Prison visits through chaplaincy offers beacon of hope
With friendship at the forefront of what he does, Toowoomba man Terry Collins delivers a unique type of support to prisoners
For Toowoomba man Terry Collins, life has always been about community.
Born on the family farm at Willowvale near Warwick, Terry started life in a small community which gave him the grounding for the rest of his life.
“We only had 21 kids at the Willowvale school and the same teacher for eight years,” he smiled.
“We had a family of 11 while the Fitzgeralds had 16.
“It was a good Christian community and looking back, it’s the quality of those people that strikes me.
“Out of the 21 kids at the school, two
became Catholic priests and another two (religious) ministers.
“It was a simple life but it gave me the foundation for the rest of my life.
“There was great generosity of spirit to help one another in that community.”
Terry completed his education at Downlands College which he described as “a different community”.
After completing his schooling at Downlands College he joined Queensland Rail and, apart from two years national service, he was to spend 47 years with the railway before his retirement six years ago.
Terry and his wife Noreen, an Allora girl, had eight children and through his work with the railway the family got to spend time in many communities up and down the state.
Having started as an engine cleaner with the railway in Warwick, Terry moved on to be a railway train fireman at Mt Isa before becoming a train driver, travelling the state.
“In the smaller towns you really get the sense of community and get involved in sport and other things,” Terry said.
“I got to meet a lot of good people and some larrikins too.”
I have 20 to 30 blokes I see weekly and we’ve developed a friendship.
Since retirement in Toowoomba, Terry and Noreen have taken to various volunteer work with Noreen involved in St Patrick’s parish Care and Concern movement among other things while Terry has found yet another community with which to engage.
For the past four years he has been involved in the prison chaplaincy program.
Friends of his had been involved in the prison chaplaincy program for some time and, believing Terry was ideal for such volunteer work, took him along to see how the service worked.
“It was a real eye opener but I thought it was such an important program and I really took to it,” he said.
“It’s Christian based and we have five or six different denominations who work together.
“We’re all working for the same purpose though with a different approach.”
Terry said the chaplaincy program provided support for long-term as well as short-term prisoners, some of whom come from Toowoomba, Darling Downs and Lockyer regions who are especially pleased to catch up with news from their home towns.
“I have 20 to 30 blokes I see weekly and we’ve developed a friendship,” he said.
“Some of them are very talented, there is one fellow who is a long-term prisoner who is a very talented Aboriginal artist while others play musical instruments.
“Some of them are studying for degrees to better themselves when they get out.
“We don’t know the reason why they’re in there and we don’t ask, though sometimes they tell us.
“The sad thing is the effect that drugs have had on some of them.”
Terry also conducts a church service once a month that is also well attended.
“We had one service where a few of them grab their guitars, drums and other instruments for the service.
“We really had it rockin’,” he grinned.
Terry Collins has been volunteering for four years in prison chaplaincy.