Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Book of UnCommon Prayers

A friend of mine, who works as a writer in residence in prison, has edited a moving and beautiful booklet - “The Book of UnCommon Prayer”, a collection of personal prayers and reflections by inmates at HMP Grendon (Cat B secure) and Spring Hill (Cat D open prison).

“They say that when men go into prison, they find either the gym or God,” says Jane Bidder. “When I first arrived as writer in residence of HMP Spring Hill, I was slightly bemused (and confused) to find that this was indeed true. Every morning, from 8am onwards, I would hear loud sounds of activity from inside the gym. Meanwhile, only a few feet away, was the chaplaincy…”

She asked her students to write an individual, personal prayer, and if they didn’t have a religion, it could be a private reflection.

To her surprise, lots of men wanted to contribute. Their voices are extremely varied – some are simple, others formal and a bit predictable, and others fresh and moving. Staff at both prisons contributed too. The book counts about 70 prayers and their authors describe themselves as Muslims, Catholics and Christians, as well as one Jew, Hindu, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Rastafarian, Buddhist, Lutheran, Quaker, Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness – some practicing, others lapsing and others without religion - a fascinating array of religions and beliefs all in one place!

Here are extracts from a few prayers:

“Because of my past life as a thief.

I feel kinda numb; I’d like time to fly.

I want peace of mind; I want to know why.

I pray that my tariff will come to an end

And I can go home to family and friends.”

Paul, brought up as a Catholic

“When trouble wells within and my soul

screams for release,

I walk alongside the still waters of his peace.”

Noel, a Seventh Day Adventist

The book (ISBN 978-1-905373-29-1) is published by BAR NONE Books, the publishing arm of the Writers in Prison Network, a charity founded in 1992 to bring writers in residence at various prisons across the country. They believe that “prison does not have to be simply a place to deposit criminals. It can also be a foundation for prisoners' future lives and the writers show how exploration of the written and spoken word can provide a gateway to change.”

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