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
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
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
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.