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Chaplain at home in jail s spiritual centre
Acacia Prison senior chaplain, Alan Forsyth in the prison's multi-denominational chapel. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian

Alan Forsyth admits it is sometimes hard to keep his faith.

Not so long ago, the Acacia Prison chaplain's wife told him she could tell when he had a difficult day.

"I had no idea that there were whole evenings when I didn't say anything," Mr Forsyth said yesterday from the prison's All Faiths Spiritual Centre.

"I think it just hurts, you know? It's not something that I have in my mind all the time but if I'm hurting, I just am numb because quite often there will be eight or even 10 people with big stories coming in and I can only listen. I can't do much else about it mostly.

"But some of them are heart-rending."

Mr Forsyth, 71, has become a close confidant to hundreds of prisoners looking for forgiveness, answers or just someone to talk to during his 12-year stint at Acacia Prison. The men at Acacia have been convicted of everything from burglary to murder.

But no matter what is in their past, all are welcome at the spiritual centre.

Mr Forsyth moved back to WA after nine years working in prisons in South Australia to take on the role of senior chaplain at Acacia in Wooroloo.

"I think I spent most of my adult life finding some place where I am more or less at home and now that I have, it's in a jail," he said.

Much of Mr Forsyth's time is spent in the prison's spiritual centre - a small room with an organ, a crucifix and two stained glass windows.

It is used for regular services and memorial services when prisoners are not able to attend loved ones' funerals.

An ordinary day for the chaplain includes about nine in-depth sessions with prisoners, some of whom are at such a low point they are considering self-harm.

Though Mr Forsyth admits it can be a tough role, he believes it is an enormous privilege for these people to invite him into their life.

"When different people do that, every day, that is extraordinary," he said.

"It also gives you a good feeling when people take hold of their life and start to turn it around."

As an advocate for restorative justice, a theory of justice that aims to heal rather than punish, Mr Forsyth is involved in the prison's Sycamore Tree program.

The program brings together offenders and "surrogate" victims of crime to hear each other's stories and work through their issues over eight sessions.

Through the program, Mr Forsyth has heard rape victims, parents of murdered children and kidnapping victims share their experiences with inmates.

He said it was a deeply emotional program that was potentially life-changing for victims and offenders.

"It requires a great deal of courage but it is worthwhile because it is liberating," he said.

Acacia Prison is this week recognising International Restorative Justice Week with a series of programs highlighting the ways offenders can engage with the community to overcome past mistakes.

'It requires a great deal of courage but it is worthwhile because it is liberating.'" *Alan Forsyth * on the Sycamore Tree program