Tag Archives: suicide

10 October: Prisoners’ Sunday 2021

For forty years now, Prisons Week has encouraged Christian individuals and churches to pray for the needs of all those affected by prisons: prisoners and their families, victims of crime and their communities, those working in the criminal justice system and the many people caring for those affected by crime inside and outside our prisons.

Prisons Week raises awareness and generates prayer. It motivates volunteers to step forward and give their time and gifts, in prisons and in their own communities. It provides an annual focus and reason for Christians to work together, building capacity and motivation to make a difference for people who are out of sight and often out of mind.

Today is Prisons Sunday – the second Sunday in October – marking the beginning of the week of prayer, which runs until Saturday.

Here’s a reflection from our friend Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish Chaplaincy, which supports Irish prisoners in England. It shows how effective this ministry can be, in God’s good time.

The Power of Kindness

By Eddie Gilmore

“We never know, at the time, the ripple of consequences set in motion by the slightest act of kindness.” Those words of the late Jonathan Sacks seem especially apt in the case of a man helped recently by the Irish Chaplaincy.

One of our team, Fiona, had, before the pandemic, begun to visit a Traveller man in one of the big London prisons. He was in segregation, ‘seg’, due to making threats to prison staff and having a weapon smuggled into the prison via a corrupt officer. His original sentence had been four years but he had served sixteen due to poor compliance and aggressive behaviour. Like many of those we meet in prison he had lived a chaotic lifestyle. His childhood included his father committing suicide when he was ten and his mother becoming a drug addict shortly afterwards. I can imagine that he had not received a great deal of kindness growing up. Tragically several of his sons are also in the criminal justice system. Fiona took an interest in him and she would often tell me in supervision about the hilarious comments he would make about various things. He was clearly responding to someone simply giving him a bit of positive attention and treating him in a different way to how he was probably used to being treated.

With prison visiting not possible through the lockdown the contact continued via phone. His aggressive behaviour diminished. He also heard that Fiona had managed to get two other Traveller men from the same prison into a rehab. facility following their release and he began to see this as a possible future option for himself. Eventually Fiona managed to get him considered for parole, and supported him closely through the process. And then one morning we all received an e-mail from Fiona with the incredible news that the parole outcome had been successful. He has just been released and has gone voluntarily into the rehab facility. It’s very early days and there is a lot of anxiety on his part but for him to have got to this point from where he was is nothing short of miraculous.

My background will have been very different to that of the man mentioned above: a stable home with a loving family and lots of opportunities. And yet, there have particular times in my own life when a simple act of kindness has been transformative, and has almost certainly inspired in me the wish to do likewise to others. When I eat my pre- big cycle bowl of porridge I’m often reminded of an act of kindness that was shown to me over twenty years ago. When spending a year in Seoul with Yim Soon and our three then young children I used to go once a month to spend twenty-four hours with the Columbans, a bunch of very welcoming and very entertaining Irish missionary priests (and it was the Columbans who founded the Irish Chaplaincy back in 1957). It was a little oasis for me: a chance to rest, relax, speak English, hear some funny stories, drink ‘real’ tea. One time at breakfast one of the guys, Pat Muldoon, was served with a big bowl of porridge which had been made specially for him. A usual Korean breakfast is much like lunch or dinner: rice together with various side dishes, some of them very spicy, a bowl of soup, meat, maybe even some raw fish for a special treat! He must have seen my eyes light up at the sight of the porridge because he put the bowl in front of me and walked off. True enough, after months of Korean style breakfasts, delicious as they were, all I wanted that morning was a bowl of simple, plain porridge served with a little sprinkling of sugar and a little bit of milk. I’ll never ever forget that gesture of Pat that meant the world to me at the time, nor the words he said to me on every visit, “Be nice to yourself.”

Sacks goes on to say that every day gives each of us an opportunity to change a life and by so doing to change the world, and he concludes that, “We mend the world one life at a time, one act at a time, one day at a time,” and that, “Every good act, every healing gesture, lights a candle of hope in a dark world.”

(Quotes taken from: ‘To heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility’ by Jonathan Sacks)

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8 March, Gates I: the gates of death.

Some of our posts during Lent will be a series, or as Christina would say, a season, on the theme of Gates, places where change can take place, where we can start a new life, perhaps in a new home. Some posts will be Scriptural, others from a variety of sources.

Our picture shows a section from the tympanum, or carved lintel panel above the West door of Strasbourg Cathedral. On the right we see one of the gates of death, attended by demons, with a woman descending into Hell. On the left is a remarkable image: the Lamb of God chewing through the rope on which Judas hanged himself, in order to save him from the gates of death. We should give some time to this chapter of Jesus’s story; certainly not one that appears explicitly in Scripture, but one that greatly mattered to the artist.

How many people have been so desperate that they committed suicide, as Judas did? In lockdown times, it is more difficult to get alongside friends who might be down, let alone strangers. Let us remember them when we say ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us Peace.’ And may we all come together soon to declare all God’s praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion – the people of God.

Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies. Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death, that I may declare all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion. I will rejoice in thy salvation: the Gentiles have stuck fast in the destruction which they have prepared. Their foot hath been taken in the very snare which they hid.

Psalm 9: 11-16.

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17 October: Night Wanderers

WH Davies was a Welsh poet who knew the hostels and streets of London, and the night wanderers who could not go indoors through the coldest winters. They are back on the streets and in the closed shop doorways of Canterbury as I write. Will.

They hear the bell of midnight toll,
And shiver in their flesh and soul;
They lie on hard, cold wood or stone,
Iron, and ache in every bone;
They hate the night: they see no eyes
Of loved ones in the starlit skies.
They see the cold, dark water near;
They dare not take long looks for fear
They'll fall like those poor birds that see
A snake's eyes staring at their tree.
Some of them laugh, half-mad; and some
All through the chilly night are dumb;
Like poor, weak infants some converse,
And cough like giants, deep and hoarse." 
                                                                            W. H. Davies

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14 September: Wesley on slavery XIV. Human trafficking in the 18th Century

Wesley continues his argument that it is not by nature that Africans were slaves but by deliberate cruelty on the part of slavers. We today do not know who might be on board a lorry, in a car boot, only to be deprived of liberty and justice by the traffickers and their co-conspirators.

They were, in most parts, a sensible and ingenious people. They were kind and friendly, courteous and obliging, and remarkably fair and just in their dealings. Such are the men whom you hire their own countrymen to tear away from this lovely country; part by stealth, part by force, part made captives in those wars which you raise or foment on purpose. You have seen them torn away, — children from their parents, parents from their children; husbands from their wives, wives from their beloved husbands, brethren and sisters from each other. You have dragged them who had never done you any wrong, perhaps in chains, from their native shore. You have forced them into your ships like an herd of swine, — them who had souls immortal as your own; only some of them leaped into the sea, and resolutely stayed under water, till they could suffer no more from you. You have stowed them together as close as ever they could lie, without any regard either to decency or convenience. And when many of them had been poisoned by foul air, or had sunk under various hardships, you have seen their remains delivered to the deep, till the sea should give up his dead. You have carried the survivors into the vilest slavery, never to end but with life; such slavery as is not found among the Turks at Algiers, no, nor among the Heathens in America.

Oscar Murillo’s Turner Prize travellers

 May I speak plainly to you? I must. Love constrains me; love to you, as well as to those you are concerned with. Is there a God? You know there is. Is he a just God? Then there must be a state of retribution; a state wherein the just God will reward every man according to his works. Then what reward will he render to you? O think betimes! before you drop into eternity! Think now, “He shall have judgment without mercy that showed no mercy.”

Sadly, trafficking continues – we must not grow inured to people dying in the back of container trucks, or smuggled across frontiers in other ways. And if the places they are leaving are poverty stricken, is that not thanks to the economic system which has benefitted us in the prosperous West, but not the people whose fingers do so much of the work, whose products are affordable to us but highly priced to them.

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17 February: Volunteer of the Year

sr moira

This year the winner of Irish in Britain’s Individual Volunteer Award was our very own Sister Moira Keane. Moira has been a Mercy religious sister for 60 years, working on the margins of our society.  Her work over many years, in particular as a prison Chaplain for 12 years, brought her into contact with the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas, where she has been a volunteer since 2012.  


Moira has an extensive and exceptional resume of volunteering, described as “a natural carer” with “boundless energy”. She gives invaluable hours to assist with prison visits, advice, advocacy, suicide attempt prevention, pastoral care as well as providing much needed support for distressed family members. 


Moira has worked on a number of ICPO projects as well as relieving caseworkers of admin and telephone duties when she’s in the office.  This is crucial respite for staff who oftentimes are dealing with a backlog.

Moira just keeps giving; she visits prisons if and when needed and often in her own time outside of her office hours.   Moira also puts herself forward as a resource for ICPO staff and volunteers, providing a listening ear and practical support where appropriate.  She has facilitated staff away days and also on occasion has opened her door to provide staff with much needed respite and even a break away. 


As ICPO provide a support service to Irish prisoners and their families, we are extremely fortunate to have a volunteer who has remained with us for more than seven years; and someone who has more than 12 years’ experience within the prison service as a Chaplain.


Moira’s wealth of knowledge is vast and we know what a difference she makes in the lives of Irish prisoners and their families; and how her expert support can lead to a healthier Irish prisoner community and aid rehabilitation.  For this reason we couldn’t think of a more fitting winner of IIB individual volunteer Award, than Sr. Moira Keane.
Moira’s undoubtedly impressive and endless resume of experience, skills and knowledge come even second to her wonderful gifts of loyalty and trust.  She has boundless energy and a magnificent sense of humour that keeps her and those around her going and going.  Her honesty, which she makes no apology for, is second to none.  Moreover, it is doubtful there is anything in the world that Moira wouldn’t help a vulnerable person with if in their best interest.  She has proved this time and again, leaving those working with her in awe.  


The impact of Moira’s voluntary work can be summed up as: improving the emotional and material well-being of Irish people in prison; and helping to reduce isolation for them and their families while supporting staff in a practical and pastoral way.
All in all a worthy winner of this prestigious award.

Breda Power, London Prisons’ Visitor

Are you Interested in Volunteering for the Irish Chaplaincy….
We have many opportunities, including: befriending, prison visiting, answering the phone, casework, admin, fundraising, comms.
Contact Declan Ganly:  declan.ganly@irishchaplaincy.org.uk  

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2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

north pole

Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

crib saddleworth.jpg

 

 

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December 15: A Dedicated Follower of . . .

j baptist venice 1

Last month Venice was a city with both feet in the water, and not for the first time. So perhaps I should not have been surprised to come across so many images of the Advent Saint, John the Baptist, This one is on a tomb monument. A well-dressed young prophet, his camel skin tailored to display a well-turned pair of legs; his coiffure and beard would win praise from today’s London fashionistas.

Coming from an influential priestly family, John could have become a leader of fashionable society in 1st Century Jerusalem. But he seems to have tasted the world of influence and power, finding it thin and bitter. instead he ran away to the desert to find himself and to find God.

That was the result of his flight from the bright city lights, but perhaps when he ran away it was just to escape the life that apparently had been laid down for him: to serve as priest in the Temple according to the rota, while back home, working his allotment to feed his family; meanwhile tight-roping between encouraging the People of God and placating the Romans. Would you blame him for running away?

But then he found himself running to someone. God was in the desert, as Moses discovered in the burning bush. And Gods light shone in him, and people were attracted to him, though his camel skin coat was probably less well tailored than this one here!

Let’s keep in our hearts and prayers those people who find their lives bitter, whose happiness is fragile, who might be tempted towards the desert place from which there is no return. Let us pray that someone may come alongside them when most needed, even if it be you or me.

And let us remember those who do this all the time: Emergency Services, Samaritans, Street Pastors, the Beachy Head Wardens, and so many more.

Lord in your great mercy, hear our prayer.

mercy.carving. (328x640)

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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October 25, Month of Mission: Beachy Head Chaplains

goldenstringimage

William Blake lived near Beachy Head in Sussex, part of the range of chalk cliffs he drew as a background for this verse.

Virginia Woolf was to drown herself in the nearby River Ouse a century and a half later, but today it is the cliffs themselves that attract the lonely, depressed and overwhelmed who are tempted to take their lives.

The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team are Christians from local churches ‘and although we reach out with the love of God, we never impose our faith on the people we seek to help.

‘We believe that by receiving skilled crisis intervention support at their time of crisis, people in suicidal distress can be awakened to the hope that there are other ways forward to address the problems they face.’judas

The Apostle Judas went out and hanged himself after seeing Jesus arrested and condemned, but the artist of Strasbourg Cathedral’s west front shows us the Lamb of God coming to release him from his noose and away from the mouth of Hell to go in at Heaven’s Gate.

In their different ways, the well-to-do and well-connected Virginia Woolf, and the disciple who was trusted by Jesus, were both privileged, yet both knew despair. It is not for us to condemn them, or any other suicide; rather let us support with prayer and alms brave good neighbours like the Samaritans and the Beachy Head Chaplains, not forgetting the official first responders, Police, Ambulance, Fire, Coastguard and Lifeboats.

And may we be ready with small talk or even a just a smile for anyone we meet.  Lead, Kindly Light!

 

 

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22 September: A railway reminder

ashfdlowsun1 (800x431)

I was leaving a railway station when the Samaritans’ placard caught my eye: it was fastened to the railing at the top of the footbridge, so that everyone could see it as they climbed. A mental ‘thumbs-up’ to them from me!

The following day, on the rails again, I turned my tickets over to find two different messages from the Samaritans. Notice the slogan, ‘small talk saves lives.‘ The life of an individual human being is small when set against the whole of Creation, but it is all that that person knows, through their own direct experience or through conversation, reading, viewing or listening: their one life is the big thing for them, with sensations and experiences arriving constantly from all sides, not all of them welcome, some of them overwhelming.

tickets

 

If a beloved feels overwhelmed, it’s a big thing for those who care for them. So big that they too may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do or say.

So perhaps Jesus was right to tell us to ‘consider the lilies of the field.’ (Matthew 6:28)  Small things, small talk. There was heather encroaching on the Yorkshire station; lovely purple flowers, but too far away on the opposite platform for me to catch the scent and comment on it to a fellow passenger.

On the return journey two sisters and their four teenaged children were on the train, talking about everything and nothing: small talk that meant nothing and everything. Another advert proclaimed that ‘I love you’ is one of the hardest things to say; but every word and gesture in this group announced that message loud and clear.

Even small words are not always needed. I had a profound experience on an underground train soon after a terrorist attack. I found myself standing next to a British Transport policeman. He was very tired, and had seen I know not what. Not a word was spoken, no gesture, no touch, but I prayed in my heart. When he got off he said, Thank You, and disappeared into the night.

 

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