Confessions of a Prison Priest

By Dylan 8 months ago

First and foremost, a reminder that Jesus himself was arrested and convicted

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To kick off this article, one prison priest in particular, Rev Jo Calladine, likes to remind prisoners of one fact about criminals and the Bible. The fact is that Jesus was arrested himself, and that's probably a big part of the reason priests are so willing to put prisoners back on the right path.

Some prisons have refused Kosher foods for Jewish prisoners

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While on the topic of services that can be improved within the prison system when it comes to religious practice, prison priests admit that some institutions have acted poorly to certain religions. For example, one facility refused to accommodate the dietary needs of Jewish prisoners.

Some priests have experienced prisoners vomiting

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While priests share their experiences of working with people behind bars, Kelly Raths, who provided chaplain services to male prisoners, explained that she's both had prisoners throw up and pass out in her office. Religion helps them face the reality of their actions and the consequences of them.

Prisoners can be prohibited from their pre-meal prayer on Christmas

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Prison priests have admitted that some prisons will go as far as barring prisoners from following their pre-Christmas-meal prayer as they would usually do each year. It's sparked huge debate about whether prisoners deserve to have these religious rights stripped from them.

Some prisons have banned religious headwear

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On another topic of barring, some prison institutions around the US refuse to recognize that people within the facility can practice Islam. With that being said, they have banned the wearing of any Islamic headwear, such as the hijab or burqa. This means that there are prisoners of different faiths unable to express themselves.

Religious extremism is also common within prison systems

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So, how common is religious extremism behind bars? Naturally, there will always be extremists, but a lot of people think that those behind bars are more likely to be. However, only 12% of prison priests confess that religious extremism is very common.

Some priests offer music nights

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A prison priest, Susan Shannon, who worked at San Quentin State Prison speaks about the activities she put on for the prisoners. Through her experience, she believed that holding these support groups and sessions were very useful to the recovery of criminals. One of these included a monthly Interfaith Devotional Music Night!

There are some prisons where Islamic customs are rejected

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As we've already heard, it's safe to say that some institutions have prejudices about certain religions practicing within their confinements. As the years have gone on, there's been a massive rise in Islamophobia, which has even resulted in a prison barring male facial hair in line with Islamic custom.

Some prisons refuse any other religious material than the Bible

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Some prisons have gone as far as stripping any other religious material from prisoners, other than the Bible. While some might argue that this is okay, prison priests agree that this is an abhorrent disregard for the rights of prisoners and their right to practice religion.

Yoga can be made accessible to prisoners

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Further to Rev. Shannon's music classes she held at San Quentin State Prison, she also saw the benefits of offering a Siddha Yoga Group to prisoners. Many might argue that this is a waste of resource and a luxury, but many others will argue that this is necessary for the mindfulness of prisoners.

Prisoners will attend all religious classes for some time away from the cell

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It's been told by someone who lived behind bars themselves that it was common for prisoners to attend every spiritual class there was behind bars just because it meant time away from their cell, even if they didn't practice their religions. Apparently, it wasn't enforced that they couldn't.

Success stories have seen prisoners turn to priests

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Believe it or not, prison priests confess that this rehabilitation through religious practice can have extreme positive effects. There have actually been stories of prisoners turning priests after their exit from behind bars, which is amazing to think about.

Prisoners were without priests for a whole year

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Prison priests describe that the pandemic was a tough time for the incarcerated as much as it was for the people on the outside. By April 2020, 395,915 prisoners across the UK had tested positive. This meant that priests couldn't provide spiritual care as they had been doing.

Prisons did allow Zoom meetings for prisoners

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In order to help the prisoners achieve their spiritual goals, prisons decided to allow prisoners access to Zoom meetings to provide meetings with their holy advocate. It helped massively, and when they weren't having Zoom meetings, they'd receive correspondence instead.

