Trade Buzz

Trade Buzz

via Trade Buzz.

Brewers a mystery as Deadline looms

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin won’t reveal whether he has decided to buy, sell or hold at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, which looms less than two weeks away.

Which way is he leaning?

“Staying prepared,” Melvin said simply.

Like so many Major League teams, the Brewers are somewhere in the middle. On one hand, they have been playing much better — back to within three games of .500 at 44-47, only four games off last year’s pace, when they won 96 regular-season games and the National League Central.

On the other hand, the Brewers seem stuck in fourth place, seven games behind the co-division-leading Reds entering a crucial series in Cincinnati set to begin Friday night. While going 10-5 over their last 15 games, the Brewers have gained one game on first place. They also hold a valuable trade chip in Zack Greinke, a free agent to be who seems determined to test the market.

The outcome of the weekend Cincinnati series could push Melvin one direction or the other.

Or not.

“It’s a gut feel,” Melvin said.

I laid out Melvin’s three options — buy, sell or hold — in a story today while the Brewers enjoyed an off-day.

Melvin is in a tough spot — the Brewers will draw nearly three million fans to Miller Park this season, have not made a “sell” oriented move since 2006, and players like Ryan Braun still honestly believe the team can make a run for the postseason. But, Melvin made some comments in my story boosting Greinke’s value in a trade, if the Brewers opt to go that way.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend in Cincinnati…

– Adam McCalvy

 

7/19 Cubs acquire Germano

After the Cubs beat the Marlins on Thursday to improve to 14-5 since June 25, Jeff Baker apparently joked that the players expect to add pieces and be buyers, not sellers, at the Trade Deadline. On Thursday, the Cubs did just that, acquiring right-handed pitcher Justin Germano from the Red Sox for cash considerations. Right-handed pitcher Jairo Asencio was designated for assignment to make room on the roster. Germano, 29, was expected to be available Friday in St. Louis when the Cubs open a three-game series. However, Casey Coleman, who was to start Thursday for Triple-A Iowa, was scratched and will be in St. Louis in case Germano can’t make it.

Germano’s contract was selected by the Red Sox on July 4 and he threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings in relief on July 7 against the Yankees before being designated for assignment on July 13. The Cubs are Germano’s fifth Major League team. He has pitched for the Padres (2004, 2007-08), Reds (2006), Indians (2010-11) and Red Sox (2012). At Triple-A Pawtucket, Germano was 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 17 appearances, including 16 starts.

Asencio, who was claimed off waivers from the Indians on June 1, had a 3.07 ERA in 12 big league appearances with the Cubs.

– Carrie Muskat

July 19 news and notes: Hamels, Dodgers, Cubs

– As the mystery surrounding Cole Hamels’ future continues, ESPN’s Jayston Stark reports the Phillies are making a strong push to sign the left-hander before the trade deadline. With contract length having been the major obstacle in negotiations to this point, the Phillies are reportedly now willing to offer Hamels a six-year deal. According to Stark’s report, the Phillies have basically put trade talks on hold regarding Hamels, as they push to lock him up.

– While the Dodgers are now working with a healthy Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports the club is looking to add another bat to the roster. Though they’ve already talked to the Cubs about pitchers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, Heyman reports they’ve also inquired about a plethora of hitters, including Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Josh Willingham, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez and Chase Headley. The Phillies and Brewers aren’t sellers as of yet and, according to Heyman, the Twins and Rockies don’t appear ready to part with Willingham and Cuddyer, respectively. That leaves Headley as the most logical option on that list, but a number of teams remain insterested in the Padres third baseman, including the Indians, Orioles and Diamondbacks.

– Accordng to a tweet from ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Cubs are still working to trade Dempster as soon as possible, though it apparently won’t be to the Red Sox. Stark’s tweet indicated that a source has said the Red Sox are out of the running for Dempster, but remain interested in Garza.

