Inside Prison Songs of Praise


Inside Prison

For Prisons Sunday, Aled Jones is given access to HMP Wayland in Norfolk to meet staff and prisoners and introduce a selection of hymns from around the country.


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Today is Prison Sunday.

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It's the start of a week of prayer and support

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for everyone involved in prison life,

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including prisoners and the victims of their crimes.

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I'm being allowed into a closed prison,

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HMP Wayland, in Norfolk,

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to seek out examples of belief behind bars.

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Tonight, I meet some of those

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who live and work in this prison community,

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and congregations from towns and cities all over the country

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which have a prison as part of their community

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sing hymns of penitence

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and forgiveness.

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'Built in 1985 in the Norfolk countryside,

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'Her Majesty's Prison Wayland is a Category C prison.

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'That's for adult males who aren't likely to try to escape,

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'but can't quite be trusted in an open prison.'

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-Good morning.

-How are you?

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Here in Wayland,

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there are around 1,000 inmates who currently fit that description.

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Bob Wilson is a Baptist minister

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and a member of Wayland's multi-faith prison chaplaincy team.

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There's no godless place.

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You know, God is, essentially, everywhere,

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and he's just as much in here as he is

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out through the gates the other side.

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But haven't prisoners failed God in a serious way?

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They've failed humanity in a serious way, they've failed themselves in a serious way,

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they've failed their victims and community in a serious way,

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but I don't think God is surprised at what they did.

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I think God knows all of us.

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Jesus, in Matthew 25, was really, really clear,

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when he said that when you look into the eyes of prisoners, you see me.

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He says that for whatever you did

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for the least of these brothers of mine, you did also for me.

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And so I often think, when I look into the eyes of prisoners,

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I see the eyes of Jesus there.

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The Stations of the Cross here in the prison chapel

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graphically tell the story of how Jesus, an innocent man,

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was executed as a common criminal.

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And yet, with almost his last breath,

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Jesus forgave his murderers

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and showed compassion to a repentant thief.

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Contrary to popular opinion, prison is far from being a holiday camp.

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Very few possessions are allowed outside the basics,

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but prisoners can have access to music

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and to things they might need to practice their faith,

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in what's otherwise a strict and spartan environment.

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But the noise of rattling keys and banging doors is never far away.

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This prison's a really good training prison

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that is working every day with prisoners,

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to try to support effective rehabilitation.

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We have, in the Prison and Probation Service,

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a motto that talks about preventing victims by changing lives.

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And that's absolutely what Wayland's about.

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It works very hard with individual prisoners

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to make them think about why it is that they've been offending,

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to give them skills to help them to change.

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Very many prisoners

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come in with very low levels of numeracy, literacy,

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and we also train them in ICT.

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So, there's a whole range of vocational training

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as well as programs to help them to think through...

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about why they have been offending.

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I really believe God has placed me in the prison.

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In here, we run Level I and Level II plastering

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and Level I and Level II bricklaying and, basically,

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we kit the guys out so they can build a house, really,

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from bottom to top.

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Is it wise giving prisoners tools that they could use for escape?

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They're all checked before we start each session.

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They're all checked after each session.

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There're all locked away safely at the end of the day.

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They're really well-protected.

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I know this sounds silly, but I get that light bulb moment,

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when you see somebody can do something for the first time.

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The guys need to learn, and if we can give them a hope for the future,

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they can find work, they'll be earning and putting back into the community,

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which is what it's all about.

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There's been people go from this prison and helped in the community recently,

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and it's important that we can do that.

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They can't do that without the skills.

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As well as learning new skills,

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prisoners can even earn a little money,

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some of which is paid into a fund for victims.

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So, good behaviour is rewarded.

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If you don't abide by the rules,

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any privileges can - and will - be taken away.

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But compared with prison conditions in centuries gone by,

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the loss of liberty is now regarded as enough of a punishment.

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One person prisoners have to thank for that

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was an 18th-century Quaker, Elizabeth Fry,

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who helped reform the prison system, to make it more humane.

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Our next hymn is by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier

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and comes from Elizabeth Fry's own meeting house in nearby Norwich.

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David has been in prison for 13 years.

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He won't be released until at least 2014.

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We're here for a reason,

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I'm here for a reason. So...

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..it's not supposed to be nice.

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But it can be very beneficial.

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And I've chosen to make it benefit me.

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I've been on a journey,

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I've done all the education stuff, I've done vocational stuff,

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I've made myself employable, which I probably wasn't when I came away.

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But, for me, it's finding out who I am,

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finding out who I can be.

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Anybody who I've hurt...

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..any victim who I've created...

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..I can only hope that I can prove that I can be given a second chance

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and I can get a second chance with their blessing.

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I suppose you try and blame all sorts of things

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for things that go wrong in your life.

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But...the realisation that...

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you are in control of everything you do,

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you have a choice to make, you have decisions to make,

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and you make the wrong choice, you make a wrong decision,

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you've got to take responsibility for that.

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It can get very lonely at times and you can feel very alone.

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Although you do build up a rapport with people in prison,

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whether that be staff or...other inmates,

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I can only take it to a certain point.

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And that's very difficult, because I am a very...

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I suppose I'm an emotional person, and I do miss my family

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and...that separation is very hard to deal with.

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Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love, have mercy

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and walk humbly together with Christ in His strength

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and in His spirit, now and every day.

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The chaplaincy, they do more

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than just the traditional religious support.

