You know you are getting old when you are introduced to someone who is in their thirties and you find yourself saying, “I knew your Father.” So it was when in one of my visits to Dhurringile Prison that I met such a young man, who I’ll call “Max” for the purposes of this article. Max is an aboriginal man from Mildura. He was in the art room painting. Dhurringile prison is a low security prison where people serve out the final months or years of their prison sentence and are prepared for life on the outside.
The prison has a very good aboriginal arts program which focuses on the role of culture and cultural identity in the rehabilitation processes for Indigenous prisoners. The program aims to reduce Indigenous recidivism by increasing the participation and confidence of participants in the arts industry. The program offers offenders social, cultural and skill development opportunities. Max’s paintings reconnect him with culture and collective memory.
I said that I thought that I may have a photo of his father in a team photo and offered to bring it in if he would like to see it. Max said he would. So I went back through my slide collection (I had to find and fix an old slide projector first in order to be able to do so) and found not only the team photo but an action shot and some photos of a wedding at which Max’s father had been best man.
My searching for slides of Max’s father took place during the week I was sorting through my own family photos as I prepared the slide-show for my mother’s funeral service. Different family members sent me their photos of mum and I ended up having far more photos than I could use. The photos spanned the 96 years of her life and embedded so many memories of her activities and relationships.
On my next visit to the prison, I gave Max the photos. In the team photo he recognised uncles and other people he had grown up with but it was the photo of his father as best man at the wedding which moved him. Dressed in a suit, standing proud with his resplendent afro, his father looked young and strong. Max went silent as he touched the photo. He was too young to remember his father like this. After a few moments he said, “Mum’s going to love this!” It was a moment that took my breath away as I realised that this family had few such precious photographic memories. I felt decadent at the riches of our own family photos and humbled and grateful that I had been able to give such a gift to another family.
Preparing to leave prison is a time of hope and resolution. Everyone says that they are never coming back. The gospel of Jesus is the gospel of the second chance. The chance to begin again. Go well, Max, and may the memory of your father and his dreams for you, strengthen you.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister