was the leaving night out for the outgoing Governor, which was a great laugh. Jail humour is something else! On Sunday I was conducting the service in a Perth church and, as I always do in these circumstances, I seized the chance to try and recruit more Christians to pray for prisoners. The obstacles these guys have to overcome to reinvent themselves as normal law-abiding citizens can be really huge, and although the media encourages us to condemn them, that's not God's way. EVEN, though, EVEN IF people have no sympathy for prisoners at all, they must surely see that efforts to help them integrate into society and "better themselves" will pay dividends in terms of our own safety, and the protection of potential future victims... But as Christians we're not called to have that motivation. We've to love because God first loved us. Sometimes I think the main distinguishing feature of the chaplain in a prison is that they exist outside the traditional "them and us" culture of staff and inmates. We're ALL sinners. It's a great leveller.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Hold still. It's for your own good.

Today I had a tooth extracted. Alongside the flu I've been nursing an abcess and now I'm on a dose of antibiotic strong enough for a horse.

My brother is my dentist, which is wonderful because he generously treats me for free. I am really grateful to get rid of the source of the toothache that had me up at 3.30 this morning. On the other hand, it wasn't a straightforward extraction. It was ROUGH! The question is whether that really couldn't be helped or whether it was payback time for when I whacked him with a garden hoe as a child, or when I hit him with my hockey stick for that matter... There are guys in the jails I work in who were sentenced for less violent assaults than today's!

Incidentally, before you go rushing to report him - I AM joking!! Thank you, bro, honestly!