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Sometimes people are not necessarily religious, but when there

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are sad times or deaths in families and such like,

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the chaplaincy is someone that they can turn to.

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But it's also someone staff can turn to.

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You have to have compassion in this environment.

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Some people are very distressed. It's a very human place to be.

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You see all range of human emotions on display.

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So compassion's important. It's essential for any prison officer.

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My philosophy has always been, they've been judged,

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my job isn't to judge them, they've been judged.

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My job is to look after them...the best way I can in here.

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I've been in some situations where you think, wow,

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this could turn really nasty, but the staff here are fantastic.

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You do get some good support and you've got back-up all the time.

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Sounds trite in lots of ways, but God is everywhere.

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And yes, very definitely with prisoners and staff.

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To me it's the sort of basis of what I do.

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The hymn And Can It Be is my favourite hymn.

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It might be seen as a risky one for the Head of the Prison Service,

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because the fourth verse is about a prison escape.

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It's about Peter escaping from prison in Jerusalem,

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when the angel comes and his handcuffs fall off

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and he gets out past the guards and amazes his friends.

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And everyone can know that freedom and release through God's love.

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And in prison, that freedom might well be a spiritual freedom,

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rather than a physical freedom, but it's life-changing nonetheless.

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Visiting those in prison is an act of mercy which Jesus said

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was akin to doing the same for him.

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The Wesley brothers were prison visitors in the most dangerous circumstances.

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Prisoners still rely heavily on volunteers to visit them.

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Very often, there's quite a lot of interest in matters of faith.

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Some of them say that when they're on the outside,

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they had very little opportunity to think.

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So busy making life for themselves, making money illegally or legally.

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When they come here they've got more time than they want to think.

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And for those who've been in and out for some time,

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they're looking for a new way of life.

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Certainly those who come to the chapel are looking for something

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and I think we have something important to give to them in our own Christian faith.

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I see them as human beings.

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All of us are ragged, for want of a better word,

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and certainly my belief in the eyes of God is that we're all ragged.

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It's just that I've been fortunate that the things I've done wrong

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haven't ended me up in an institution such as this.

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But there are so many untapped gifts in the guys that are in here,

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it's staggering. It staggers me regularly.

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I tutor something called the Sycamore Tree course,

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or the guys call it a victim awareness course.

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And it looks at an alternative justice system

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and looks to restore the guys into the community when they're released.

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It actually gets them

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to thing about the effect of their crime on their victim.

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And part of the course, on the last session,

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the guys carry out something called a symbolic act of restitution,

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which involves... It can be a letter writing.

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I've had guys sing songs, write poetry, do pictures and so on.

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When we see guys being released and we hear that they've settled,

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they've made a home, they've made a life for themselves,

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what more reward could you possibly want?

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The pure and contrite heart in Charles Wesley's hymn

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is based on Psalm 51.

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David the King and Psalmist was also an adulterer and murderer,

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until he repented.

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I'm not sure if you can have true forgiveness without there being

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a sense of remorse in the person who is being forgiven.

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There's a huge misunderstanding about forgiveness, I think.

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Forgiveness is not about letting people off.

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Crime is about hurting people

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and when you see that crime is about hurting people

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you have got to understand

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that there has got to be an element of punishment

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and there has also got to be an element of how does that person

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change so that they don't hurt someone else again?

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So, there should be, especially for the Christian,

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no Get Out Of Jail Free card.

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They can understand God's forgiveness but they've also got to understand

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that they've got to change and move forward from that place.

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David's serving a life sentence for his part in a murder.

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The chaplaincy are helping him

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explore ways of expressing remorse to all those affected by his crime.

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Some might say, "If you are a Christian in the first place

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"then why would you commit a crime?"

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The times I was doing things

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I shouldn't have been doing and all the stuff

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I shouldn't have been doing as a Christian,

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I was still learning, you know? I had a lot to learn.

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As much as I felt I knew the lot or knew everything, I didn't.

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I made mistakes. A lot of mistakes.

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I have learnt from a lot of the mistakes I've made.

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'I've always looked to God and asked for forgiveness for things I've done.

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'It came to a point where,

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'when I can't keep doing things wrong

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'and asking for forgiveness, it's time to do things right

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'and being inside this time

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'has afforded me the time and space to really get to grips with that.'

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I'm not just going to turn to God and ask, "Can you forgive me?"

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I'm going to kind of prove that I should be forgiven

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and try and make up for anything I've done wrong.

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'I'd like to help people not to make mistakes,

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'definitely not the mistakes I've made,

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'but to break the cycle before it's too late,

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'before they have to go through an experience what I've gone through.'

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The words of our next hymn writer, John Newton,

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emphasise that even for him, a former slave trader,

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it was never too late to seek forgiveness.

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Lord, you offer freedom to all people.

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We pray for those in prison,

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break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist.

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Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends,

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prison staff and all who care.

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Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others

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especially the victims of crime.

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Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, to love mercy

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and to walk humbly together with Christ

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in his strength and in his spirit.

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And may God bless you now and every day.

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-Amen.

-Amen.

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For our final hymn, we join the congregation

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at St Anne's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Leeds

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to sing with confidence

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that we are all ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven.

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Next week, Sally meets composer Paul Mealor

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who wrote last year's Christmas hit for the Military Wives Choir

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and introduces hymns and songs from Dunblane Cathedral

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with an all-male line-up -

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the boys and young men of the National Youth Choirs of Scotland.

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