How a prison chaplain cares for young prisoners

A garland with the national flags of 32 different countries hangs from the ceiling, colorful carpets decorate the walls, and cute toys sit in the corner. Michael King’s office is colorful, but here he can hear serious stories.

King worked for nine years as a Catholic prison chaplain at Herford Correctional Facility, one of four juvenile prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia. It houses 215 inmates between the ages of 14 and 24, ranging from tricksters to violent criminals, from thieves to rapists. King organizes talks, services and meeting opportunities. He is supported by a full-time Protestant colleague and Muslim pastors who come to the prison for a reward.

Anyone can start a conversation

Every morning, pastoral workers use their e-mail finds about 10-15 meeting requests in mailboxes. When inmates have time and are not tied up, such as work or training, they take them to their cells for a one-on-one interview. Everyone can come, regardless of origin and religion.

A garland of flags in King’s office is from 2014. the rest of the world cup. “Our prisoners come from different nations. Some recognize their flag and you immediately start a conversation,” says the resident of Baden-Württemberg in a soft Swabian accent. . The theologian first worked as a pastoral officer in church communities, then as a prison chaplain in Saxony-Anhalt.

Relationship stories often end with King

The king does not care what crime the prisoner has committed. “The first thing I ask is how someone grew up, what kind of family they have and what school they went to. Everything else comes automatically.”

Most often, prisoners are plagued by relationship stories. Most of them have difficulty maintaining contact with friends, parents or children. “Family relationships are often less than ideal.” In such cases, the King tries to find solutions and also talks with relatives.

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The prisoner’s guardian died recently. “Of course he couldn’t go to the funeral.” The king managed to get his sister to film the celebration and broadcast the footage live to the prison.

Christian prison ministry in Germany has a long tradition. The German Bishops’ Conference describes the biblical saying “Remember the prisoners as if you were prisoners” (Hebrews 13:3) as a motto for their work in prisons. There are about 500 Catholic and Protestant pastors working throughout the country, mostly pastors or deacons. Her requirement is to approach each person with their own story. A prisoner should not be reduced to the crimes he has committed.

With ankle bracelets at the grave of the deceased

The priest also accompanied the exits to the grave of the dead person. “Then we go to the cemetery under heavy security, with two officers and ankle bracelets. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s a chance to say goodbye.”

Every Sunday, King and his fellow evangelical offer services in the prison’s church, a 140-year-old structure with round windows, a dome and a bell. The benches were removed during the renovation; During the service, pastors and prisoners sit in a circle of chairs. Usually 15 to 20 participants come. The focus is always on a biblical theme related to the lives of young people, such as the question of how Jesus deals with sinners or how he heals people.

“Prison Birth” at Christmas time

The inmates’ reaction is usually immediate, King says. “They’re yelling, ‘What are you talking about?’ or “That’s not true.” For the theologian, this is perfectly fine: “We can’t give high sermons here, we work a lot with symbols and rituals. For example, it’s very popular to light candles.”

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Before Christmas, the prison is installing a “prison manger”, which was created by a wood sculptor especially for Hereford Prison. Jesus is depicted as a prisoner in a cell bed. Maria and Josef are his mother and grandfather who visit him. This year they want to add three shepherds: prisoners playing cards in the yard. – We thought about it together with the prisoners.

According to King, Christmas in prison is a difficult subject. “Many of them celebrated last year with their friends and families and…

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