Taking the First Spiritual Exercises to prison

Taking the First Spiritual Exercises to prison

“It was the multiplier effect, that was the most beautiful experience, I was in awe.” 

Margaret Wiseman, spiritual director and giver of the Spiritual Exercises, is a prison chaplain and has been with Silverwater Women’s Prison for over 25 years. Margaret was the first lay woman appointed as prison chaplain.  In addition to her regular chaplaincy, Margaret with a team of spiritual directors offered retreats in daily life and the First Spiritual Exercises (FSE) to inmates at Silverwater along with individual accompaniment.  

“We first offered the FSE Inner Peace and Divine Love retreat over 4 weeks. This was a very powerful experience with the women. I heard many times from inmates I want what she had. Those who received them were able to then give them to others. That was a source of great joy to me.” Margaret said. 

With the onset of Covid-19 this year, Margaret couldn’t bring spiritual directors into the Prison to offer the First Spiritual Exercises, “I was the only chaplain and I couldn’t offer services either.” Margaret remembersI had to think about what I could do and welcomed the introduction of the Field Hospital Exercises.” These exercises are flexible and allowed Margaret to use them amid Covid-19. 

I prayed that these exercises could encourage people to help themselves and then to help others.” And they did. Margaret handed a Field Hospital Exercise out with her service sheets and the gospel reading for each Sunday. “I have handed out over 120 Field Hospital Exercises every week since Palm Sunday.” 

“At first the inmates wondered what one earth I was doing.” Margaret said. “After the second week, people started coming to me and asking for one, and they still continue asking to this day.” 

Now inmates are doing them by themselves and continuing to help other inmates. “I remember the first exercise I gave out; it was on courage. That was my prayer, that they face with courage what they have to face every day in the prison. It has been a powerful experience and it has really energised me. 

With the Field Hospital Exercises, we can go into areas of the prison where inmates have not had access to services.” Margaret would slide an exercise under the door and when she returned, she saw them reading the prayer, “that really moved me, they’ve got nothing else to read and here they are reading the exercise. 

“One day an inmate was walking towards me with her hands spread out like the eagle’s wings in one of the Field Hospital Exercises. This delights me!” Margaret said. “Some inmates are even sending the exercises home to their families. 

Margaret is grateful for the support of her local parish in Sydney and to Frances Tilly Coordinator of Mission Formation at JISA who has given the exercises to Prison Chaplains. 

To hear the Field Hospital Exercise Courage, click here…. 

To experience the Field Hospital Exercises, contact JISA on 1300 EXAMEN (1300-392-636)