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She had done her tertiary studies in the United States; the jobs allowed her by her aviation studies were good ones. Yet, she was not as satisfied as she thought she ought to be. And so, as she worked with BWIA in Miami, the Guyanese-born Fay Clark found the time for Christian ministry at the Assembly of God Church in Miami. There, she met missionaries involved in the prison ministry, and soon it became clear to her what she must do.
She entered a seminary in Florida for further studies, returned home, and set about finding out how she could become formally involved in ministering at the prisons here. This was a daring move, as the area in which she sought to become involved was strictly a man’s domain.
“But then I know that this was what God wanted me to do, and so I persevered,” Ms. Clark said in an interview last week.
She was encouraged by the prison service administration and soon she was appointed Chaplain, a voluntary office, but one in which she knew she was meant to be.
Now, some three and a half years later, Ms. Clark is Staff Welfare Officer in the Guyana Prison Service, and, of course, she is still Chaplain. This allows her to look after her charges more completely, tending to their spiritual as well as their social well-being. Now, there is no constant nudging that she is in the wrong place.
Prisoners of Purpose
With a characteristic drive that makes her get things done, Ms. Clark runs a demanding schedule as she ministers at the nation’s prisons, in the city, at Timehri, in the Mazaruni, at Lusignan, and in New Amsterdam, where the female inmates are.
She describes her programmes as holistic, designed to better prepare inmates for re-integration into the society once they are released.
Those who have graduated from her programme (there are periodic graduations) are buoyed by a new sense of purpose and a marked self-esteem. From these graduates she has culled a core of inmates described as Prisoners of Purpose, and they are role models among the prison population.
Her courses include skills and craft sessions, preparing inmates for self-employment once they go back to the outside. Some have studied and were successful at CXC examinations. She recently started sessions especially for sex-offenders, and this is going well.
Ms. Clark at times co-opts resource professionals to assist with her programme. There are lawyers who offer voluntary services to inmates who cannot afford counsel, and a medical doctor has been running clinics free of charge.
There are guitar and keyboard teachers who come in for sessions with prisoners so inclined.
Besides the chapel sessions with inmates, Ms. Clark offers one on one counselling, with both the prisoners and their families, allowing spouses and children and parents of inmates a new outlook which assists in their coping with the unfair stigma inflicted on them by unfeeling social elements. Of course, this is of tremendous benefit to both inmates and their hurting families.
Ms. Clark said that plans for a half-way house for discharged prisoners are underway. Here, those who are just released will be able to spend some time as they prepare to re-enter the society. Hand in hand with plans for the half-way house is a programme for re-educating those who were never in prison to accept those who were with fairness and as little prejudice as possible, as people who had made mistakes, had paid for what they did, and have come back into society eager to make a success of the rest of their lives.
Ms. Clark regards this re-education as tremendously desirable.
The personal satisfaction the Chaplain and Welfare Officer gets from her job is heightened by the receptiveness of those with whom she works. She finds that inmates are cooperative when they recognise that one is genuinely concerned about their welfare, and when they are treated with respect.
“And even the ones convicted of violent crimes most times become model inmates, caring about themselves and their fellow prisoners,” Ms. Clark said.
All in all, the Prison Chaplain and Staff Welfare Officer is thankful that she has found her niche, that she is fulfilling her purpose in this life, with the promise of rewards in the next.