By Hilary Geisow


I’ve been to prison – and they let me out!

There is a myth that vicars only work on Sundays. Not so! Apart from the obvious time I spend preparing for Sunday services, there are funerals during the week, weddings on Saturdays, and baptisms on Sundays. These all require visits and/or interviews at the Rectory to ensure that people’s needs are met and that the church offers the best ‘do’ we can. 

Beyond this clergy are required to spend time on our personal spiritual life – prayer and reading, occasionally taking a retreat somewhere quiet and away from the desk.  

On average I do more than one evening meeting a week throughout the year and then there are trainings to attend, visits to the sick at home and in hospital, school assemblies (weekly) and teaching opportunities. I also meet people in their homes for all sorts of reasons. Email queries abound regarding family history, access to churches or graveyards, visits by community groups and so on.

Caring for our own patch can lead to clergy becoming isolated and requiring some peer support. And so we have chapters; a monthly get together of all the priests and those in training in Peterborough, north of the Nene. Generally we start with a service, then share business plus our highs and lows over coffee followed by a speaker. But sometimes there is a visit, and I’ve just spent 3 hours in Peterborough Prison. 

Getting in was no mean feat even with photo ID to hand. We still all had our photos and fingerprints taken! But it was done efficiently and pleasantly. I had no idea that the prison comprises two identical sections, one for male prisoners and the other for females so we worshipped with some residents in the women’s chapel. I learnt such a lot about the residents, their vulnerability and addictions, but also about innovative work aimed at helping them turn their lives around. 

Peterborough Prison is just 10-years-old and run by a private company. It is modern and very clean. We didn’t look inside cells but noted that the female prisoners we met had keys to their rooms to ensure some security and privacy during the day. However, from the moment we were being processed to enter as visitors, our time was no longer our own but the prison’s. Losing the opportunity to choose how you spend your day, and your time within it, can leave people unable to cope with the freedom of time that we enjoy on the outside.  

Losing your liberty, and all the consequences of that on your family and social networks, makes rehabilitation so much harder. Yet when a conviction is spent these folk have to return to our world. 

If the cycle of offending is to be broken, supportive community links with the prison are vital. Such involvement is in our own interests. This is not about going soft on criminals but a recognition of what we need for a safe and secure environment for all. I know that there will be a call, later in the year, for volunteers to help make the links work. If it is something that interests you, do let me know. I gained valuable insights into a closed world through the visit – but I knew I could leave. And I count it as time well spent in the busy life of your priest.

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