Experiences of Godly Play in Prison

I used Godly Play in a women’s prison over an eight-year period, a monthly story on Sundays in our main act of worship, and occasionally in small groups with a response and feast. Most of the prisoners had a limited Christian background.

  • Godly Play introduced the prisoners to refection and interpretation of Bible stories in the context in which the women found themselves. Some of the women found it hard to ‘play’ imaginatively with sacred texts but over time became more assured.
  • I believe that using Godly Play gave some women a ‘voice’ to express themselves in a new and more confident way, and to know and listen to God’s voice through the Bible.
  • The space to learn about reflection and imagination proved valuable to chaplaincy staff, psychologists, and staff who found greater engagement when exploring and challenging offending behavior.
  • The physical layout of the room was a semi-circle of chairs with the storyteller on the floor. This needed negotiation with the staff as well as the women. It was not possible to use some objects, for example, security staff could not allow sand to be used in the chapel, so I used a hessian cloth for the desert.
  • A chaplain leading worship on the floor changed the dynamic in the room; by engaging visually only with the Godly Play figures rather than ‘keeping an eye’ on the prisoners, I related to the prisoners in a new way with less power differential.
  • The parables are a good place to start telling Godly Play stories, but the Old Testament stories became the favorites over time, maybe because the women were able to relate to stories of exile.
  • The women grew in confidence in wondering, once they were confident that they had permission to express themselves.
  • Surprisingly, none of my Godly Play resources went missing. The women described them as holy and treated them with reverence.
  • I never went away from a Godly Play story in the prison without learning something about God, the world, and myself.

The Rev’d Dana Delap

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