… who are not academic or who have specific skills, are at a disadvantage, compared to other groups (young women, older men, babies, children, older women) in modern Britain. Their specific attributes – physical strength, daring, team loyalty – are not those that find an immediate use in a country which has less heavy industry than in the recent past. The current methods of education don’t really suit them: they need and like a greater sense of structure and immediate purpose. History, for example, is made dull for them by focusing on themes and messages rather than dates and information and exciting stories. And they lack role models, especially fathers.
Talking – or, better, listening – to young men in prison it is noticeable that the one thing they have in common is a lack of a good father. What are now fashionably called “male role models” are also generally missing: we need more men as teachers and youth leaders. We need more priests.
A good prison chaplain is a real blessing. They like greeting him as “Father”, they listen to him, they go to his talks and lessons, and go to Confession to him. They take hin seriously, follow his instructions and ask his help. They will take catechetical instruction from some one who is seen as his assistant and they like the sense that there is a strong Church of which they are a part. They need this as a clear form of identity faced with considerable Islamic pressure.
I find that the young men enjoy a structured, rather formal preparation for Baptism and/or Confirmation. They are happy to report on work done – prayers learned, information grasped, sections of a workbook completed. The sense of sitting rather formally and working on a specific topic, with a sense of seriousness, appeals – as does the tribal sense of belonging to the Church, having a Rosary and a Bible, signing up for Mass (and working to turn the large general chaplaincy area into quite a good chapel with statues, kneelers, sanctuary, altar, font, etc). They like a good formal liturgy and relish singing good hymns.
The prison that I visit offers plenty of sports and has generally good facilities, plus decent food and clean cells. The young men have opportunities to train for various jobs, and there is encouragement and support in making realistic plans for the future.
Pray for the people in our prisons.