Religion-related programs are absolutely critical to the rehabilitation of inmates

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It's known that a lot of people go into prison for a long time and leave having found God through a religion, whether that be through Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. But how important is spiritual guidance? Well, 73% of prison chaplains around the country state that it is absolutely critical to successful reintegration into real life.

The programs must go on longer than their sentence

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It isn't just the spiritual guidance that puts them on the right path behind bars, though. Priests actually certify that it's impeccable for the recovery and rehabilitation of prisoners to continue practicing their faith in the outside world to be successful.

Religion in prison is on the rise

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Would you believe that as the years go on, more and more prisoners are expected to expose themselves to religion when behind bars? According to Pew Research, 61% of prison priests say that participation in spiritual programs has gone up, and nearly 60% agree that the quality of such programs has also risen.

Many priests reckon their correctional system needs change

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While 57% of prison priests say that their religious program offering behind bars has improved, it begs to ask the question that why nearly half think it has gotten worse or stayed the same. It's clear that there has to be a change to the way these practices are undertaken behind bars.

Religions have to be recognized to be practiced properly

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According to the Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry, religions must be recognized in order for them to run programs within prison facilities. They themselves have admitted that they've found it hard to be recognized across the country, despite having many religious followers.

Without recognition, priests can't enter the prison facilities

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Following the previous point, it's highly unlikely that the prison facilities are going to allow priests to head behind the bars of their prisons without the formal recognition first. This can make it really hard for prisoners who practice religions against the mainstream.

The Orthodox faith is not recognized nationwide

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If the religions aren't recognized formally, then there's no chance that prison facilities are going to allow their priests to enter the facilities. The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry struggles with this and it's an unfortunate anecdote for them.

Priests encourage prisoners to take part in classes

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We've already discussed that prison priests have confessed that they think religious programs behind bars are imperative to a prisoners rehabilitation, and that means that the priests are ever-so-encouraging about prisoners attending their sessions, even if they're not practicing the faith.

Priests claim that the most successful prisoners are aged 25-39

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Prison priests do admit that they target a very specific audience, an audience that makes up the majority of the prison occupancy around the country. Apparently, 47% of prisoners are aged 25–39, and most are men, which is the group that tends to be the most successful after their stint in prison.

Odds are that people from church know somebody who was incarcerated

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While crime and punishment might not be something that is often spoken about within church environments (and if it is, it's all about repentance), there's actually quite a likelihood that the people you speak to in church know somebody behind bars. That's because over 2.3 million people around the US are incarcerated.

Priests help prisoners integrate back into real life

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It is a truth, though, that prison priests do their best to help prisoners integrate back into real life. It's a known fact that religion in prison helps prisoners, as it allows them to reflect on their actions and put their faith in a higher being. They view religion as the key to rehabilitation.

Religious families are often shameful about their imprisoned relatives

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It is true that Christian families all around the UK have relatives that have gone to prison. However, instead of discussing it, a lot of these families tend to shy away from the reality of the situation, and act like it never happened, because of the shame the criminal has brought upon the family.

The OCPM send prisoners 120 mailings a year

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The Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry admit that they love to keep in touch with prisoners and will keep in constant contact with them as a reminder to them that they're not alone. On average, they send 92,000 pieces of mail each year, or around 120 per prisoner they deal with.

Luckily, nothing gets blocked

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With the strict rules and regulations around prison mail, it's surprising that not as many letters from OCPM get blocked. However, that's because they meticulously follow the regiments when sending out their books, study courses and bibles to prisoners.

Chapels in prison remind prisoners of the outside world

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One of the great things about chapels within prison institutions is that they feel so disconnected from the rest of prison, offering them a space of solace and peace that feels a little bit like the outside world. Prison priests have said that this can have a great impact on a prisoner's mental health.

Is there still a long way to go?

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While all this has been said, it's clear that there are a lot of positives and negatives around the religious world in prisons right now. Prison priests confess that, while they couldn't fault the positive effects, there's still a long way to go in the US prison system.

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