David Spademan is the National Chaplaincy Representative for AOG. He is employed full time as a Managing Chaplain in a public sector prison. David is part of the steering group for Free Church Chaplaincy in HM Prison Service. He tells us about the importance of creating safe space in prisons.
Hope for the future often happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves
For me it was never something that I planned to do. I was on the leadership team of a local church and due to some changes I was asked to take on the role of senior minister on a part time basis. But I needed to do something else to bring in an income for me and my family. I began to look through my options and during that time of searching prisons kept coming up in every conversation, wherever I went prisons were mentioned and over time I really began to see what prison ministry could look like for me and the rest as they say is history.
Now as Managing Chaplain of HMP Onley, I’m responsible for the pastoral care of 742 prisoners and around 500 staff who work at the prison many from different faiths and backgrounds. Day to day, the multi-faith team plan worship and activities for each faith group within the prison from teaching and training to the observance of particular religious festivals.
I’d to love be able to say to you that everything is very positive but that isn’t the case. Much of the work that we do is very routine. The stress of everyday can be wearing from time to time. Sadly we are often bearers of bad news in prison and so whenever there is bad news from family, we must validate that information and pass it on in an appropriate and caring way to the men. However, when you see someone who’s come into prison with all sense of hope or purpose beaten out of them through the circumstances of life but leave the prison completely changed it’s hard not to be moved. You see them leave with a sense that they’ve got a hope for their future.
Often we find that this happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves and when they have opportunities to hear of faith and to respond to it. A few weeks ago I was quite moved, a prisoner who had just come into the establishment came out and knelt in the aisle of the Chapel during the worship time and actually then lay in the aisle as he was calling out to God. For me that was really wonderful that he felt able to express himself like that.
It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.
The regime of the prison is very structured by nature, it’s very institutionalised. We tell the men when they have to go to bed at night, we tell them when they’ve got to get up and have breakfast, we tell them when they’ve got to go to work and come back from work and go to education and have their meals. So it’s important for that there’s an opportunity for some spontaneity within worship that they’re not there just because its part of the prison regime. It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.
But it also happens when we give prisoners the opportunities to ask the big questions about life and faith such as on Alpha. I’ve personally been involved in Alpha for a few years now and I’ve run Alpha on the outside of prison as well. Within the prison environment it allows people, as part of their religious training, to come to that place of discovery and it’s really useful tool for prisoners to explore their faith, especially when we can utilize volunteers to help facilitate this. I’m very passionate about the world of prison being part of the wider community, not to be seen as silent where we just lock people up so the public feel that
We need to work with the men, women and the young people in prison to help them to become fully functioning and participating members of our society. One of my biggest challenges is to get church leaders to come into prison. Many of the churches that I know, in fact all of the churches have some kind of missions policy or statement of ministry yet there aren’t many churches who have an active prisons ministry, yet the bible is very clear, we need to remember those in prison. My challenge to church leaders is, have you been in to remember the people in prison? So for me, even with a very busy schedule, I will always prioritise time to bring a church leader into prison because I find that then changes their perspective as they begin to appreciate what it’s like to be in prison and to visit it. I’ve got a great passion for breaking down those barriers and that is driven by my faith, my faith is everything.
If you’re thinking about getting involved in Prison Ministry the first thing I’d say is you need to pray. I wouldn’t be in prison unless I felt a real sense of call from God to be there. Clearly there is not space in all the prisons for everyone to come in so we need people praying for us and supporting us. Certainly there are moments when we all feel like saying that’s it, I’m going to walk away, it’s too tough, but I’m there and I remain there because I feel that its where God has called me to be. I’m privileged to have friends that are praying for me on a regular basis and without the support of praying friends then I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Most prison chaplaincies are seeking volunteers, we couldn’t to half of what we do in prison without some very good and capable volunteers who work with us. So make an approach, find your nearest prison, contact the chaplain, and say 'Hey, how can I come and be part of what you’re doing.'