You may have thought I was dead since I've been away so long, but I'm not. All is well in the world of AnneDroid, thankfully. At least nothing's wrong that a fortnight on my own somewhere sunny wouldn't cure, but that's not on offer, sadly.
Prison at Christmas is kind of depressing but my children at home are so hyper that my mood is stabilised somewhere in between.
In both prisons I work in we had carol services. They were both really great. Admittedly, the second one was a challenge to me as I was throwing up all over the place and wanted to lie down all the time (I have since got better but shared my bug with three of the other five people in this house). The first one was a revelation to me, though. We had a drummer, who is a prisoner, and a guitarist (the husband of a local minister) and someone to lead the singing - the minister who is married to the guitarist. She turned up with a big shopping bag. I couldn't imagine what was in it and was astonished (that's not a strong enough word, btw) when she produced bells, shakers and tambourines for all the guys. I was thinking, "No! No! No! Scotland's Toughest will never wear this! They'll never shake bells and rattle tamourines - they'll laugh in your face." But how wrong I was. The guys had a whale of a time. When I got up at the end to thank everyone, I found I was pretty deaf between the drums and the bells and tambourines. Then we had coffee and mince pies, and, for a little while at least, it was as if none of us were in a prison at all. I love these moments. So often, at chaplaincy events, I've had guys say to me, "It's great to get out of the prison for a wee while" and yet of course we're right in the middle of the prison.
This evening I've been writing Christmas cards to the prisoners. Many of them will get Christmas cards of course, from family and friends, but we do have a significant number of guys who won't otherwise get a single card from anyone. As the wife of a parish minister, we get heaps and heaps of Christmas cards. Sometimes we don't even know who they're from to be honest. If it says "Bill and Anne" or "Jim and Mary" we have to think "Which Bill and Anne?", "Which Jim and Mary?" and so on. But if you either genuinely have no one, or more likely, your behaviour, your crime, your addiction, whatever, has alienated everyone you know, and all your relatives, then you may well get no Christmas cards.
I know it's an insanely busy time of year for most of us, but if you're the praying kind please remember in prayer those who will have no Christmas cards this year: not because cards matter or are useful particularly, but because of what that means - people who have no one who cares enough to send them a card. Even if it's their own fault. That's not the point. To succeed in desisting from crime, the evidence suggests, people need strong and significant supportive relationships.
Recently I was at a meeting where people from a charity for the homeless were speaking. As it happens both of them were former homeless alcoholics themselves. They were talking about the difference that their drop in centre has made in the life of people. Those who come along have next to no real friends to start with and yet in a short time have a circle of people who really care and really are their friends.
I am thinking this Christmas of someone who is enjoying his first Christmas on the outside for many years. When I first met him, in prison, he told me he could see two possible futures for himself - one as a dope-smoking hermit and one as involved in a local church somewhere. The latter he was shy of, though, and apprehensive about. I'm delighted to see what God has done in his life. He has been baptised since leaving prison. He is at church every week and home group midweek. The church he has gone to have been welcoming and supportive. And, on top of that, or below that as a foundation perhaps, he has friends now. A network of friends - he'll have had Christmas cards this year. And that's significant.