– Paul Casella

7/19 Dempster focuses on Cubs

Ryan Dempster is still on the Cubs roster and prepping for Friday’s start in St. Louis. But he’s also a hot topic regarding trade rumors as the deadline approaches. Dempster has talked to the Cubs brass about potential moves but says no deal is imminent. As a player with 10 years of Major League service and the last five with the same team, Dempster can veto any trade.

“It’s just kind of like, ‘Hey, there’s teams interested,’ and that’s great. Nothing imminent, not that I know of,” Dempster told reporters at Wrigley Field, including MLB.com’s Cash Kruth. “I’m sure if they have something, they’ll come to me. But right now I’m just trying to get ready for tomorrow’s game.”

Dempster’s stock is at an all-time high, as the right-hander — who is 5-3 with a 1.86 ERA on the season — has tossed 33 consecutive scoreless innings. Dempster said he’s conscious of the streak, and said he “[wants] to shatter” Orel Hershiser’s all-time mark of 59 consecutive scoreless innings, set in 1988.

“I know I haven’t given up a run in five starts. I’m not naive,” Dempster said. “Like I said when I had a no-hitter going before, I know when I have a no-hitter going. I know that I have it, so I’m just going to try to keep it going, for sure. When you don’t give up any runs, you win games, so I like that.”

Between the scoreless-inning streak and preparing for his next start, Dempster said he doesn’t spend much time keeping up with the rumor mill. Although he said it’s flattering so many teams are reportedly interested in him, he’s still focused on his next start, which will take place in a Cubs uniform. On Thursday, Dempster played catch with his son Brady at Wrigley.

“I just think that there’s a lot of things between pitching and on-the-field stuff and then stuff about trades, and it’s a lot of information to try to process, so for me, I try to limit what I read and my focus is just going out there and pitching,” Dempster said. “Probably my biggest focus right now is just going out there and be ready every fifth day. I still have a job to do, and I take a lot of pride in that, so if I’m not putting my attention, my sole focus into that, I’m doing the team a little bit of a disservice.”

– Carrie Muskat

July 18 Late Night Roundup

  • USA Today’s Bob Nightengale provided the splashiest rumor of the day, reporting that the Marlins had informed the Red Sox of their willingness to deal third baseman Hanley Ramirez and closer Heath Bell, in exchange for left fielder Carl Crawford and a prospect. But ESPN’s Buster Olney later shot down that idea, tweeting that the proposal “immediately died.”
  • According to our own Joe Frisaro, the Marlins are more likely to explore trading Ramirez during the offseason. Miami, scuffling below the .500 mark, still could look to move the likes of starting pitchers Anibal Sanchez and Josh Johnson or infielder Omar Infante below July 31.
  • Three different scenarios remain in play for Brewers ace Zack Greinke, Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal reported at FOXSports.com. The 28-year-old could walk away as a free agent after the season. He could sign a long-term contract to remain in Milwaukee, although the report stated there is “no evidence,” that a formal offer has been made. Greinke also could be traded before the deadline, although he will start only twice more before then, following an extended break.
  • Greinke, along with the Phillies’ Cole Hamels, is a prime deadline target for the Rangers, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. Texas also could consider bringing back Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee.
  • Several teams have looked into acquiring third baseman Chase Headley or outfielder Carlos Quentin from the Padres, but San Diego’s asking price for both has been “exorbitant,” reported CBSSports.com’s Scott Miller. The club also might attempt to re-sign Quentin this winter.

Andrew Simon

Dipoto: Bourjos not being dangled

Pretty much since he took the job over the offseason, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has viciously tried to fend off rumors that the club considers center fielder Peter Bourjos — currently without an everyday role — a trade chip.

That took place again on Wednesday, in the midst of a couple of reports — from Jon Heyman and Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com — saying that Bourjos is available for the right deal. Dipoto publicly denied that once again, saying: “At no point have we offered Peter Bourjos for anyone, starter or reliever.”

The Angels are indeed looking for pitching, for the bullpen and rotation, and they’ve been linked to a bevy of player, like Francisco Liriano, Jonathan Broxton and, of course, Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels. But you can probably throw out 50 other names that the Angels have considered, tabled, had talks about and sent advanced scouts to watch. The Angels have been looking to upgrade the bullpen — particularly with another left-hander — for a while now.

