Parish Visitors to Neighbouring Prison
St Mary’s Wiri Prison Visitor Group Mary Thorne, Sr Joan Hardiman, Jevita Russell
A group from St Mary’s parish in Papakura are neighbours to the Wiri women’s prison and have been visiting there for about 3 years through the prison chaplain. The group were inspired by Celia Lashley to think about prisons in their areas and prisoners as neighbours. For this group the well known call of Micah to social justice and to visiting those in prison came to life.
Mary Thorne and Sr. Joan Hardiman said the St Mary’s Wiri group had been considering using a programme to support the women, but they wanted a course that is most appropriate for the New Zealand context and for the profile of women in prison. Many of the women are Maori, and from Pacific Islands. The women they visit are within six months of being released.
The Wiri group designed prayer cards which focussed on the woman in each cell. They were able to engage the prayer support of the whole parish community. In addition to the prayer cards the group are considering the Alpha programme. They met with Manaaki Hapori co-ordinator, Betsan Martin, and discussed possibilities for their next steps. Betsan made further inquiries about resources for supporting people in prison. She spoke to Kim Workman of prison Fellowship, met Senior prison Chaplain Kilian de Lacy, and visited Prison Fellowship in Upper Hutt to find out about resources and programmes to support prisoners.
Barry Timms, General Manager of Prison Fellowship welcomed the opportunity to talk about the new ‘Target Communities’ print and video material and explain the programme of support for people being released from prison. Audrey Moonlight, in her role as Reintegrative Services Manager is liaising with parishes or other communities which are developing Target Community plans to host released prisoners. Prison Fellowship resources are available for supporting people in and coming out of prison.
As National head of the Catholic chaplains Kilian is another creator of resources. She developed 'Adopt a Cell' prayer cards from the Wiri initiative. She is noticing a change of attitude in prisoners who receive this prayer support and would like to have more analysis of the effects of prayer for prisoners. Another resource that Kilian has produced for all New Zealand prison chaplains is ‘Walk Tall’ which is Bible studies based on the Catholic lectionary. One of the important approaches to prison visiting that Kilian de Lacy noted is the value of getting to know prisoners and then supporting them when they are released.
Kilian de Lacy, Senior Prison Chaplain.
This is exactly the business of ‘Target Communities’. Target Communities are for people released from prison to live in and be supported by a community – this could be a parish, or other groups
such as a sports club. The Target Communities team have developed comprehensive resources for supporting prisoners and have set up a remarkable system of community support for people who leave prison. Target Communities has been set up to address the major issue of recidivism – with up to 70% of prisoners returning to prison after release. Barry said
'it is extremely difficult to come out of prison – people have to rebuild their lives. They wind up going back inside because simply can’t make it once they come out.’ ‘Men and women are shunned when they come out – they need tremendous support. When they come out they have lots of time, and no-one to speak to. They may not have a drivers licence or a bank account. People easily become depressed and fall back and in a short space they can reoffend, or break bail conditions'.
As of February 2010 Audrey said there are three fully fledged parish Target Communities – parishes which and are supporting ex-prisoners to reintegrate into community life. Audrey explained the ‘circle of support’:
'A Coach is the support leader in a context of a supportive community. Loneliness is very disempowering. Often men have been to prison many times. Men might have been in prison or custodial care for most of their lives if they were placed in foster homes in their childhood. This means they become very needy and are often identified as hard-core recidivists. Accommodation is a major challenge. A community can mean access to a job and entering the workforce at a base level or in temporary work is a huge milestone'.
Barry Timms and Audrey Moonlight, Target Communities
If a prisoner chooses to be part of a Target Community he or she is introduced to a support leader several months before leaving prison and when they are released they are surrounded by a circle of support – with seven or eight people around them who have specific roles based on the prisoner community support plan. We discussed support for women prisoners. Target Communities is all inclusive but may need some adaptation for supporting women.
Betsan met again with the Wiri group to share information about prison ministry and the possibility of supporting a prisoner after release. There are a number of commitments involved in becoming a Target Community, including agreement from the host parish to have a released prisoner living in their community as well as formalizing the team for the circle of support.
St Mary’s parish already support the prison visiting and consideration of moving into support for a released prisoner will take time and further liaison with the parish.
Barry Timms <email@example.com>
Contact for Target Community resources: Barry Timms and http://pfnz.org.nz/target_community.htm
also http://www.nzccss.org.nz/site/page.php?page_id=189 >
For information on parish initiatives visited for the NZCCSS Manaaki Hapori project, contact:
Phone: 04 473 2627 / 021-388-337