A Prison Volunteer Chaplain speaks of his work
As a volunteer chaplain at a local prison I see many sad cases, both young and old who are constantly on the merry-go-round of release and reoffending then returning to prison. Many of the people have a multitude of difficulties such as, mental health or learning difficulties, drink and drug abuse, poor parenting/no parenting history. So many say that they never had a father or their father abused them. It is a sad fact that the problem is getting worse and that society in general is failing. This is not a political statement but one of fact. It is for this very reason that CPR (Christian Prison Resourcing) is operating in many of our prisons today. We know that sharing the love of Jesus with men and women throughout the prison service changes lives.
The work of the organisation Christian Prison Resourcing (CPR)
At our annual meeting on Saturday 22nd April 2017 at Elmstead Baptist Church in Kent we welcomed around 100 delegates and supporters.
· I heard from one chaplain who said that when he went onto a prison early one morning he had the following experience. “On the wing the prisoners were locked in their cells. I knocked on one cell door and opened the flap and saw a prisoner on his knees beside his bed with his Bible open before him, reading and praying at the start of the day. I apologized for disturbing him and said I would return in a little while. I moved on to the next cell and knocked and opened the flap to find another man in exactly the same situation. Again, I apologized and moved to the next cell. I found in the next two cells men engaged in the same activity of early morning devotional prayer and Bible study. