I learned tonight that the ceremonial mace used in the Scottish Parliament bears the words "integrity, justice, wisdom and compassion", these presumably being the values that it is hoped will be manifest in all Holyrood's debates and doings. I've never given any thought to the mace but found that interesting. What great values to aspire to - not just for politicians but for all of us in every area of our lives! Wouldn't Scotland be wonderful if we were all integrity-filled, just, wise and compassionate?
Following my last post I got an email from a retired colleague. It was (a) nice to hear from him, (b) interesting to think someone is actually reading this blog, and (c) amazing to me to hear from him that my employer actually has a tartan. I didn't know that.
Now as someone who mostly dresses in exotic labels such as Tesco and Asda, I'm not seriously thinking of having a bespoke clerical shirt (tartan) specially designed for me, but clearly if I was then SPS tartan would be the way to go. In fact it could be made compulsory for all Scottish prison chaplains. Or not!
Last week, as I mentioned here, I decided that I'm going to wear a clerical shirt ("dog collar") one out of five days at work for a trial period, rather than not at all, to see what difference if any it makes - positive or negative.
So I was interested to discover that it's possible to get a tartan clerical shirt (this is the men's version but they do them for girl ministers too apparently). They're possibly on the cheesy side yet I find I'm quite tempted. But maybe it would be taken as a political statement in this year of the big old Independence Referendum and I suppose chaplains shouldn't make their political allegiances clear since we're to be all things to all men. I'm still undecided about which way to vote anyway, incidentally. And now I'm undecided about tartan clerical shirts too. Things are getting more complicated rather than clearer!
Today the new prison in Peterhead, HMP and YOI Grampian took its first prisoners. They'll build up gradually over the next few weeks to full capacity rather than taking them all in one go. I had a tour of the prison a few weeks ago. It was very odd to be in a prison with staff but no prisoners! In 2007 I visited one of its predecessors, HMP Peterhead, which along with HMP Aberdeen is now closed. The Grampian prison has been built next door to the old and delapidated Peterhead jail, is a great improvement and much more fit for purpose. It's not just a new building though. HMP Peterhead was a specialist prison dealing with one category of prisoner. HMP and YOI Grampian will take all categories but be postcode based, taking prisoners from the north-east of Scotland. Statistics show that desistance from crime is more likely where there is a supportive family, so it's good to have prisons not too far from home so that prisoners' families (who're often struggling financially and in other ways) have shorter journeys to make in order to visit. The visits will help maintain the relationships within the family and make reintegration into the family unit on release a bit easier. It would be great if we didn't need any prisons so today probably isn't a day for celebration exactly, but it's a significant day and I hope that all goes well as staff and prisoners alike settle in.
I'm interested in restorative justice and including victims in the justice
process. This is a different reason why victims might want to meet
A man goes to the police station wanting to speak to the burglar who
broke into his house the night before. 'That's not appropriate," he is
told. "You can make a witness impact statement in court. That's the
proper way to make your point.
'But I don't want to make a point, I just want to ask his advice,' says the man.
'I want to know how he got into our house in the middle of the night
without waking my wife. I've been trying to do that for years!'
In this country, the majority of Christian prison chaplains of both Reformed and Roman Catholic traditions do not routinely wear the "dog collar" at work. I pretty much only wear mine if I'm to be involved in a memorial service or, as I did recently, I'm conducting a wedding.
I think the reason most of us opt for "civvies" is a good one. We are employed not by the churches but by the prison service and we are employed (1) to perform religious functions such as worship services but also (2) to offer our support and encouragement to those of all faiths and none. The latter forms the bulk of our working week actually as most prisoners are not practising Christians. It is important to be as approachable as possible and to make it as clear as we possibly can that although, yes, we are the God Squad, we are also a resource that is available to everyone. Probably we all instinctively feel that wearing the clerical collar might make it harder to get that important message across. We don't want unnecessary barriers getting in the way of what we do.
However, no matter how many times we explain in all sincerity to staff and prisoners alike that we are there to offer generic support to all, there is a sense in which the fact we are members of the clergy is still there. And maybe we try to squash it down when there's no need to do so. Even people who wouldn't describe themselves as practising Christians may have the remains or the beginnings of a faith. They may not really want us to be just like any other generic counsellor but to bring our sense of the numinous to the table, to have hope in God on their behalf until they can have it themselves.
As an experiment, I'm going to start wearing my clerical collar one random day per week.
Prisoners may spend the latter part of their sentence in open conditions where (under licence) they are able to come and go from the prison somewhat - home for short breaks to reestablish family relationships, for instance, or out to work placements to practise for holding down a job, or even to the supermarket to get used to budgeting and shopping again.
For some trips they may be taken by prison transport and for others they will use public transport. To facilitate the use of public transport they are given a travel warrant, a voucher that they can pay with. Of course this has the unfortunate effect of making them stand out a bit and railway or bus service staff may be curious about them. Some prisoners are quite blase about their status and don't care who knows while others are more self-conscious.
A prisoner told me yesterday that he'd been on a bus the other day and the driver, when presented with the warrant, said, "Oh are you a prisoner. What are you in for?" to which he immediately gave the reply, "I'm in for murdering nosey bus drivers"! What a good answer. :)
(P.S. This is not a photo of the bus driver in question of course. It's the former "Spencer" of the kids television show Balamory. The actor, Rodd Christiansen, became a bus driver in Scotland for a bit after the series was finished, until moving back to his native USA. Before Balamory, Rodd did some work with Scripture Union Scotland and my husband worked alongside him a couple of times. So when I was thinking a picture of a bus driver would be an appropriate accompaniment to this wee post I knew whose name to enter on Google...)
I started blogging to try to raise awareness of prisons and prisoners among any folk who cared to read my posts. Then I kept blogging because as well as that I was enjoying reading other people's blogs and felt like part of a community, whilst still hoping to do the aforementioned awareness raising.
But then I got caught up with other types of social networking and abandoned the blogging. It seemed that I could interact with a much bigger number of people through, for instance, Facebook.
This evening, however, just for something to do, I started reading my blog posts from 2008. In doing so, I realised that a blog can be at least as much for the writer himself/herself to read as for anyone else. I've reconnected tonight with family events and thoughts about prison ministry from six years ago, and it's been very interesting for me.
So, even if no one other than me ever reads this blog ever again, I'm going to restart it as a journal that I can use myself to look back on. And should they want to, my family might one day look at it when I'm gone!