As for starting pitching? The health of Dan Haren could go a long way in deciding how aggressive they get in that pursuit — and, perhaps, whether Bourjos is in fact dealt.

Here’s what Dipoto said when asked about how important the next week, with Haren returning and Ervin Santana making a couple of tough starts, is to their starting-pitching pursuit …

“We just want to get [Haren] back 100 percent healthy to compete. And we feel, and I’ve been very forthright with that, that he’s the best addition we can make. We anticipate that that’s the case. And in Ervin’s case, it’s not as simple as just determining where he is in the next two starts. Ervin’s got a history of being a better second-half performer than first. It’s the way it looks from last year. I’m just looking at his track record, what he does. And we’re not two starts away from kicking Ervin Santana out the door. Ervin’s going to be in our rotation. The Ervin component is not going to have any effect on what we do at all.”

The Royals had a scout at Comerica Park on Tuesday, and word is Kansas City is interested in designated hitter Kendrys Morales — despite the presence of Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.

“We have nothing significant or imminent at this time,” Dipoto said. “Like everybody is, we’re just doing our due diligence.”

Alden Gonzalez

Duquette: O’s still plan to add pieces

Despite a stretch in which the team has lost 17 of its last 24 games, including six of seven, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Wednesday that the Orioles are still buyers on the trade market.

“We really need to stabilize our pitching, which is what we are looking for,” Duquette said in a phone interview with MLB.com. “We still want to have another pitcher.”

Duquette said he doesn’t think “it’s feasible” for the club to add more than one starter, given that there are too many other teams looking for pitching. The Orioles, who will not part with top prospects Manny Machado or Dylan Bundy, probably don’t have enough in their system to acquire more than one effective rotation guy.

The Orioles hope that their young starters, who have all struggled mightily this season, can improve enough to help get the team back on the right track. Despite rumors to the contrary, the Orioles are not trying to trade any of those pitchers.

Brian Matusz and Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta are currently in Triple-A, while Zach Britton struggled in his season debut and Chris Tillman was unable to get out of the first inning in his second start this year.

“My hope is that they establish themselves with the Orioles,” Duquette said. “That’s what they are trying to accomplish.

“I think they should be competitive. They all have the skills, they have all the equipment to be Major League pitchers. I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be. We’ve got a lot of baseball left to go, but … I don’t see anything holding them back from being competitive Major Leaguers.”

Duquette said middle infield depth also remains a focus, but the Orioles are optimistic Robert Andino (left shoulder strain) will return in a few weeks, and the O’s going with a platoon of Ryan Flaherty and Steve Tolleson until then. While adding a bat atop the order is on the wish list, nothing takes priority over finding another starting pitcher.

“If we got one starter and got a little bit better performance from who we have, we’d be OK,” Duquette said. “We need to be in contention, or we need to have the idea that what we are going to do will improve the team enough to make the playoffs.

“And you never know that for sure, but I think it’s important for us to have a good year. It’s important for us to finish strong and win more games than we lose, and try to go for the pennant.”

Duquette has previously said that he has the ownership’s backing to improve at the deadline and add pieces as he sees fit, and he didn’t back off that stance on Wednesday.

“Anything that we do, we would do with the idea to strengthen the team for this year,” he said.

Even if the current club continues to falter?

“I hope we are in contention until the end of the month, so we are adding,” Duquette said. “That’s the direction we are working on, and working toward.”

–Brittany Ghiroli

Hanley, Bell for Crawford speculation

In Report on States’ Finances, a Grim Long-Term Forecast – NYTimes.com

So couple this bit of gloom and doom with the accounts yesterday of rampaging youth running through stores causing havoc and I see a collapse in our society much like the destruction we’ve seen in the streets of Europe.  Seeing ballplayers sign multi-million dollar contracts masks the reality that is coming to demolish the sports world when reality comes crashing down on them.  If you have any money…spend it on a lavish vacation and have the time of your life, because the Late Great America will be swept into the sea.

