In Part Two of the Minty Fresh interview, retired prison, hospital, and mental health care chaplain Norman L. Martin gives the straight truth about handling lies.
Read Part One
Minty Fresh Mysteries (MFM): In addition to your work with psychiatric patients, you also provided pastoral care to prisoners. Neither of those populations has a great reputation for trustworthiness. Do you think that’s fair? Were the people you ministered to generally honest with you?
Norman Martin (NM): Before I began chaplaincy at a state prison, I took two weeks of training in a correctional training center. There were many “Don’ts” and warnings. One thing I learned from the correctional staff at the prison was if you weren’t “had” every so often by something a prison inmate said, you probably were not working. It takes about a year before you learn what not to believe and discover the unwritten rules for security. Of course prisoners or inmates lie. If you work in a prison, the inmates think of you as a duck. What you say? A duck? Well, have you noticed how the feathers on top of the duck are thick and even repel rain? The underbelly is soft. They look for that underbelly, with ploys like: “Chaplain, they really mess up my uniforms in the laundry. Can you get me a little sewing kit, so I can repair them? You can get them at a convenience store.” It seems so simple, an act of ministry to that poor inmate.
No, I didn’t do it, but a few prison staff did. When a security team went through the units, several kits were found. A prison break had occurred years earlier at the state’s most secure prison. The inmates had been able to make (with the sewing kits) patches resembling state correction emblems, which were then sewn onto the blue pajamas the inmates had. That had allowed some murderers to escape from that other state prison earlier.
I would say that certainly some patients in mental hospitals do lie, but not usually with such harmful results. The depressed person can lie about being ready to re-enter society, family, and job. The schizophrenic patient will lie, saying (s)he will take his/her medications when (s)he gets home. The alcoholic/addict will lie about going to AA and drug abuse support groups when they are discharged. They will sign a contract for 90 groups in 90 days and take the list of groups home with them. While some will not stay with the plan, many will.
As a prison clinical chaplain, I valued the counseling sessions with inmates, also my classes about the Bible and spiritual matters. One year there were one hundred baptized, after they confirmed their beliefs. Some were “jailhouse religion” maybe, but for some, it was a life-changing experience.
Group sessions with sexual offenders went well. One rule was that each had to admit and talk about his offense at the first meeting of the group. Most were child sexual offenders. In conducting such a group, the leader has to be careful not to let any member get to the point of “getting off on the telling.” An AA type model is somewhat useful, but for a pedophile there is little hope that they will not offend again, if given the opportunity to do so.
There was much honesty in all populations I worked with. I don’t think comparing trustworthiness to either is good. Frankly, it doesn’t matter all that much if patients or prison inmates are lying to you. Just take everything you hear with the proverbial grain of salt. At the same time listen for what you do not hear. Listen and you will eventually hear at least some of the real person behind the façade. In one-to-one encounters a chaplain often experiences a spiritual moment with client or patient or inmate.
Chaplains operate in difficult areas seldom seen or experienced by others. For that reason, the clinical training and supervised experience given by a certified Clinical Pastoral Education program is a requirement all chaplains should have.