Hold nothing back… loose the chains of injustice… Interview with Peter Jones

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”  Isaiah 58

Peter Jones, RMN, MA, FBACP, FHEA, is a Fellow of BACP and Chair of the Counselling in Prisons Network. He is a first year student on the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course taking a mixture of modules and working towards a foundation degree. Peter has authored several books including ‘Interventions in Criminal Justice’, which will be published by Pavilion in January 2013. Helen Harwood interviewed him for the one-year anniversary of Pioneer Friends

HH: Can you tell me a bit about your spiritual journey and the worshipping community you come from?

PJ: I became a Christian at college, having met an evangelist who was rooming in the same halls of residence. He was very passionate about the gospel of Christ and this is something I seem to have acquired. I then trained as a psychiatric nurse and then as a counsellor/psychotherapist.

I felt called to some form of Christian ministry for some time (20 years!) and have been exploring ordination diligently for the last five years, as the Church of England did not understand or contextualise the pioneer call within its own traditional mindset of ministry. It is only recently with discussions with various people in the diocese that the pioneer call has been confirmed – at last I find somewhere I fit! The CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course has in many ways, fitted very well with my journey and walk with God.

My journey has been one of pioneering, such as founding a counselling and help line service for male rape victims and founding a service for working therapeutically in prisons. This would eventually become the Counselling in Prisons Network, founded in 2007. I have always been a visionary and innovator, winning various awards for this work.

My calling and vocation seems to be with people who are broken and people who are on the margins of our society. Isaiah 58 has always been a key text for my work and ministry.

My background is an Anglican one in which I embrace the sacramental components of the Anglican Church. My spirituality is Celtic and living in Dorset I am continually looking for the ‘thin places’ in the Purbecks. Thin places exist when the veil of heaven and earth are at their most  transparent and closest…”I hear the heaving waves chanting a tune of God in heaven. I see their glittering surf” – St Columba.

Can you tell me how you got into pioneering work, counselling in prisons and all the amazing things you do?

I identified the need for this work when I was a psychiatric nurse in Hull where a lot of males who had been abused in childhood had been referred to the psychiatric services. It was out of this experience that I founded Survivors Hull, a community based counselling service and help line for male rape victims and their families.

My doorway into counselling in prisons came through a phone call from a prison left on the answerphone of the help line I founded, asking for help and support following a prisoner gang rape on one of the wings.

I visited the prison and found a clear need for working therapeutically in prisons within an ethical and accountable framework. The Counselling in Prisons Network seeks to address these needs proactively.

How challenging has it been working in counselling in prisons and have you seen any good developments?

This field of work poses significant challenges, to the therapist and the staff and inmates of the prison setting. The Network goes a long way in pooling expertise, research and training to enable and empower people working in this field.

There have been a number of significant developments for the Network. These include

  • The appointment of a patron to the Network, Lord David Ramsbotham, an ex-Chief Inspector of Prisons
  • Annual conferences that are always well attended and supported by the membership.
  • The Network become a member of the Prison in Health Network within the World Health Organisation and is now part of a European network.
  • In 2010 we published the first ever five year strategy for counselling in prisons through which ‘regional leads’ were appointed and an expert reference group formed to oversee the work of the Network. A regional lead is a person appointed to lead and deliver the work of the Network at a local level, driven by the local agenda. They report to the expert reference group or leadership team.

What are your hopes for the future of this prison work? What have you learnt about the counselling service in other countries like Iceland and the Netherlands?

In terms of hopes, I would like to see therapy and counseling become a mainstream intervention in the custodial setting. A stronger evidence base for the work of therapists in prison is the focus for the work presently.

We have a lot to learn from other countries and we are continually networking with these countries to see how we can pool expertise and knowledge.

Has the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course helped you in your work – and if so, how?

What the Pioneer Leadership Training has done for me is to help hone many of these pioneer skills, and in some cases draw them out. It has also given me a place where I feel that I belong.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in the future?

This area poses significant opportunities for the pioneer. The call to incarnate Christ in these places is such a key challenge. Working with broken people will always be challenging because it challenges you and your humanity. The experience of working with broken people shapes you and changes you forever.

Please tell me more about the Network Conference on 7 June at Newbold Revel in Warwickshire: who is it for and what do you hope to explore at the conference?

The title of this fifth annual Counselling in Prisons conference is “Delivering Excellence in Prisons” and will have keynote speakers from local prisons as well as workshops with themes such as

  • Working ethically in the custodial setting: issues and dilemmas
  • Contemporary practice: what works?
  • Research: evidence based working

People who attend will be those interested in counselling and the custodial setting and include counsellors, therapists, prison officers, probation workers, outreach workers, pastoral workers working with offenders and those wishing to work on the margins.

Visit the Counselling in Prisons Network website

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ANVIL journal of theology and mission

Volume 38 issue 1 is out now. The theme of mission and disability is explored by Kt Tupling, Naomi Lawson Jacobs, Rachel Noël, Bill Braviner and more...

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