My work as a chaplain at Doncaster HMP has changed my life, writes David George, investment manager at Finance For Enterprise.
When you walk into a prison wing for the first time, there are two things which instantly hit you: the cacophony of noise and the smell. Behind the thick steel doors there is an underlying sense of danger which lingers in the air.
Secluded within the hustle and bustle, the shouting and door-banging, there is a quiet place of solace and sanctuary tucked away from the daily grind of prison life: the prison chaplaincy service.
When my local priest asked for volunteers to spend time supporting the running of the chaplaincy service in Doncaster prison, I felt compelled to answer his call. Little did I know just how much those experiences over the next two years would change my life. I had a vague idea as to what would await me inside, as I was no stranger to the prison service. For many years my father had worked as a warden in a number of prisons throughout the country.
Working in a prison in any capacity isn’t for the faint-hearted but I’ve always prided myself in being a person who likes to help others. Nothing can really prepare you for chaplaincy or indeed the challenges which you encounter on a daily basis.
Chaplains don’t simply pray with inmates; they provide an important source of emotional support. This can mean discussing many difficult subjects ranging from the breakdown of relationships and the loss of loved ones to thinking ahead to life outside of prison. It offers hope and support when there is often nowhere else to turn. One of the things that struck me about life inside was just how quickly even relatively small worries and concerns can escalate.
An important aspect of chaplaincy is confidentiality and whilst the discussions can be troubling and upsetting, it helps some prisoners to share that burden and make them realise that they are not alone. It can also be an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience too.
A few weeks ago, I was walking through Doncaster town centre when I heard my name being shouted. I stopped and looked around. Before I’d worked out where the voice was coming from, a man ran towards me and gave the biggest hug imaginable. I recognised him as being someone I’d met inside the prison.
He told me that the day I met him, he’d already made up his mind that he was going to take his own life, but our conversation made him think again. Sometimes, it’s important to know that there is a future and that there are people who care, who will, if you let them, help you make the best of it.