David Hesketh has always enjoyed hands on work.

A bricklayer by trade, the English-born chaplain arrived in Australia more than 30 years ago with a goal to work in ministry.

After serving in various parishes across the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle, David became community chaplain at Home for Good – Recovery Point.

The Samaritans-led program offers the chance for recently released prisoners to work with a case worker and volunteers to gain the stability and community connection to remain out of the correctional system.

It provides initial support with finding accommodation, clothing and identification, as well as setting up Centrelink and a bank account.

David says his role as a post-release prison chaplain has been “eye opening”.

“It’s challenging at times and frustrating seeing the men we serve struggle with the normality of life on the outside, just applying for Centrelink, housing, even to open a bank account can be a major challenge of having to jump through hoop after hoop just to get ahead,” he says.

“That’s not forgetting the ongoing difficulty of addiction and stigma of being in jail that our clients have to cope with.

“Trust plays a huge role in connecting with these fellas as it’s very hard for them to trust anyone, and to gain their trust is my number one priority.

“It does takes time, but is well worth the effort. Once they trust you, then comes the deep conversations.

“I support them in many ways by accompanying them to court when needed, as well as hospital and doctor’s appointments. I feel privileged to be allowed into their space.                                                                         

“Some of them have great anxiety and aggression problems, so you need to be with them to try and be a calming presence so they don’t kick off, as they say.

“I also didn’t realise how bad the drug problem was in Newcastle. It’s very real and out there in our communities.

“I’ve been called out to help lads who’ve known me and seen some very confronting sights and situations.”

Born in Lancashire, near Liverpool, David was ordained in 2003 and also worked as an assistant chaplain at Mission to Seafarers and in chaplaincy at Anglican Care.

It’s now been almost five years since he joined the Home for Good program.

While there are success stories, David says many participants struggle to break the prison mentality or the “code”, which he describes as very real and destructive.

Despite the many challenges, David adds Home for Good is doing valuable work in the community.

“I work with a great team, and it is a privilege to serve these men,” he says.

“I’ve found that kindness is the key to help them succeed because they very rarely receive it.

“We have three houses – one in Adamstown, Friendship House at Maryville, and Wyong House.

“We really need more because about 800 prisoners get released into the Hunter every year, and there’s nothing for them.”

Visit Samaritans website to find out more about our after-prison support services.

Read more stories like this in our new edition of Encounter | Our People.

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