After twenty-four years in prison ministry in Queensland, lay pastor Charlie Greer retired in July confident that prisons were not the answer to minimising crime.
“I am convinced there is a better way of doing it and it is not locking people away for longer. I heard the Premier espousing his prison policy and he said ‘what a wonderful policy we have, we are locking up more people for longer’. I thought you fool, you just haven’t got any idea.”
At his retirement, Mr Greer was responsible for chaplaincy in all Queensland prisons. He has worked in every prison in southern Queensland, from super maximum-security to open prisons, both public and private.
“My mum used to say if I kept mucking around with the young fellas I did, I’d end up in jail!” he laughed. “Maybe that was my preparation. Once I walked into a prison, I was sure. Oddly enough, I felt comfortable.
“It is front line ministry but it’s not in the minds of congregations where people sit and feel comfortable and aren’t challenged.
“People are locked up because they are supposedly bad. I think that is the wrong concept. Prisons don’t work. You lock people up and you make them worse. They get out and they are less able to cope with society.
"So what is the key to prison ministry?
“You have got to handle rejection. I have been trying to talk to one guy for eighteen years and I baptised him six months ago. He was so angry he just wouldn’t talk. Anger is a very big part of it and if you allow it to become a personal thing, then you’re never going to get anywhere. You need to sit with them and walk their journey.
“Too many people go in with their own agenda. They are going to convert the prisons. It doesn’t work. You sit beside them and walk their road and eventually they’ll say ‘hey, what’s all this about’ and you get a chance to share the gospel practically and then verbally.”
Mr Greer said the church struggles with accepting Christian inmates after they are released.
“Some people are afraid these people have been putting on an act and maybe they haven’t changed and maybe their house will get robbed. Some churches are very open armed and welcoming but most are at arm’s length.
“We had a fellow who was a brilliant doctor who committed crimes against his patients. I met him on the point of suicide. He eventually became a Christian. He wanted to go into ministry and the church’s idea was ‘that’s great, but he should perhaps do it in Western Australia because he won’t be known there’. I said if that is the church’s idea then we are a failure.
“If we can’t believe in the possibility of God changing lives then what are we about? In the Bible so many of the top guys did time, or should have.”
Ways of getting involved with prison ministry include writing letters, visiting inmates who don’t get visitors and assisting finding accommodation when people get out of jail.
“There is little accommodation and a man can’t get out unless he has a residence. There are fellas in there with bits of paper that say your parole has been granted, just give us a place where you are going to live.”
In retirement Mr Greer will continue his involvement with prison reform and reaccustom himself to life on the outside.
“God has made it really clear it’s time, but I don’t know what’s on the other side yet. Whatever comes along I’ll consider it.”
Photo : A retired and relaxed Charlie Greer