Giving hope behind bars
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.”
Joe O’brien has run church ministries in WA prisons for the past nine years.