 

In Report on States’ Finances, a Grim Long-Term Forecast – NYTimes.com

via In Report on States’ Finances, a Grim Long-Term Forecast – NYTimes.com.

<nyt_headline type=” ” version=”1.0″>Gloomy Forecast for States, Even if Economy Rebounds

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<nyt_text><nyt_correction_top>WASHINGTON — The fiscal crisis for states will persist long after the economy rebounds as they confront rising health care costs, underfunded pensions, ignored infrastructure needs, eroding revenues and expected federal budget cuts, according to a report issued here Tuesday by a task force of respected budget experts.

Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times

Paul Volcker, left, and Richard Ravitch said they wanted to call attention to the severity of the problem without making it worse.

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The problems facing states are often masked by lax budget laws and opaque accounting practices, according to the report, an independent analysis of six large states released by the State Budget Crisis Task Force.

It said that the financial collapse of 2008, which caused the most serious fiscal crisis for states since the Great Depression, exposed deep-set financial challenges that will worsen if no action is taken.

“The ability of the states to meet their obligations to public employees, to creditors and most critically to the education and well-being of their citizens is threatened,” warned the chairmen of the task force, Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor of New York, and Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The report added a strong dose of fiscal pessimism just as many states have seen their immediate budget pressures begin to ease. And it called into question how states will restore the services they have cut during the downturn, saying that the loss of jobs in prisons, hospitals, courts and agencies have been more severe than in any of the past nine recessions.

“This is a fundamental shift in the way governments have responded to recessions and appears to signal a willingness to ‘unbuild’ state government in a way that has not been done before,” it said, noting that court systems had cut their hours in many states, delaying actions including divorce settlements and criminal trials.

The report arrived at a delicate political moment. States are deciding whether to expand their Medicaid programs to cover the uninsured poor as part of the new health care law, with the federal government pledging to pay the full cost at first. Public-sector unions feel besieged, as states and cities from Wisconsin to San Jose, Calif., have moved to save money on pensions. And Washington’s focus on deficit reduction — with big budget cuts scheduled for after the fall election — has made cuts to state aid inevitable, many governors believe.

If federal grants to the states were cut by just 10 percent, the report said, the loss to state and local government budgets would be more than $60 billion a year — nearly twice the size of the combined tax increases that states enacted during the fiscal crisis from 2008 to 2011.

Things are worse than they appear, the report contends.

Even before the recession, Medicaid spending was growing faster than state revenues, and the downturn led to higher caseloads — making the program the biggest share of state spending, as states have cut aid to schools and universities. States have not set aside enough money to cover the health and retirement benefits they owe their workers. Important revenue sources are being eroded: states are losing billions of sales tax dollars to Internet sales and to an economy in which much consumer spending has shifted from buying goods to buying lightly taxed services. Gas tax revenues have not kept up with urgent infrastructure needs. And distressed cities and counties pose challenges to states.

While almost all states are required by law to balance their budgets each year, the report said that many have relied on gimmicks and nonrecurring revenues in recent years to mask the continuing imbalance between the revenues they take in and the expenses they face — and that lax accounting systems allow them to do so.

The report focused on California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia, and found that all have relied on some gimmicks in recent years.

California borrowed money several times over the past decade to generate budget cash. New York delayed paying income tax refunds one year to push the costs into the next year and raided several state funds that were supposed to be dedicated to other uses. New Jersey borrowed against the money it received from its share of the tobacco settlement and, along with Virginia, failed to make all of the required payments to its pension funds.

Texas delayed $2 billion worth of payments by a month — pushing the expenses into the next year. Illinois has billions of dollars of unpaid bills and borrowed money to put in its pension funds.

Desperate budget officials often see public pension funds as an almost irresistible pool of money. One common way of “borrowing” pension money is not to make each year’s “annual required contribution,” the amount actuaries calculate must be set aside to cover future payments. Despite its name, there is usually no enforceable law requiring that it be paid.

