Letters - 26 March 2021

From Finding hope to Slavery

Finding hope

The barbaric and inhumane treatment experienced by imprisoned early Quakers shaped an unfaltering belief in social justice and powerful witness to the ‘light within’. 

Over time, Quakers have continued to give testimony, advocating for prison reform, sharing a voice with incarcerated and disenfranchised individuals.

In keeping with our Quaker tradition, Quakers in Criminal Justice (QICJ) also shines a compelling light upon the criminal justice system (CJS).

A record sixty-five individuals participated virtually in our recent annual QICJ conference ‘Finding hope in difficult times’ (www.qicj.org). Diverse themes explored hope and reformation for those in custody.

‘The Impact of Lockdown on Female Prisoner Well-Being’ revealed isolated, traumatised women coping with ‘double lockdown’ during pandemic ‘lockdown’.

‘The Smarter Sentencing White Paper & Implications of Government Policy’ critically examined the recent white paper, the crisis in the CJS and implications for offender rehabilitation.

‘Engaging With BAME Issues in the Criminal Justice System’ powerfully exposed the stark inequality and overrepresentation of individuals within the loosely defined BAME population in custody, while ‘The Unification of Probation’ charted proposed changes for the management of offenders.

‘Circles of Support & Accountability’ illustrated the efficacy of targeted support for sex offenders to encourage successful community reintegration.

The strengths of the ‘Alternatives to Violence Project Update’ were highlighted in helping those in custody manage anger and conflict, and building positive relationships.

QICJ membership is rich and diverse and includes those involved within the CJS and, vitally, members with lived experiences of custody. We welcome new members: please contact qicjmembership@gmail.com.

Polly Lowe

We go on marching…

Being a simple person I like simple sentences which sum up things in simple words. On Sunday mornings I usually get up early, and work for a few hours listening to Radio 4, until the Sunday service comes on. Then I switch off and either find some breakfast or continue my work. Some months ago I failed to switch off, and had the service on without paying attention to it. Then one sentence boomed out: ‘We go on marching until we see the glory of the Lord.’ 

Surely this sentence sums up what any worthwhile religion is all about. Perhaps Quakers meander rather than march, and I would replace the ‘see’ with ‘share’. How do I interpret ‘the glory’? I think it can be interpreted as ‘being at one with the rest of the universe’. This is a state which, I think, we all experience at times, though they usually only last for very short spells. I remember times in a starlit Dorset field, beside a pond on a Surrey Heath, standing on a rock on the Suffolk coast, at sunset at St Michael’s Mount, and on the Northern Line. As I don’t practise meditation or similar spiritual exercises, these moments come at unexpected times, but they have one thing in common, they occur when my mind is unbusy.

This leads me to wonder if our busyness hinders our ability to share the glory of God. Surely all we need to do is to simply and steadfastly march or meander towards that goal. We need to care less about buildings and committees, rotas and regulations, and certainly not worry too much about the future.

I’m reminded of my favourite lines in a hymn: ‘He came from his throne above, emptied himself of all but love.’ Here again, simple words sum things up. Are our minds sufficiently empty to allow love to flow in, or do we keep them over full of busyness?

Roy Vickery

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