Opening The Bible behind bars

“The Scriptures hold out the hope of change, the hope of eternal life and the hope of forgiveness. That’s a biblical hope; it’s not just an airy fairy hope,” shares Wally Pospelyj, chaplain at a jail in Sydney’s north. “It’s something that brings a lot of purpose, value and meaning to their lives. It gives them their true identity. It’s something quite substantial.”

These powerful statements from Wally are frank summaries about the impact that Opening The Bible can have – on inmates.

Wally has served for 20 years as a chaplain in jails across metropolitan Sydney. Currently at Geoffrey Pearce Correctional Complex near Windsor, Wally loves appropriately being able to Open The Bible with those on the inside.

Wally is one of 77 chaplains – including some from other religions such as Islam and Buddhism – who are spread across 35 correctional facilities. And that’s just in New South Wales; many more chaplains bring the good news behind bars across Australia.

Wally also offers straight-shooting spiritual support along with practical assistance.

As you could imagine, Wally has seen a lot. But it might not be totally what you think. From helping people in remand with getting bills paid or feeding pets, to teaching convicted murderers how to go shopping upon their release, Wally also offers straight-shooting spiritual support along with practical assistance.

“Chaplains are often the ones who inmates see as being in the jails because we [actually] want to be there,” explains Wally, who was a police officer and Anglican Church minister before getting into prison chaplaincy.

“I really enjoy the work and the people I get to mix with. The guys in jail are a bit looser and you can be more blunt and up front with them.”

Corrective Services NSW chaplains don’t only work with inmates. Their pastoral service extends to staff as well. “Staff members I have connected well with see us as a supportive role,” shares Wally.

Chaplains working in NSW correctional centres who aim to bring a “calming presence and influence” for the benefit of inmates and staff, will soon also will have access to new custom Bibles. Created especially for Corrective Services NSW staff and published by Bible Society Australia, the new custom Bible includes extra practical materials relevant to their workplace. Pertinent content such as how to conduct remembrance services, or prayers for Correctional Officers.

Available to all staff, the custom Bible is similar to others distributed by Bible Society Australia around the country. Also this year, NSW Ambulance chaplains will be equipped with Bible versions for the staff they support. Chaplains with Australian Federal Police, as well as the WA and Victoria Police forces, will receive a fresh supply of reprinted custom Bibles.

“The great themes of the Bible – of forgiveness, creation, redemption, new creation, our innate value as being made in the image of God – are instantly relevant.” – Rev Keith Mascord

Rev. Dr Keith Mascord is Chaplaincy Coordinator responsible for managing the chaplaincy service across NSW. He happily confirms the Bible already is a common resource deployed by chaplains like Wally, across the state.

“The Bible is being opened regularly. People are doing Bible courses,” says Keith. “I have attended many chapel services where the Bible is taught. Inmates take part in the service by reading it, and often speak about its relevance to their lives.”

“Inmates are exposed to preaching and Bible studies; the Bible is being used all the time by the Christian chaplains.”

Along with leading daily chapel services, Wally recently started an afternoon Bible study in his office. Inmates can stop by for 15 minutes or so and get stuck into God’s word. These times of Opening The Bible have been helpful for discussing hard questions, or to challenge inmates to actually read what the Bible says.

“The great things of the gospel are powerful in the custodial setting,” adds Keith. “The great themes of the Bible – of forgiveness, creation, redemption, new creation, our innate value as being made in the image of God – are instantly relevant.”

While Wally can’t testify to how some that he has supported are doing on the outside, he’s witnessed the lives of inmates radically changed by God’s Spirit and Opening The Bible.

“There’s a bunch of guys, over the years, who take it seriously, and say they are committed Christians,” says Wally. “For the most part, they live their life inside … by honouring God with their lifestyle and decisions.

“When I look at the dysfunction and the backgrounds of the guys in jail – the abuse, the violence and all the other stuff – the Scriptures are the only thing that bring healing and release from that.”

You can support chaplains Opening the Bible in corrections centres across Australia here.

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