While life in the music industry might seem like a far cry from nurturing others as a prison chaplain, they’re more intertwined than you think. Sue Collier has been volunteering as a prison chaplain for six years, but long before this chapter in her journey, she was singing in front of audiences here and overseas. Not only has Sue been an entertainer, but the City of Moreton Bay resident has also worked in a number of different areas including with Guide Dogs for the blind, Disability Services Queensland and also as a youth worker.
Sue regards the many facets of her life as helping to shape her into the person she is today – someone who is always happy to be there for others.
They say it takes a special sort of person to enter a prison – by choice – to support those who are serving time. Sue says she is just one of many, taking time every week to fulfil her role as a prison chaplain with Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy, which is also celebrating 50 years of supporting people in Queensland correctional centres. With a new prison opening in southeast Queensland next year, it seems more chaplains are badly needed.
“I feel that everything you go through in life shapes you,” Sue says of how she relates to others through her role. “As a ‘ten-pound pom’ in the sixties, I can relate to people who have transitioned from another place and are trying to find their place in the world.
“I can also empathise with a lot of situations. When it comes to the law, we can’t change what happens, but if we can encourage people to be their best self so that they don't fall down the same potholes when they get out, it can all help.”
Heading down the path of becoming a prison chaplain is one Sue believes was always going to be a part of her journey, not that she knew how it would pan out in the beginning.
"Music has always been a part of my life and I love being able to share that with others."
“I spent 27 years in the music industry and then I had to find a real job,” Sue says with a laugh. “Performing involved a lot of travelling, which was really wonderful when I was 18, but now at the age of 74, having had all those past experiences, you learn to go in with more of an open mind. In prison, we see people with so many varied backgrounds and they end up in there for all different sorts of crimes, ranging from minor offences to very serious ones. So it’s very interesting work and I enjoy having conversations with people from all walks of life.”
Sue says prison chaplains help incarcerated people to realise that “they are not forgotten”.
“Some inmates have no family, friends or anyone else to visit them during the months and years of imprisonment,” she says. “Prison chaplains can often be the only link between the inside and the outside world. We are there to show the love and forgiveness of God, through pastoral care. Visiting chaplains often strengthen the faith of the Christians inside … and may lead others to find a meaningful relationship with God for themselves.”
Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy currently has about 30 volunteer chaplains providing pastoral care to men and women in 14 correctional centres around Queensland. Sue has worked in both men’s and women’s prisons in three locations around southeast Queensland.
“I look forward to visits and listening to the inmates telling their stories,” Sue says. “It is a privilege to be able to pray with people of faith and also – when asked – to pray for those who are searching for meaning in their lives.”
Although Sue enjoys being able to chat with inmates and help them during their time in prison, she also believes more needs to be done to help reintroduce them back into the community once they have finished their sentence.
“In chaplaincy, you journey with someone who could be in your visiting capacity for a couple of years and you feel that you get to know them a little bit better and give them some support at the time,” Sue says. “But when they get out, they don’t have anybody out there and that’s where our role stops. We can only offer the local churches that may be able to help them, along with local services and community groups. A lot of them don’t have the support of family or friends anymore and they may not be able to go home. Those who struggle with finding that support can end up back in prison again.”
Through her role in the chaplaincy program, Sue feels she is making a difference to those who may not be going through the best time in their lives. While she admits she’s no spring chicken, Sue hopes to continue her visits for at least the foreseeable future.
“I think that's the reason that keeps me going, because we hear such stories of hope in there,” she says.
Now retired, Sue likes to travel occasionally with her husband, visit family and is active in her local church, but says, “Every day that I get up and I go in there and somebody needs to talk, I’m there to listen.”
In a nod to her roots, Sue enjoys using her love of music to sing with inmates and also at church services held within the centre when she visits. Inspired by her role, Sue has also compiled a new CD of original Christian songs called You Might Be the One. Her chaplaincy work also led to the song Long Way Back, one of five songs on the CD.
“I just love doing music. I love taking my guitar into the prison,” Sue says. “I think there should be more opportunities for music in prison, which can be tricky because of all the different activities going on. So when we go into church, I take my guitar in and play some hymns and some popular worship songs and hopefully that gives people something to ‘hum’ through the day, to help lift their spirits and bring a little light into the situation.
“Music has always been a part of my life and I love being able to share that with others.”
You can support Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy to place more chaplains into Queensland prisons by donating online at www.insideoutchaplaincy.org.au.