It’s been a while since I’ve got my camera out and enjoyed a day just capturing something beautiful or interesting, so when I heard Shepton Mallet Prison was closing for good, I had to go! The prison closed as a working prison in 2013, but for the last few years has been open as a tourist attraction documenting its fascinating history, as well as offering tours and experiences such as escape rooms and even overnight stays.
Having spent most of my working life as a youth worker, some of which involved working in youth justice, I find some of the glamourising around prison and crime really uncomfortable. In my experience, working with young people in custody often meant working with very hurt and traumatised young people who had themselves often been victims of crime such as abuse or neglect.
That said, it’s important awareness is raised, stories are told and space is given to reflect, particularly around criminality and justice, and the urgent need for prison reform. There’s also something really powerful about entering a space you’re not normally allowed to enter. The vast majority of the population will never enter a prison, never see beyond its gates, walls and barbed wire. Stepping inside one and being able to wander, explore and visually document the space felt like a real privilege, a kind of ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.
What I mostly felt walking around and taking photos, was sadness. Sadness at how much pain there has been in that place – the pain caused by the people in custody here, and the harm done to them through an ineffective and outdated system that does little to repair or rehabilitate. I also felt strangely hopeful, mostly through the little details of beauty I found in some of the decaying and neglected spaces, and through the powerful metaphor of a closed prison where no one is locked up and all are free. We all have parts of us that hold the potential for harm and evil, and we all have things in us that keep us bound and locked up. We all have ways in which we long to be free. These photos remind me of the ability we have to escape what binds us, to recover, restore and repair. You can see the full set here, and some of my favourites below.
For anyone finding it hard to hope, even when there are reasons to hope.
Today you tried to give me my hope back. But I couldn’t take it, too afraid I’d break it, Or watch it slip from my grip and feel its loss, Like water poured on candy floss.
Today you tried to give me my hope back. But it’s too bright, the light of it hurts my eyes. It’s been gone for so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like, Maybe darkness is better than fading light.
Today you tried to give me my hope back. But my hands are full holding this shovel, as I struggle to clear the wreckage and rubble. Memories of the dead still circling my head. Why rebuild if it all just gets smashed up again?
Today you tried to give me my hope back. Like a giggling kid holding candy floss, Saying take it taste it just smile and embrace it. But I’m filled with dread as I look up ahead, Because clouds are forming over our heads. The water will pour and next time take even more, I can’t take more loss, can’t cope with the cost, I’d rather go hungry than taste candy floss.
As part of a series at Oasis Church Bath called ‘What’s On Your Mind?’, I ask how we might reimagine what church leadership could look like in the light of a progressive theology. With failures around safeguarding and morality by prominent Christian leaders hitting the headlines recently, what can we learn and how should this change our approach at Oasis?
If we are born good and wired towards goodness, then how can we explain evil, and the choices we sometimes make that harm ourselves, others and the world around us? Is ‘original blessing’ just a way to avoid facing up to our mistakes, and how do we ensure it doesn’t stop us from continuing to seek wholeness and forgiveness?
This spoken word poem is called ‘Heart’. If you’re struggling right now I hope this helps you remember how strong you are. Words below if you need them.
The strongest part of me will always be my heart. It gets battered and shattered it breaks apart, Still it restarts. You can smash it and bash it, hide the crash cart, Still I’ll revive it, still I’ll survive it, I’ll stay alive.
The strongest part of me will always be my heart. You can squeeze it until it bleeds you can cut off the air it needs, Still I’ll breathe. You can shake it and break it make it into a thousand pieces. Still each piece will beat beat beat, It will not cease.
The strongest part of me will always be my heart. It’s cracked but still intact despite every attack, It fights back. Made of rock but still soft, no love lost. Tough enough to pump a body full of blood. It won’t give up.
The strongest part of me will always be my heart. It’s been in despair and it’s needed care but It does repair. So when you feel distress when everything’s a mess When you feel like what’s coming is cardiac arrest, Rest your hand on your chest.
If we reject the notion of ‘original sin’ as progressive Christians, what do we do with the word sin? What does it actually mean and how can we develop a helpful and healthy understanding of it in relation to our faith and the lives we live? In this talk for Oasis Church Bath I encourage us to think differently about sin, and ask how we might reimagine it in light of being ‘already good’.
Once a month at the church I currently lead we have a Sunday called ‘Sofa Sunday’ where we invite a guest to sit on our sofa on stage and answer some questions, as well as welcoming questions from those attending. In July 2023 instead of being the interviewer, I was the interviewee! It was fun being on the other side of the sofa and reflecting on my role, my faith and some things I’ve been thinking about recently.
In a talk for Oasis Church Bath, I talk about the concept of ‘reimagining’, drawing on biblical concepts and examples to inspire us as we think about how to reimagine our plans, beliefs and expectations when things in life perhaps don’t go as we’d hoped or expected.
This spoken word poem below was inspired by this photo, taken by my wife while we were on a weekend away recently.
It became more than a photo and took on a deep meaning for me – how sometimes just smiling and living fully are acts of rebellion against all the despair and hopelessness we can sometimes experience in our lives or read about on the news. Not many of us have had an easy time in the last few years, and sometimes it’s just lovely when a moment of joy like this is captured.
I hope it inspires you to be you, to recognise joy when it finds you, to live fully, and to love your imperfections and quirks! The full words to the poem are below the film if you need them.
I uploaded a new profile pic today, The one I made you take. The one where I sat with my back to those cool wooden slats and you made me laugh, Reminiscing about that clip from that show on Netflix. I realised how brilliant it is to exist. How existence is resistance to all the shit-ness I’ve witnessed, My smiling an uprising an insistence of aliveness.
I uploaded a new profile pic today, The one I made you take. No I’m not holding a mic and it’s not with my wife or my kids, Ok I don’t have any but if I did, They wouldn’t be in a picture or a visual description of me, They wouldn’t define who I am or who I can be, don’t you see? I’m enough when alone I have worth on my own.
I uploaded a new profile pic today, The one I made you take. Light is shining right above my head, A reminder a spotlight on the good times ahead, Or the divine guidance and kindness that’s been mine every step. There’s a part like a shard that’s pierced the darkness, Just a shimmer just a glimmer but it still softens the starkness.
I uploaded a new profile pic today, The one I made you take. It shows my tattoos including the one that’s still new, Like me not yet healed and it’s partly concealed its design not quite yet fully revealed. If you zoomed in you’d see wrinkles and dimples, crinkles and pimples, imprints on my skin, But these marks are battle scars I’ve made my peace with.
I uploaded a new profile pic today, The one I made you take. And okay I’ll spend way too much of my day, having a play in Photoshop But I won’t change, rearrange or display what I’m not. Maybe a filter is needed, some aligning and refining, Some shifting and lifting and colour defining. But this picture will still be the real me, Both who I am now and who I’m trying to be.