Prisons are challenging environments, but for Rev Bill Taylor, a chaplain at HMP and Young Offenders Institute Cornton Vale, working with prisoners and helping them to stay connected to society is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition.
“Christians believe that Christ is before us, in every situation” he says.
“Jesus taught forgiveness and was himself a prisoner, as were many of his followers – that means there’s a deep understanding of the experience of being a prisoner.
“Building more forgiveness into society is important.
‘Switzerland’ of the prison
Two crucial parts of a chaplain’s role are providing a neutral listening ear and offering opportunities for people in prison to worship, pray or practise their faith.
“One of the best aspects is accompanying people on their journey and the resilience you see”, he says.
“We’re ‘the Switzerland of the prison’ – people will approach us to talk about anything.
“Chaplains are there being as affirming as we can be, whilst helping people to work out a better future.
“The Scottish Prison Service recognises the value faith can have to people’s lives.”
Mr Taylor says prison chaplains try to help people in prison stay connected to the community.
“The theme for this year’s Prisoners Week is ‘Hope Within’ and we’re asking people to think about those affected by imprisonment and crime, and what our hopes are for our communities – which you can submit on the website.”
Chaplains can also refer people in prison to staff and colleagues from partner organisations who can assist with issues such as addiction, finding a job or accommodation.
Specialist counselling services and learning opportunities are available and throughcare support is provided for people prior to release.
Mr Taylor says that even with the many interventions of staff and partner organisations, it can sometimes be difficult providing sufficient support for people in prison.
“We are meeting people whose lives are remarkably challenging.
“There are no written answers – sometimes people are facing extremely complex issues including, poverty, inequality, addiction, low self-esteem and the breakdown of relationships.
“People can become very isolated from their family.”
Originally a parish minister, not far from HMP Edinburgh, Mr Taylor began to take an interest in working in a prison. When he heard about a vacancy at the prison, he applied.
“I was attracted to prisons as there was something about working with people living with a certain set of circumstances – perhaps that’s what chaplaincy is about,” he says.
Mr Taylor now works as a Chaplaincy Adviser with the Scottish Prison Service and as a chaplain at Cornton Vale, near Stirling. Speaking about how local churches can support prisoners and their families he says that elders, and members of the Guild or congregation often reach out to people facing these difficulties to help “bring people back into the community.”
“There are also Faith-based projects such as Faith in Throughcare and ‘The Place’ in Possilpark, Glasgow, which supports a drop-in centre for people coming out of prison and into the community in that area.
“The Church of Scotland’s carearm Crossreach manages the Prisons Visitor Centre at HMP Perth.
“It’s important to support people who want a continuing church connection when they come out of prison.
“Congregations may set up a small befriending group.
“Sometimes congregations put in place a pastoral covenant for returning citizens which may include safeguarding considerations for the good of everyone.”
“The Prisoners Week National Launch Service at St Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church in Stirling was an occasion to share many hopes.
“Sharing hope is something we can do all the time.”
This year Prisoners Week runs from Sunday 19 – Sunday 26 November.
You can follow the campaign #hopewithin2017 on Twitter or go to the Prisoners Week website.