1st March 2022

Reimagining Human Dignity in Dark Times 

‘The first principle of human dignity therefore is relationship.’ So said Professor Anna Rowlands addressing a large audience at Pact’s 2022 Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture. Since the pandemic, perhaps we can feel in our bones the essential nature of relationship, our connectedness with each other, more than we did before. Turning her attention to the criminal justice system, Professor Rowlands went on to highlight, ‘the gift of [relationship], the need for it, and the problems that accrue when we deny it, for ourselves or for others’. A key part of the work of Pact, the national Catholic prison charity, is in supporting prisoners and their families to make a fresh start. We understand the value of what Lord Farmer called the ‘golden thread’ of family relationships. 

Former prisoner and Pact volunteer, Lewis Gibson gave a powerful performance of his own poem, ‘I didn’t want to say what I’m thinking. Professor Rowlands referenced the dignity both in his words and also in his performance of them. Lewis and another former prisoner, Jamie, featured in Pact’s short film called Redemption Stories, shown to an audience for the first time. In the film, the two men speak with moving insight about their lives before prison, in prison and afterwards. They share how their faith transformed them – or ‘melted the bars’, as Lewis put it. You can see the film at https://www.prisonadvice.org.uk/redemption-stories. 

Professor Anna Rowlands is the St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice at Durham University and author of ‘Towards a Politics of Communion’. In her lecture, she drew on the work of black theologian Vincent Lloyd, sharing his observation that ‘in the moment, in its natural habitat dignity ‘names friction’ – between the world as it is and the world as it can be.’ Referencing statistics about some groups being disproportionately represented in prison, including those with mental illness, she concluded that ‘a Christian understanding of dignity... challenges the current criminal justice system at every level of its operation’. 

Two Pact trustees with lived experience responded to Anna’s insights. They reported hearing much that resonated for them. They reflected that the language of dignity –and its absence - was helpful in articulating the injustice and trauma in their own experiences. They valued Professor Rowlands’ articulation of our ‘shared moral responsibility’ to uphold each other’s dignity and to work for change. They also echoed Lewis and Jamie in the film, reporting that the support of people of faith had made a real difference in their lives. 

Bishop Richard Moth, Liaison Bishop for Prisons in England and Wales, closed the formal part of the evening with a prayer. Guests enjoyed a canape reception provided by The Clink charity who support prisoners to obtain catering experience and qualifications.  

The syndal process means that the Catholic Church is engaged in reimagining itself as a place of listening and dialogue, reaching across the usual boundaries to those who may be on the margins. Through the Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture, Pact is glad to facilitate a space where lived experience of the criminal justice system is made central. 

Listen to the lecture here: https://soundcloud.com/prisonadvice/sir-harold-hood-memorial-lecture-2022-reimagining-human-dignity

Read the lecture transcript: reimagininghumandignity-findingdignityinthestruggle.pdf

Watch Lewis's spoken word poem: https://youtu.be/eyQJocuAQC0

Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture 2022

The Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture 2022 was kindly sponsored by Sir Harold Hood’s Charitable Trust and CCLA Investment Management.

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About Sir Harold Hood 

Sir Harold Hood, 2nd Baronet (23 January 1916 – 5 September 2005) was a devout Catholic Christian who worked in Catholic publishing for much of his life, including working on the Catholic Herald and The Universe newspapers. He was a generous philanthropist with a keen interest in prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation and was personally involved with many charities including Pact. Sir Harold Hood was a Knight of Malta and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. He died aged 89. His family have continued to support the work of Pact and a number of other charities through the charitable trust founded in his name. 

About the Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture 

The Sir Harold Hood Memorial Lecture is held most years by Pact as an opportunity to celebrate the life and memory of a great friend and champion, the late Sir Harold Hood. The lecture seeks to contribute to public knowledge and understanding of how we can make prisons places in which individuals can achieve personal change and growth, and leave to live good lives, in stable and healthy relationships with family and the wider community. 

This is the ninth lecture in memory of Sir Harold Hood. The first was held in the Chapel of HMP Brixton and was given by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Vincent Nichols. Other lectures have been given by the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Lucia do Rosario-Neil, Bishop Richard Moth, Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ, Dr Galena Rhoades (transcript not available), and His Honour Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC, Recorder of London (now The Honourable Mr Justice Hilliard), and screenwriter and author Frank Cottrell-Boyce. 

About The Clink 

The Clink provides prisoners with an opportunity to gain new skills and qualifications in catering and horticulture. They then support the graduates to help them secure accommodation upon release. This offers them a real chance to return to the community with the ability to turn their lives around which will cut crime and improve public safety. The excellent outcomes of this programme are underlined by the Justice Data Lab audit – prisoners are 49.6% less likely to reoffend by entering this programme 

The prisoners at each of The Clink training projects train up to 40-hours a week whilst working towards gaining their City & Guilds National Vocational Qualifications. Simulating a professional working environment, prisoners with six to eighteen months of their sentence left to serve volunteer for the programme, going through full-time training in order to reach the required level to succeed in their respective industry. 

 Event Catering – The Clink Charity : The Clink Charity