Prison chaplains and their message of grace

Have you seen the BBC drama series Time? Sean Bean plays a teacher imprisoned for a drink driving offence and the show gives us a gritty look at what life is like for incarcerated men in a British prison, as well as for those responsible for their welfare. Rachel and I watched it recently, and it was definitely a show that stayed with us and left us with a lot to think about and talk about. (I recommend the show if you have not seen it. You can find it on BBC iPlayer, but be warned it is not easy viewing!).

One of the things that made this prison drama stand out for me is the way that it shone a light on prison chaplaincy. Prison chaplains have a difficult but invaluable job – and in the drama, Marie-Louise, the Catholic chaplain played by Siobhan Finneran, is one of the few characters who treats the inmates as humans, people of dignity and worthy of respect. We also learn about how she helps prisoners stay in touch with families, and she helps them process their stories, as many of them are filled with regret, haunted by what they have done and longing for forgiveness and atonement. Importantly, she takes a prisoner who has lost his father through the words of the funeral he cannot attend – allowing him the chance to process his grief and mark the occasion in an appropriate way. In all of these ways, she brings the love of God close to a group of individuals who would normally imagine themselves to be far removed from God’s love, stuck in a living hell.

I recently read an article by the real-life prison chaplain Rev Hilary Edgerton. She says that prisoners, “need to believe they are loved for who they are. They have wanted to please parents who cared little; they have wanted to achieve success [even if by the wrong means]; they have wanted the distinction of belonging to a group; they have wanted relief from boredom. So they are like many of the rest of us, aren’t they? … Don’t get me wrong: they owe a debt and have caused untold fear and misery amongst their victims. But they still need a message of grace.”

David Maclure