With 27 years of experience as a prison chaplain, The Reverend (Aunty) Alexandra Gater has spent much of her life as an advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Based in Brisbane, she has a passion for breaking the cycle that leads so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the criminal justice system.
“Working as a prison chaplain is challenging, and rewarding, work. I provide spiritual and physical support to help stop the offending behaviour and turn their lives around, to understand they can contribute something positive and good. I’m a mentor who gains the trust of people in jail – and that’s a culture thing. A lot of them have been let down and they find it hard to trust anyone. My job is to let them know that Jesus loves and cares for them and that they do have family that loves them, by connecting them with their family.
I’ve taken memorial services, funerals, visited people in hospitals – it’s heartbreaking. My generation, our old people died of old age. Today, I’m burying our people at a young age. Drugs, alcohol, suicide. We need to break the cycle.
My role is also to challenge the hierarchy on issues that I find are unjust and unfair – particularly how the men and women are treated.
In the prisons, a lot of them refer to me as Aunty Alex, or Nana, or Mum. A lot of the adults in there have a history of (being part of) the stolen generations. Some of them have been forcibly removed and taken away from their family, some of them don’t know their family, and they want to connect and get to know their family. Many people are in there due to how they have been treated in society and they have turned to alcohol and drugs to block out the problem of abuse.
I’ve found that there seems to be one law for Aboriginal people, and one for others.
It’s so challenging when we write letters to politicians and officials to bring to their attention to issues that are happening in the community, and they fail to address it. I get righteous anger! I have a right to be angry. And not only the government, the churches as well. What are they doing for the Aboriginal people?
The Aboriginal people of this land aren’t being acknowledged or respected.
I feel like it (jail) is not addressing the real issues. They do offer drug and alcohol courses, but I feel like it’s not enough, it’s not dealing with it.
It’s like putting a band-aid on a big sore.”
TEAR believes we are being led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait people on a journey to understand and address the issues of inequality and move towards justice.
As Christians, we desire justice to roll down like a river. We need to actively work against systems of injustice, like the one that results in an 88% increase over 10 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ending up in prison.
In response to these disproportionately high levels of Indigenous incarceration, and through conversations and consultation with a range of Indigneous people, advocacy organisations, campaigns and research, TEAR has joined the Change the Record campaign.