Tony on a mission to unlock the Spirit
“I’ve had a whole rush of it lately.”
Tony is talking about the number of inmates who have come to him, reporting the presence of evil spirits in their cells.
For them the phantoms are very real; hovering, terrifying, throttling the inmate.
Could Tony help with Rosary beads for protection?
And in one case the inmate reported back, “They’re all gone!” No more evil spirits.
Such is life as Catholic chaplain at the Goulburn Correctional Facility.
Tony came to the job after a background in forestry, a chaplaincy at Macquarie University, and a stint in indigenous tutoring.
On a typical day he wanders the prison yards in the morning greeting any pacers who might want to chat.
In the afternoon he holds a chapel service for a small group of inmates (no more than eight under prison rules).
They generally don’t talk about their backgrounds to Tony, but their records are available and a test for him is reconciling an inmate’s affable face with the horrific crime committed.
Tony emphasises he is not there to convert, and ministers to all, regardless of their faith or faithless background (including prison staff if they wish).
“Quite often they were traumatised in their earlier lives…and there’s only so much you can do,” he said.
“We are a different voice; helping them find space to heal. Guys can talk about family who have died, kids that are sick.
“One of the biggest motivating factors for them to get their lives back together is they’re trying to do it for their kids.”
He meets all types, those in for murder, rape and all the rest; those beefed up with “muscles on muscles and tats on tats” as Tony puts it.
Some find peace – and God – in prison.
“It’s quite extraordinary,” he said. “A couple of guys have done horrible things, but undergo this transformation of heart and a deepening or finding of religious faith. They pray in the yards. “
He is assisting one inmate to undertake the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and others regularly attend his chapel service.
They’re the good news stories, but for Tony the job will always have its challenges, especially what he sees as coming to terms with the “tangible evil” in the place.
His prayer life has become more focussed and he says he spends a good part of his morning in prayer to help deal with the day’s trials.
Not that he fears for his safety (he carries a duress alarm that activates automatically if the wearer moves from the upright position).
“I didn’t think I was the right person for it but God put me there and for all my strengths and weaknesses, what we do is intangible but valuable,” he said.
“There’s always redemption. There’s always the Holy Spirit.”