by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND — Prison chaplains have found the perfect programme to help them in their work.
Senior prison chaplain Sr Veronica Casey, PBVM, said people in prison often have losses that are never spoken of or even acknowledged. However, the Seasons for Growth programme helps chaplains help prisoners deal with grief.
“They carry the pain with them into more and more dysfunctional lifestyles, turning to alcohol, drugs and other risk taking and addictive behaviours to cover the pain,” she said.
Sr Veronica said inmates are frequently the victims of separated families, mobile lives, loss of friends, connectedness, trust, loved ones — and even pets.
“Add to these losses, the losses associated with imprisonment: loss of control, face, innocence, identity, family, employment, independence, children, possessions, health, money,
self-respect, relationships — the pain continues to destroy their lives,” she said.
The programme had been successful in Invercargill and Dunedin and is just starting in Palmerston North. It will also be going into Manawatu and Wanganui. In Auckland, the programme
has been going on in Wiri Women’s Prison for a while, but is still fairly new to Paremoremo.
Seasons for Growth companion Delia Ruane explained that the programme is not counselling or therapy.
“The ones who actually deliver the programme are called companions. A group leader sort of tells people what to do. We don’t. We facilitate,” she said. “And if you look in the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of campanion, it is someone who walks beside. They don’t walk in front, they don’t lead and they don’t follow. They’re beside that person.”
Prison chaplains recently went through the programme in Auckland to enable them to deliver the programme in their communities. Ms Ruane said Seasons for Growth is an experiential
programme and those who would be companions in the programme need to deal with their own grief before they are able to help others.
“We never really get over grief. It stays with us. These things are always going to be a part of us. But it’s helping them identify the impact that this grief may have had on them and it helps them to develop their own strategy for difficult times. And when we voice these things, we are actually taking back some of the power that we’ve lost in our lives,” said Ms Ruane.
Sr Veronica said in those prisons where it has been introduced it has become the most sought-after programme for staff and inmates, and some choose to do it a second time.
“They begin the programme fearful of being exposed, of vulnerability and of betrayal by their peers — and then the stories begin to be shared and they admit that they thought they were the
only one carrying that story, that they were alone. The trust begins to build. The pain is voiced and the demons faced,” she said.
Seasons for Growth is a programme owned by Good Grief in Australia and based on St Mary of the Cross MacKillop’s charism: “Never see a need without trying to do something about it.”
There are more than 200 companions working in schools and communities in Auckland. Another programme will be held in mid-August at St Thomas More Parish in Glenfield.