Club Gets a Taste of Prison!

Our meeting on Wednesday 22 November was an on-line meeting with a speaker – Major Paul Robinson – who serves as a chaplain in HM Prison in Norwich, amongst other duties.  Paul is a long-standing member of Rotary, and as his position as a Major in the Salvation Army demands regular home moves, he is currently in his fourth Rotary Club – the Rotary Club of Norwich St Edmund.

Prison is an environment that is unfamiliar to most Rotarians, so members listened keenly to find out what actually goes on, as opposed to the image of prison portrayed in the media.  Paul described the many steps that have to be followed from parking his car in the car park to gaining access to his office inside the prison.  A bewildering number of clicks, searches, scans, checks and double locking is required.  One step missed means that a prison alarm will sound, and the prison officers will come at the double!

For some, serving a sentence in prison is seen as a rite of passage, and in one case – we learned – was an opportunity to link up with other family members, even if on the same wing but on a different floor.  Part of the job of Prison Chaplain is to help such offenders see that there are other ways of holding a family together.  When there is no common language between the chaplain and the prisoner, as may be the case with illegal immigrants, the work can be very challenging.  We heard how some prisoners may try to take advantage of the chaplain, and the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the attempts fail.  Each chaplain may cover many different faiths as sadly their numbers are quite limited.

Above all, the most important skill seemed to be active listening, that is not just hearing but thinking whilst hearing what the prisoner says.  Sometimes a prisoner may be trying to “set up” the chaplain to ensure that a privilege or advantage can be exploited.  However, active listening does provide the opportunity to encourage and help prisoners reshape their lives so that they can take a different direction when they are released.

We hope many members and their friends will also be listening when our Choral Concert takes place at St Alban’s Church, North Harrow on Saturday 25 November 2023 starting at 7pm.

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