A humanitarian task in prison
When a person is taken into custody, it is the first step in a process for which the prison service is responsible. The person concerned is informed about his right to practise his religion and to have a contact person to talk to. That is, a vicar, an imam or som someone of another religion.
– Being in custody is an isolated, enclosed environment with restrictions, many people spend a lot of time alone, without any contact with others. That is when they need company, says Marcus Fröding, a pastor in Östermalmskyrka.
– We approach people being detained in custody as human beings, and differentiate between what people are and what they do, they are people with responsibilities, not monsters, no matter what they have done, says Calle Jensen, a vicar in the Church of Sweden.
””Amnesty has criticised Sweden for holding people in custody for a long time. Sitting in isolation for a few days can be a good thing, it provides time for reflection, but longer periods can give rise to a lot of new problems”, says Calle Jensen.”
What do you talk about in gaol?
– Every person is unique, and that means that every time we talk, it is unique. It all depends on the needs of the moment.We help people to speak their thoughts and reflect, says Calle Jensen.
– Our talks are largely to give guidance and hope for the future. We don’t just talk about religion, religion only takes up a small part of our conversation, says Mohamed Younsi, an imam.
They say that these opportunities to talk are much sought-after. The three of them knock on the inmates’ doors and ask if they would like to talk. There is no compulsion to do so.
Why vicars and imams and not professional discussion leaders?
– Isolation stirs up questions about the meaning of life, they bubble up to the surface, say both Calle Jensen and Marcus Fröding.
They often speak to people in custody without knowing anything about their religious affiliations. They meet as many as they can, regardless of religion. If someone wants to meet a representative of another religion, this can sometimes be arranged.
Not just anyone can go to the gaol and speak to a person being held in custody. You must be authoriswd and recognised.
– You must have training and experience to be of any use here, says Mohamed Younsi.
None of them can send a colleague to the gaol as a stand-in. All three have given a vow of lifelong silence.
– The prison door divides the outer world from the inner,says Calle Jensen.
How do you set about gaining a person’s trust?
– I think people want to speak out to someone who is not connected with the criminal investigation. They know we have nothing at all to do with the police. It can take a longer or shorter time to build up trust, says Calle Jensen.
Language is a limiting factor in their work,but they get along with easy English and French. Mohamad Younsi speaks several languages. Using an interpreter is not allowed.
All three have had feedback from people who have been in custody and later released. They have thanked vicars and imams for conversations which have led to their changing their way of life.
Have you ever been involved in any dangerous or strange situations?
– We have access to professional guidance. Co-operation between us and the prison service is very good, says Calle Jensen.
To be locked up with full restrictions means that inmates may not speak to relatives or use the media. The only only people they are allowed to have contact with are their lawyer and their vicar or imam.
– Amnesty has criticised Sweden for holding people in custody for a long time. Sitting in isolation for a few days can be a good thing, it provides time for reflection, but longer periods can give rise to a lot of new problems, says Calle Jensen.
Calle Jensen: Vicar in the Church of Sweden. 20 per cent of his work is at the gaol, which he visits two Days a week.
Marcus Fröding: Pastor in Östermalmskyrka.The Östermalm congregation was formed in an amalgamation of the Baptist church and the Pentecostal Church in Kristianstad. He visits the gaol one day per week.
Mohamed Younsi: Imam, committee member the Swedish Imam Council. The Imam Council is part of the United Islamic Unions in Sweden.
Talks in gaol
The purpose of the talks: ”To meet people, whether believers, seekers or non-believers, brerak down isolation, and by means of discussion strengthen their self-confidence and dignity, so that they are not afraid to ahoulder responsibility and can more easily see other people’s value and rights.
Try to break down hate and feelings of revenge by meeting them sympathetically.
Try to break down prejudices around those in custody, protect human values and inform the public about the work done by NAV, the committee for spiritual welfare. People with religious beliefs must be helped to continue practising their faith.”
150 vicars and deacons work in the Swedish prison service.
The Swedish Christian Council (SKR) co-ordinates work in the whole country. The council is an ecumenical body in which most churches in Sweden are members.
In Islam co-ordination is organised through the Swedish Muslim Council (SMR). The Unites Islamic Unions in Sweden is responsioble for the people who speak to people in custody.
Everyone who works within NAV is charged with helping the people in custody and people in prison to meet rerpresentatives for thweir beliefs and religion.
Source: Swedish Christian Council