As a result, the report found that from 2007 to 2011, state and local governments shortchanged their pension plans by more than $50 billion — an amount that has nothing to do with the market losses of 2008, which caused even more harm.

When money is withheld from a pension fund, the arrears can snowball, because most states count on the money compounding at a rate of about 8 percent a year. Eventually the unfunded liability grows unmanageable. And states and municipalities have promised an estimated $1 trillion in health benefits — that most have not started saving for — to their retirees.

While the report called New York’s practice of delaying payments to its pension fund a “gimmick,” Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state’s budget division, said that the state was not relying on any new gimmicks. But the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, praised the task force for “bringing the severity of this crisis to the fore.”

Others welcomed parts of the report. Matt Fabian, the managing director of Municipal Market Advisors, a research and consulting firm, said that while it might alarm some investors in the short term, “in the long term it’s a good thing for creditors to get a handle on these costs.”

And Kerry Korpi, the director of research at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed with its findings that the federal government should consider how its actions impact state and local governments, and that states should modernize their tax systems to pay for needed services.

The task force chairmen said they wanted to call attention to the severity of the problem without making it worse by spooking the investors who buy municipal bonds. State and local governments cannot function if they lose their access to credit, as New York City did in 1975.

Mr. Ravitch, a primary player in resolving New York City’s near breakdown, said he did not see the states’ problems today as analogous. The states, he said, are not juggling the giant load of short-term debt that New York City had back then.

Mr. Volcker disagreed.

“New York City went and spent a lot of money they didn’t have,” Mr. Volcker said. “We’re doing exactly the same thing today on a grander scale.” He said that it was characteristic of financial markets to fail to respond to problems until they became a crisis.

“They’ll lend right up to the brink,” he said. “That’s the lesson of this. You don’t want to act too late.”

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Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting from New York.

BBC News – Debt and defiance in bankrupt Stockton, California

Can this be true?  Think of it, walk out this morning and look at your town and then picture it as this town is described.  I have a dear friend Lindy, who lives there. I’m calling her this morning and encouraging her not to be a holdout. Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend this doesn’t exist. Wait a minute isn’t Illinois in worse shape then California? And now San Bernardino has also declared bankruptcy. People, get ready.

 

BBC News – Debt and defiance in bankrupt Stockton, California

via BBC News – Debt and defiance in bankrupt Stockton, Califo

Debt and defiance in bankrupt Stockton, California

From behind the wheel of her black and white patrol car, Sgt Katherine Nance points out a modest house behind a white picket fence.

It was built by her parents, and was where she grew up until she was a young teenager. “It was a good middle-class area,” she says wistfully.

She says she rode around on her bike, babysat for the neighbours. Now the local park has become a haven for drug-dealers and a venue for gun fights. You wouldn’t let a child walk around here, even during the day.

You might think this is the sort of change has come to many areas, and that it has been happening for years, all across America, for many reasons. Maybe.

But Stockton is part of a new trend: American cities that have gone broke and declared themselves bankrupt.

For Sergeant Nance, crime has spiralled upwards and her old neighbourhood spiralled downwards because of bad choices made by politicians. While you can’t get away with murder in Stockton, it sometimes seems to residents you can get away with everything else.

‘Most miserable city’

The former river port bloomed during California’s first boom, the 19th Century gold rush, and Stockton has seen ups and downs over the years. But the recent economic crisis seemed to change everything.

Stockton recently became the largest city in the US to declare bankruptcy, but along the road to ruin also earned the title of “America’s most miserable city”.

The marina in Stockton, California Stockton is a city of contrasts – from an empty and boarded-up Main Street to a gleaming marina

Stockton has an unemployment rate twice the national average and jostles with many other places for the unenviable sobriquet of “America’s murder capital”.

Amid all these problems, it is crime and the sense of growing vulnerability that dominates the conversation of locals.

Sgt Nance clearly relishes her job as leader of a community response team. Their main role seems to be to disrupt the many gangs battling it out for control of the city streets.

We hear sirens nearby. Then she gets a message that her colleagues, in an unmarked vehicle, are in hot pursuit.

