Volunteers play a significant role in prisons. There are many ways that you can use your skills: assisting with leading church services is one way but facilitating approved programmes, teaching reading and writing, music arts and crafts, meditation etc. or being a mentor to an individual. Writing to a person in prison is also an important ministry and provides an opportunity to create a therapeutic relationship and brings hope and acceptance to someone trying to bring about change in their life. Often the only real contact with the outside world is trhough prison volunteers.

There is a formal process for becoming a volunteer and training is provided including how to keep yourself and others safe. Many people who volunteer in prison say that it is the most rewarding thing they have ever done.
If you are interested in knowing more about volunteering in prison or becoming a volunteer in the Chaplaincy Team contact the Chaplain in your local prison or the Senior Catholic Chaplain  and discuss with him/her how you may be able to help.

Volunteer work with Prison Chaplains.

When I retired from Orthopaedic Surgery at the age of 67, there was on the one hand a sense of freedom from the need to work, but on the other hand a deep sense of loss. I was no longer needed. From being part of a large hospital community I now moved into a much smaller circle of mostly friends and family. In the first year I joined one or two groups, continued in the local Church, mowed the lawn more often and sorted the garden. There were grandchildren to pick up from school, I kept bees and sometimes got in the way of my wife in the kitchen.

Then out of the blue I received a call from a Prison Chaplain whom I knew in her previous life as a senior hospital nurse. “Would I be interested in becoming a ‘Prison Volunteer’ working under the direction of the Chaplains”? I needed time to think about that. I had treated prisoners in hospital, sometimes they were handcuffed to an officer or had a guard at the door. They were fellow human beings who needed help, sometimes an operation. I had never actually been into a prison. Somehow the timing was right. Yes, I would pick up the challenge.

This was followed by training to facilitate a Grief Programme - ”Seasons for Growth” designed to be followed by a small group of up to 8 participants. There was an introduction to Prison rules, procedures and expectations for conduct. Photographs were taken and police checks made. When these were complete an APPE identity card with first name, photograph and bar-code was issued and had to be presented at the Guard house for admission and worn at all times in the Prison.

Initially I visited specific prisoners in the units at the request of the chaplains, usually once every week. I then sat in and observed “Seasons for Growth” sessions led by 2 facilitators. After that I became a facilitator (companion) alongside an experienced companion. Prisoners apply to take the course. There are 4x2hour sessions over a month. It has proved to be very popular.
Feedback from prisoners and staff has been very positive.
I generally work for a month then take a month off. It can be tiring at the age of 75 especially with driving 45 minutes each way, but in a strange way it is very rewarding to see prisoners responding and beginning to change attitudes. It has also changed me. It is one of the most worthwhile activities that I have undertaken in my life. I hope to continue for a few years yet.

Colin Fitzpatrick
1 Sept 2015