Sr. Moira Keane, a Sister of Mercy and originally from Co. Galway, is one of our volunteers in the ICPO / Prison Outreach. Eddie Gilmore asked her about how she first got involved with prisoners.
“While studying at All Hallows, Dublin, I was privileged to do a ‘pastoral placement ‘ at Mountjoy’s Women’s prison. Whilst there I accompanied some of the female prisoners on family home visits. This was followed by working as a prison chaplain for twelve years in the north east of England. I loved this ministry but my favorite prison story is about a lovely lady called Annie, a Traveller, who having been extradited from an English prison longed to visit her family in Cork. The then governor, John Lonergan, sure that Annie would never be seen again, hesitated to let her out for the day. I pleaded on her behalf and permission was granted. On the 17th March we both headed off by train to Cork. At the end of a very emotional day we not only returned on time to Mountjoy but we also brought The Governor some chocolate and a thank you card! Mr. Lonergan used this story at a later lecture when speaking about risk- taking and trusting in the goodness of people.
When I retired from full time work in Acklington and Castington prisons I came to Essex. Aware that I had time to spare, and knowing some of the chaplains at the London office, I was invited to help with their heavy work load. I was made very welcome and I enjoy my time here”.
EG: “What do you do at the Chaplaincy”?
MK: “The prisoners have a direct line to the Prison Outreach Office and sometimes that is
the only contact they have with the outside world. I answer the telephone and direct their calls to the appropriate person if I am unable to address their issues. I also help with whatever administration needs to be done and I go on prison visits occasionally.”
EG: “What do you think the ongoing needs are in the Prison Outreach?”
MK: “Staff are doing admirable work at the office. More staff and volunteers are needed, especially people with experience of prison visiting and computer skills. There are hundreds of Irish prisoners on our books: some are doing life sentences, others who are unable to cope die by suicide. The staff deal with issues of discrimination, bullying, advice, finance appeals; and their families also need support.”
EG: “What do you like most about volunteering?”
MK: “I like the contact with the prisoners and their families. It is good to be able to trace and support the father, mother, son or daughter incarcerated in this dreadful prison system and their distraught families. I also like being able to support the staff with their heavy work load.”
EG: “Thanks Moira, it’s great to have you at the Irish Chaplaincy.”
MK: “Thank you. It is good to have the opportunity to help and to respond to the Lord.
He said ‘I was in prison and you visited Me…”
(Annie is a pseudonym)