When we get there a young man with a wispy moustache and a sullen look is sitting handcuffed. He had accelerated away when they tried to stop him for speeding.

When they do stop him, a search reveals several bags of marijuana, a small rock of crack cocaine and a semi-automatic pistol.

There aren’t as many officers on the streets as there once were. Police numbers have been cut by one-third, and police pay has been cut by up to 30%, those with the longest service losing the most.

Not surprisingly many officers have left. But it’s not only that.

Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston appears for a meeting of the city council 26 June 2012 Stockton Mayor Ann Johnson says the city will rise again

The city can’t afford to prosecute many offences. Many of those arrested have been let out of jail early. Sgt Nance feels this failure to disrupt petty crime often means criminals are at large, able to do something more serious.

Residents complain that the police won’t investigate house burglaries and car thefts.

She agrees that for the most part, they don’t have the resources to follow-up.

Many of the areas where I am taken don’t look particularly bad: just row of after row of shotgun housing, some cared for with loving pride, others more dilapidated.

But Stockton is a city of very visible contrasts. Main Street is a horror: there are whole rows of boarded-up shops, and doors behind heavy bars and grills, pad-locked shut.

It is empty except for the occasional homeless man or woman walking nonchalantly down the street, clutching everything they own.

Less than a mile away, by the waterfront, multi-million dollar yachts idle in the marina, gleaming white, shaded from the sun by rows of white canvas awnings, the very picture of California dreaming.

But the half-empty marina has turned out to be a bit of a nightmare for Stockton.

Like the city’s other prestigious projects – the ballpark, a sports stadium and hotels – what once must have seemed like smart regeneration turned out to be a pointless burden as the recession hit home.

Equally, what once seemed like decent treatment for city workers, i.e. generous health care, pensions and pay, particularly for firefighters and police, is now seen as absurd featherbedding.

Lost benefits

I meet the mayor, Ann Johnston, in her balloon shop. We can’t go to city hall; it is closed one day a week to save money.

She says Stockton suffered from a perfect storm. These big projects left the city with no money in the bank, and borrowing expanded. Then the recession struck.

All of the city’s money comes from property tax, and as property prices went into freefall, the local government’s income was slashed.

A vacant home has weeds growing in the gutters in the Weston Ranch neighbourhood of Stockton, California in this 6 March 2012 One in every 195 Stockton homes filed for foreclosure in May

She says Stockton’s latest dramatic move is the solution, not the problem.

Nothing changed the day after the city declared itself bankrupt. Stockton hasn’t shut its doors and isn’t giving up.

Indeed the bankruptcy is a device to avoid paying creditors and to avoid making even deeper cuts. But many are furious about what has happened. The mayor has faced an angry public meeting where city workers testified to the suffering caused by inept politicians.

She says the city will rise again, but Joanie Anderson is less sure.

Anderson is a former police dispatcher, and her husband used to be a policeman. They are both retired, but as they are well under 65, they rely on the city for their health insurance.

It is hugely important to them, but now their programme has been cut from the city budget.

“Our 18-year-old daughter has had four open heart surgeries since birth,” she said. “Her last one was this February.”

“So she has ongoing health needs that have to be put to the forefront in our family. If she has an emergency that involves her heart, it costs tens of thousands of dollars in the hospital.”

But it would cost them $34,000 (£22,000) to replace their healthcare, if indeed any insurance company would take them on. They simply can not afford it and have no idea what to do.

Other city workers may have less dramatic stories, but find themselves in the same plight – they thought they had excellent healthcare, and now find themselves with none.

Stockton’s descent into insecurity is chilling because it is not an isolated example.

As I left the city, news came that another California town, Mammoth Lakes, had filed for bankruptcy. And beyond each individual town, America itself is deep in the red.

Putting that right may mean as many difficult choices and as much pain.

rnia

Cardiff prison chaplain on ‘serving on the margins’

 

Cardiff prison chaplain on ‘serving on the margins’

Reverend Mark John Reverend Mark John takes up a new role next year

The Reverend Mark John, co-ordinating chaplain at Cardiff prison for 15 years, will take up a new role next year managing all chaplaincies in the public sector prisons of Wales. He talks to Selma Chalabi of the BBC’s Eye on Wales current affairs programme about his work and what drives him.

