I ran into Paul in the shopping centre. I hadn’t seen him for over three years when he was still in gaol. He’s in his late mid-20s. He’s been out for a month. The longest time since he was 14.
Paul is Aboriginal and his story is the story of disadvantage of so many Aboriginal men. 25 percent of the men in prison in NSW are Aboriginal. It’s a much higher percentage for women. We may ask, “What can be done?” but I think it’s the wrong question.
Many people have done many things. Government has done many things. The rate of Aboriginal incarceration does not come down. This doesn’t mean that these efforts are not genuine. Nor does it mean that they have no effect. Corrective Services has a number of programs specifically targeted at reducing the rate of Aboriginal incarceration. NAIDOC week in NSW prisons is celebrated exceptionally well. I have seen Paul participate in Aboriginal dance on one of these occasions. And he came alive.
Through participation in traditional dance alongside Aboriginal brothers, Paul developed such a full sense of identity and pride. He was greatly energised by the experience. Acknowledging and celebrating aboriginality went a long way towards developing hope for Paul. Hope in and beyond the prison walls. Hope and belief that he is valued for who he is and his identity matters.
So doing things can help. But rather than, “What can be done?” I think a better question is, “What can I do?” Yes, you do need to do something. But it’s not to simply run a program. Programs help. But people matter. What people need is relationship.
One day one of the drug and alcohol counsellors in prison who had run many programs in which Paul participated said to the chaplain, “I’ve seen Paul do many programs but what you’ve done for him has really made a difference.”
The chaplain reflected on what he might have done that made a difference. He recognised that he wasn’t just working on his own. He had the Holy Spirit to help. That’s a bit of an advantage. And Paul was a regular at Sunday chapel and midweek Bible study. Clearly God was doing a work in Paul’s life and this is obviously a great advantage over just participating in a program.
Of course chapel and even Bible study can be just another program. Something you do because that’s w\hat you do. But recognising God’s hand in blessing Paul, the chaplain realised he was not just running a program but developing a relationship.
Paul realised that the chaplain was not just running a program with the expectation that Paul would change. Here was a man who actually cared for him. The chaplain had given Paul himself and through that relationship had introduced him to Jesus.
“What can be done?” Being a human being to a fellow human being helps. Running chapel and Bible study and even drug and alcohol programs helps. But it’s not just about running a program. Developing relationships because we’re all created in the image of God is what matters and is how the Holy Spirit changes lives.