The work of giving hope to those in prison

A passage from the Bible changed Deacon Russ Nelson’s career. The Centacare volunteer was sitting in his dining room when he stumbled across the verse.

“I was in prison, and you visited me,” said Deacon Russ, quoting Mathew 25:36. “I had been transporting families to visit people in prison for over 30 years, but in that moment I realised I could do more.”

Deacon Russ become a prison chaplain and now provides pastoral and spiritual care to prisoners at Wacol and Wolston correctional centres.

Centacare chaplains are on hand in prisons across South East Queensland to help inmates make sense of their current experience. They offer a listening ear and a sense of security through the calmer and more manageable environment their presence and services create.

For Deacon Russ, prison chaplaincy is about providing hope.

“Inmates often express profound emotions such as anger, frustration and regret,” said Deacon Russ.

“They’re often in the habit of comparing themselves and their crimes to others. As chaplains we play a really important role in helping inmates let off steam, release their frustrations and share their burdens with someone. We remind them that there is hope – that they have the capacity for more.”

For many people a visit from a chaplain leaves them experiencing a sense of peace, acceptance of what is happening for them and some clarity about how they can move forward. All discussions with chaplains are confidential and the chaplains do not take notes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are more than 42,000 people behind bars in Australia, the highest rate in a century. Queensland’s Productivity Commission into imprisonment and recidivism found 50 per cent of released inmates reoffended and returned to prison within two years.

Deacon Russ said Australia needed to focus on the reintegration of prisoners back into society. However, he recognised the pervasive cycle of intergenerational trauma as a catalyst for re-incarceration.

“A lot of prisoners come from challenging backgrounds and don’t have family support,” he said. “When they are released, they can fall back with the people who got them in trouble.”

Centacare’s Post Release Service supports people in prison in the lead up to their release and for 12 months following. Services offered include counselling with a qualified social worker to help navigate the experiences of incarceration and release as well as practical support for re-entering the community.

Their work is supported by the Archdiocese of Brisbane, the Department of Communities and donations from generous Brisbane donors.

Find out more about Centacare’s chaplaincy support for people in prisons.