Why do you do what you do?

“As a Christian I have always wanted to serve on the margins. Serving in prisons seemed an obvious way to do that. One of the most fulfilling parts of the job is honesty. Prisoners quite often present with honesty. Because the veneers that we put on ourselves are no longer there, you can see the need and minister to it. When I was a vicar, that emotional honesty wasn’t there. Who goes to the vicar and says I’m an alcoholic can you help me? Rarely. In prison, I can talk men openly about their problems.

“Every morning I wake up and think that I’m doing something that I’m comfortable with. I’m doing the best I can in an environment that I love.”

You love?

“Yes, perversely. Prisons are horrible. Putting people in custody is horrible. It’s society’s answer. If you ask me if prison works, I would say no it doesn’t. But within that cesspit that we’ve created there is a need. As a prison chaplain, I’m there to address that need.

“If I were to come to you and say, I’m a murderer, what does God think of me? What would you say?

A prisoner in jail Reverend Mark John said he had worked with many murderers during his time as a prison chaplain

“I would say you’re not beyond God. They were brigands who were crucified next to Jesus Christ. They were condemned men. I would say to you, he loves you, and you will be there.

“During my prison ministry I have worked with many murderers. I’ve worked with some who’ve come to a Christian faith and to a spiritual realisation. Only a very few cold people can be murderers and feel no remorse. The majority have a sense of remorse and guilt. As a prison service, we are always looking in to their attitude towards their offence. I want to know their attitude and what strategies they have in place to stop them from doing it again.”

Who are you commissioned by – God or the state?

“I definitely believe that my vocation comes from God. God called me to be a priest, and then God called me to be a prison chaplain. With that vocation to ministry, the authority comes from the bishop of this diocese.

“I’m also paid for by the state. There’s an act of parliament that says that every prison must have a chaplain, so the state actually empowers it. In fact the act says every prison must have a governor, a chaplain and other such staff.

“That’s one of the things I like about our state. There’s a balance. There’s an acceptance that the state has a right to punish, but there’s an acceptance that the state has a right to nurture and care.”

Cardiff prison HMP Cardiff has a capacity for more than 780 male prisoners

What would you say to people who say that prison is a place of punishment, and punishment alone?

“As far as I’m aware, in law, prison has been defined as the punishment. You are in custody. Your liberty is curtailed. That is the punishment. Anything after that is cruel and inhumane.

“Our society, a progressive western society, has said that we keep people who don’t conform to the norms of society in a place of security to keep society safe from them. That is the punishment.

“The punishment then comes home when their daughter dies and they can’t go and comfort their wife, when their mum dies and they can’t leave the prison because that’s not allowed. That’s the punishment.”

What is your team made up of?

“When I first started work in prisons, the perception was that prison chaplaincy was largely a Christian ministry.

“It’s now become an all faith ministry. We have 20 chaplains of different denominations. 3.5 are fully paid chaplains. Some are sub-contracted or sessional chaplains, and a whole variety of others.

“We cater for the main Christian faiths. We have Muslim chaplains, Buddhist chaplains, a pagan chaplain, Jewish, Sikh chaplains, Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon. Basically if a prisoner comes in and says I have a certain faith, it is my job to ensure that we have a minister of that faith for them.”

Are you worth the public money that pays for you?

“I could point to you four or five people that as a direct result of something I’ve done or said are no longer in the criminal justice system.

“We are told that to keep a prisoner in Cardiff costs £30,000 or £40,000 a year, and to put them through the whole process can cost hundreds of thousands. So actually if I’ve got four that I’ve sorted out, that’s paid my wages for my career. So is it worth it? Value for money? Yes. Hopefully it’s a bit more than that.”

