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Out of sight, but not out of mind

14 November 2014

Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff commends thoughtful observance of next week as Prisons Week


I WONDER what you are doing on the third Sunday of November?

For some people, the day will be dominated by the dread of an approaching court date. It might be that they have been called as a witness, which is nerve-racking enough. It might be that they are the principal witness, because the crime was in their house, or against their person or their family.

Preparing for court means keeping fresh things that they would rather forget, recover from, and leave behind. What if they're not clear enough? What if their evidence is the weak link in the chain? A court appearance means standing in the same room as the accused. Perhaps they do not feel that they can bear it.

It might be that their father, daughter, sister, or friend is to go to court to stand trial. Whether or not that person committed the crime, his or her liberty hangs in the balance. For dependants, also, the verdict has life-changing consequences: how will they make ends meet? Will children be removed if their mother is convicted?

If a parent is sent to prison, the likelihood that his or her child will, in time, follow escalates dramatically. If this is not the first time a relative has been to court, there may be a sense of inevitability about it. Once again, he or she will be removed, and will become a little more distant. The family or friendship cracks just a little further.

People who are facing trial may fear that going to court will be their last day of freedom. If it is their first time in court, and they will be afraid of the unfamiliar - afraid that they will say the wrong thing, let themselves down.

Only they really know whether the judgment of the court, when it comes, is right or wrong. Facing the witnesses, the accused will have to bear their hurt and their anger - whether or not it is deserved. Attempting to hide from the injury inflicted on the victims may take the perpetrator further down into the shadowlands.

People who are waiting for a court appearance may worry for their parents or their children. Even if they know what is coming, if they plan to plead guilty, it may be that prison holds great fear, like a death. Perhaps they are secretly hoping to be convicted: to be stopped, to be helped.

For those who work in the prison system, the trial may result in another person's being put in their care. This person may look to them for guidance and help, or see them as an enemy, a foe to thwart, or even to attack. It can often be someone who cannot be helped: someone too damaged, or foolish, or simply too far back in the queue. Or it may be someone already familiar, who greets the staff resignedly: "Here I am again." It is the staff's responsibility to see to it that all are fed, and warm, and safe - until the system sends them round again.

Prisons Week encourages us to pray not only for prisoners, but for all those affected by crime; for the collateral victims of crime and the prison system, and for those who work within it; and for hope that, between us, we can restore the lives that have been broken.

Lord, you offer freedom to all people.
We pray for those in prison.
Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist.
Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care.
Heal those who have been wounded by the activities of others, especially the victims of crime.
Help us to forgive one another.
To act justly, love mercy, and
Talk humbly together with Christ, in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

The Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff is Chaplain to the Bishop of Rochester, who is Bishop to Prisons.

For more information, see www.prisonsweek.org.

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