Pact is is a pioneering Catholic charity that supports prisoners, people with convictions, and their children and families. It provides caring and life changing services at every stage of the criminal justice process: in court, in prison, on release, and in the community.
‘The first principle of human dignity therefore is relationship.’ So said Professor Anna Rowlands addressing a large audience at Pact’s 2022 Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture. Since the pandemic, perhaps we can feel in our bones the essential nature of relationship, our connectedness with each other, more than we did before. Turning her attention to the criminal justice system, Professor Rowlands went on to highlight, ‘the gift of [relationship], the need for it, and the problems that accrue when we deny it, for ourselves or for others’. A key part of the work of Pact, the national Catholic prison charity, is in supporting prisoners and their families to make a fresh start. We understand the value of what Lord Farmer called the ‘golden thread’ of family relationships.
Former prisoner and Pact volunteer, Lewis Gibson gave a powerful performance of his own poem, ‘I didn’t want to say what I’m thinking’. Professor Rowlands referenced the dignity both in his words and also in his performance of them. Lewis and another former prisoner, Jamie, featured in Pact’s short film called Redemption Stories, shown to an audience for the first time. In the film, the two men speak with moving insight about their lives before prison, in prison and afterwards. They share how their faith transformed them – or ‘melted the bars’, as Lewis put it. You can see the film on Pact’s website.
Professor Anna Rowlands is the St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice at Durham University and author of ‘Towards a Politics of Communion’. In her lecture, she drew on the work of black theologian Vincent Lloyd, sharing his observation that ‘in the moment, in its natural habitat dignity ‘names friction’ – between the world as it is and the world as it can be.’ Referencing statistics about some groups being disproportionately represented in prison, including those with mental illness, she concluded that ‘a Christian understanding of dignity… challenges the current criminal justice system at every level of its operation’.
Two Pact trustees with lived experience responded to Anna’s insights. They reported hearing much that resonated for them. They reflected that the language of dignity –and its absence – was helpful in articulating the injustice and trauma in their own experiences. They valued Professor Rowlands’ articulation of our ‘shared moral responsibility’ to uphold each other’s dignity and to work for change. They also echoed Lewis and Jamie in the film, reporting that the support of people of faith had made a real difference in their lives.
Bishop Richard Moth, Liaison Bishop for Prisons in England and Wales, closed the formal part of the evening with a prayer. Guests enjoyed a canape reception provided by The Clink charity who support prisoners to obtain catering experience and qualifications.
The syndoal process means that the Catholic Church is engaged in reimgaining itself as a place of listening and dialogue, reaching across the usual boundaries to those who may be on the margins. Through the Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture, Pact is glad to facilitate a space wherelived experience of the criminal justice system is made central.
The Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture 2022 was kindly sponsored by Sir Harold Hood’s Charitable Trust and CCLA Investment Management.