By Cameron Brooks
A minister known as DJ Jolly Jilly has been recognised for “brightening” up the spirits of prisoners and staff at Scotland’s largest jail during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Rev Jill Clancy, pictured above, notably took over the Barbed Wireless radio station at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow during the early months of the first lockdown in 2020 because the men who usually ran it were not allowed out of their cells for fear of catching and spreading the virus.
She recorded, edited and broadcast an hour long programme, consisting of music, quizzes and Thought for the Day, twice a week.
Mrs Clancy, the facilitator of HMP Barlinnie’s multi-faith chaplaincy team and the only full-time member providing pastoral care work at that time, also broadcast Sunday worship services, the Catholic Mass and Muslim prayers.
Teresa Medhurst, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service, presented the minister with a Meritorious Award in recognition of her positivity and the care she provided to prisoners and staff while the country was gripped by COVID-19.
Mrs Clancy, who has worked at HMP Barlinnie for five years, said: “Being recognised for my contribution was a big surprise, I was gobsmacked to be honest and couldn’t quite believe it.
“It was a difficult, uncertain and unknown time for all the prisoners, management and staff at HMP Barlinnie and I did all that I could to help keep people’s spirits up.
“The prison has a radio station called Barbed Wireless run by the prisoners but it was off air during the first lockdown because none of them were allowed out of their cells.
“So I styled myself DJ Jolly Jilly and twice a week I recorded, edited and broadcast an hour long radio programme.
“It was so much fun and I am thrilled that being a presence in the prison helped just a little for all of us to get through a difficult time.”
Mrs Clancy is a fan of Johnny Cash who famously played gigs in prisons, notably Folsom State Prison in California, USA at the behest of the Rev Floyd Gressett, who preached at a church in Ventura and also carried out outreach work with prisoners.
One of the legendary musician’s most famous songs is called Folsom Prison Blues.
The chaplaincy team at HMP Barlinnie has 11 members and of the three on duty to provide care and support at the beginning of the pandemic, two worked part-time.
Mrs Clancy said: “It is a privilege to work at HMP Barlinnie but I could not do the job that I do without the support of the rest of the staff and management who showed great commitment and courage during the lockdown.
The stark interior of Barlinnie Prison, where local men serve their sentences.
“None of us would have survived without the great Glasgow banter which gave us a laugh and the positivity that we needed.
“I might have been presented with this award but it was a team effort to keep things going during a huge period of uncertainty.”
Church of Scotland chaplains work in prisons across Scotland and congregations are encouraged to sign up to a charter to support people affected by the criminal justice system.
Mrs Clancy said the pastoral care role is vital because people who have committed crimes need to know that their lives are important.
“All the prisoners whom I work with are men and they are somebody’s son, father, uncle, brother and they matter,” she explained.
“It is not about shutting people behind a locked door and forgetting about them, they need to know that God loves them as much as anyone else.
“It is such a privilege to be able to listen to people’s stories and hopefully help them on the next step of their life journey as they leave prison.
“People need to know that they are loved and forgiven and if that gives them the strength to change and never to return to prison, we have done a good job.”
HMP Barlinnie currently has a prison population of around 1,200.
The Rev Jill Clancy and Teresa Medhurst, chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service.