Giv­ing hope be­hind bars

Canning Gazette - - NEWS - Eric Martin

THE work peo­ple such as Joe O’brien do for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice was cel­e­brated in the city this week.

The faces of WA Depart­ment of Jus­tice work­ers were dis­played on the Ya­gan Square tower to cel­e­brate Na­tional Cor­rec­tions Day to­mor­row.

The dis­plays in­cluded quotes about their work.

The Bell Tower, El­iz­a­beth Quay, Mata­garup Bridge and Coun­cil House were il­lu­mi­nated at var­i­ous times through­out the week in the Na­tional Cor­rec­tions Day colours of blue and green.

There was also a dis­play of prison in­dus­tries craft­work in the David Mal­colm Jus­tice Cen­tre foyer in Bar­rack Street.

Cor­rec­tive Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner Tony Has­sall said the week en­abled the im­por­tant work that went on be­hind prison walls and with of­fend­ers re­leased into the com­mu­nity to be show­cased.

“What goes on ev­ery day across our 18 fa­cil­i­ties is re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, health care and coun­selling,” Mr Has­sall said.

“The in­cred­i­ble work un­der­taken by those who I like to call the quiet achiev­ers in our sys­tem is rarely recog­nised, so this week the depart­ment has great pride in be­ing able to say that th­ese peo­ple work hard ev­ery day to im­prove peo­ple’s lives.”

JOE O’brien never ex­pected to spend the past nine years be­hind bars.

He has spent that time at Hakea Prison, Perth’s max­i­mum se­cu­rity jail in Can­ning Vale, at the di­rect re­quest of a bishop.

Mr O’brien is the co­or­di­na­tor of the Arch­dio­cese of Perth’s prison min­istry, which was es­tab­lished in 1986.

“When Bishop Don Sprox­ton first asked me about tak­ing on the prison min­istry, I said ‘you’ve got to be jok­ing’,” he said. “Yet here I am, nine years later and still lov­ing what I do.”

Pas­toral care ser­vices sup­port hun­dreds of peo­ple in pris­ons and de­ten­tion cen­tres across WA, rang­ing from young to old, and in­clud­ing all types of in­mates. They are also avail­able for prison staff.

Mr O’brien said show­ing com­pas­sion to those be­hind bars was key to his role, as well as be­ing will­ing to put his faith on the line.

“To work in this sort of en­vi­ron­ment, you re­ally have to have a con­crete faith,” he said.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, I see that my faith is al­ways get­ting chal­lenged, even sim­ply by some of the sto­ries that I hear. How­ever, even hear­ing those sto­ries, just lis­ten­ing and be­ing there, I’ve had guys tell me years later that those mo­ments re­ally changed their life.

“And that’s in­cred­i­bly faith build­ing over­all, but at the time it was a real chal­lenge for me.”

Two In­dige­nous chap­lains were ap­pointed last year to help meet the spir­i­tual needs of the Abo­rig­i­nal prison pop­u­la­tion.

As well as be­ing some­one who could lis­ten, Mr O’brien said chap­lains also pro­vided a source of sta­bil­ity to pris­on­ers, who of­ten came from dif­fi­cult back­grounds.

“Pris­on­ers live in a real world that is of­ten filled with a great deal of dys­func­tion­al­ity,” he said.

“They’re look­ing for some­one who’s solid, be­cause many of them have noth­ing like that.”

Mr O’brien said while he was happy to speak about re­li­gion to pris­on­ers, giv­ing them hope and sup­port was the big­gest pri­or­ity.

“It’s not about push­ing my faith,” he said. “What we bring is hope; that’s the role of a chap­lain.”

Pic­ture: Jamie O’brien

Joe O’brien has run church min­istries in WA pris­ons for the past nine years.

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