Bishop Paul Slater went to prison this week – to visit the Chaplaincy Team at HM Prison in Armley.
Led by Managing Chaplain, Usman Mohammed, the team of 10 chaplains includes full-time Anglican chaplain, the Revd Roger Reece (left). Roger says, “As well as conducting services, we act as prisoners’ advocates, listening to them and supporting them in whatever way we can.”
Deputy Governor, Tom Dobbins, says, “The chaplaincy is a vital part of the prison’s work – it’s not just an add-on. The chaplains are a visible presence on the wings, and they can help influence the whole mood of the prison as they engage with prisoners and build relationships with them. They will often open up to a chaplain and say things to them that they wouldn’t to anyone else.”
Bishop Paul says, “I was struck both by the calm atmosphere in the prison and the good working relationships - and the way the chaplains are obviously really valued on every level.”
Roger adds, “We hold a Sunday morning Eucharist to which about 50 come. There’s a standard repertoire of four hymns (which always includes Shine, Jesus, Shine) which are sung enthusiastically. We know motives may be mixed - some may simply want a break from the routine – but they’re nevertheless being immersed in spirituality and hearing about the love of God”.
The Christian chaplains also run different courses. The Revd Jack Parkes, curate in the Cleckheaton Benefice, (right) says, “As the average reading age here is 11 we keep it very simple. But it’s great to see them progress. The first week I asked if anyone would like to pray, and they all looked horrified, but by the fifth week I couldn’t get a prayer in edgeways!”
There are also about eight Faith Reps who go round the cells taking to inmates about faith and what the Chaplaincy team can offer. Of the 1200 inmates, around 200 are Muslim – the majority of whom attend Friday prayers.
The chaplains also help with preparation for leaving prison. For the Christians it may involve teaming people up with a congregation - for example, St George’s Crypt and the Saturday Gathering in Halifax.
Jack Parkes is also a tenor in the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, and at Christmas he arranged for 45 members of the choir to come and give a carol concert. Jack says, “One inmate said to me, “I’ve never been to a classical concert before, and there I was on the front row – I couldn’t stop smiling" and another said, “It was amazing. For that hour, I felt free”.