Cardiff prison chaplain on ‘serving on the margins’

 

Cardiff prison chaplain on ‘serving on the margins’

Reverend Mark John Reverend Mark John takes up a new role next year

The Reverend Mark John, co-ordinating chaplain at Cardiff prison for 15 years, will take up a new role next year managing all chaplaincies in the public sector prisons of Wales. He talks to Selma Chalabi of the BBC’s Eye on Wales current affairs programme about his work and what drives him.

Why do you do what you do?

“As a Christian I have always wanted to serve on the margins. Serving in prisons seemed an obvious way to do that. One of the most fulfilling parts of the job is honesty. Prisoners quite often present with honesty. Because the veneers that we put on ourselves are no longer there, you can see the need and minister to it. When I was a vicar, that emotional honesty wasn’t there. Who goes to the vicar and says I’m an alcoholic can you help me? Rarely. In prison, I can talk men openly about their problems.

“Every morning I wake up and think that I’m doing something that I’m comfortable with. I’m doing the best I can in an environment that I love.”

You love?

“Yes, perversely. Prisons are horrible. Putting people in custody is horrible. It’s society’s answer. If you ask me if prison works, I would say no it doesn’t. But within that cesspit that we’ve created there is a need. As a prison chaplain, I’m there to address that need.

“If I were to come to you and say, I’m a murderer, what does God think of me? What would you say?

A prisoner in jail Reverend Mark John said he had worked with many murderers during his time as a prison chaplain

“I would say you’re not beyond God. They were brigands who were crucified next to Jesus Christ. They were condemned men. I would say to you, he loves you, and you will be there.

“During my prison ministry I have worked with many murderers. I’ve worked with some who’ve come to a Christian faith and to a spiritual realisation. Only a very few cold people can be murderers and feel no remorse. The majority have a sense of remorse and guilt. As a prison service, we are always looking in to their attitude towards their offence. I want to know their attitude and what strategies they have in place to stop them from doing it again.”

Who are you commissioned by – God or the state?

“I definitely believe that my vocation comes from God. God called me to be a priest, and then God called me to be a prison chaplain. With that vocation to ministry, the authority comes from the bishop of this diocese.

“I’m also paid for by the state. There’s an act of parliament that says that every prison must have a chaplain, so the state actually empowers it. In fact the act says every prison must have a governor, a chaplain and other such staff.

“That’s one of the things I like about our state. There’s a balance. There’s an acceptance that the state has a right to punish, but there’s an acceptance that the state has a right to nurture and care.”

Cardiff prison HMP Cardiff has a capacity for more than 780 male prisoners

What would you say to people who say that prison is a place of punishment, and punishment alone?

“As far as I’m aware, in law, prison has been defined as the punishment. You are in custody. Your liberty is curtailed. That is the punishment. Anything after that is cruel and inhumane.

“Our society, a progressive western society, has said that we keep people who don’t conform to the norms of society in a place of security to keep society safe from them. That is the punishment.

“The punishment then comes home when their daughter dies and they can’t go and comfort their wife, when their mum dies and they can’t leave the prison because that’s not allowed. That’s the punishment.”

What is your team made up of?

“When I first started work in prisons, the perception was that prison chaplaincy was largely a Christian ministry.

“It’s now become an all faith ministry. We have 20 chaplains of different denominations. 3.5 are fully paid chaplains. Some are sub-contracted or sessional chaplains, and a whole variety of others.

“We cater for the main Christian faiths. We have Muslim chaplains, Buddhist chaplains, a pagan chaplain, Jewish, Sikh chaplains, Jehovah’s Witness and Mormon. Basically if a prisoner comes in and says I have a certain faith, it is my job to ensure that we have a minister of that faith for them.”

Are you worth the public money that pays for you?

“I could point to you four or five people that as a direct result of something I’ve done or said are no longer in the criminal justice system.

“We are told that to keep a prisoner in Cardiff costs £30,000 or £40,000 a year, and to put them through the whole process can cost hundreds of thousands. So actually if I’ve got four that I’ve sorted out, that’s paid my wages for my career. So is it worth it? Value for money? Yes. Hopefully it’s a bit more than that.”