When Rod Moore sits down with inmates,
some of whom are coming off drugs or wearing their prison greens
for the first time, he knows better than most how they are
Growing up in a broken home, the
Anglican priest ended up on Sydney's streets at 15.
He developed a fierce drug addiction
– mainly heroin but he didn't discriminate – and rode with an
outlaw motorcycle gang.
"I had all my tattoos removed when I
left the club back in 1975," he said as he pointed to faint
scaring on his arms. "In those days you could leave a club but
you can't now."
It is hard to imagine today that,
Reverend Moore, a bespectacled, softly spoken 62-year-old man,
did his own stint in the old Parramatta prison years ago.
But it is this life experience and
absence of judgment that has seen NSW Corrective
Services' head prison chaplain help many inmates over the course
of his lengthy career.
"When I first started in jails 23 years
ago, I would go into church services and inmates would ask me
about something and I would tell them a little bit of my story,"
he said from Silverwater's Correctional Complex. "That would
give me a good in and a connection.
"But after a while I stopped telling the
story as some people would say, 'you know the chaplain Rod used
to be a biker'.
"It doesn't take long when you are
sitting with an inmate – whether they are a biker or a drug
addict or whatever – when they start sharing their story or
their addiction, they pretty quickly know you know what it is
Prison Chaplain Rod Moore. Photo:
NSW has the largest number of prison
chaplains in the country, with 44 full-time and 40 part-time
chaplains providing support to inmates regardless of religious
From Saturday up to 300 prison chaplains
from around the world – including the United States with its
high incarceration rates and the over crowded cells in Africa
– will gather for the International Prison Chaplain Conference
in Lane Cove.
They will share their experiences of
providing support to inmates and jail staff grappling with
grief, stress, sickness and loss around the world.
Steve House, a former Kings Cross
doorman who left the golden mile and found God, has been helping
inmates at the Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre (MRRC)
"[We talk about] everything from where
the body is, where the money is buried," he joked.
But mandatory reporting guidelines apply
to prison chaplains, Mr House pointed out.
"If we are starting to get in a dodgy
area, I will say straight up 'mate if I get called to court, and
I am not a dobber, but if I am asked a straight up question, I
am not going to lie'," he said.
It takes trust and time to build
connections with inmates, who appreciate someone independent
of state-employed staff to talk to, chaplains say.
"This is a remand centre so people are
getting straight off the truck," said Mr House, a burly bloke
who greets inmates with a hearty hand shake.
"This is very much a crisis management
"If you do end up in jail, you've pretty
much ended up as low as people can go."
One MRRC inmate, who has been in remand
limbo for more than two years, knows the feeling.
"[Chaplaincy] helps a lot because
realistically, when you first come off the street, everything is
tough," said the man, who is on drug-related charges. "You think
the world is coming to an end."
Prison chaplains are also brought in to
help dispel inmate tensions and deal with deaths in custody.
Reverend Moore said he had been in
situations where inmates had been stabbed and assaulted around
him as he tried to instil calm in difficult times.
"[Chaplains] have free reign in the
jail. Because it's all about trust, about confidentially and
it's about de-briefing people," Reverend Moore said.
The prison chaplain conference
runs from September 19 to 24.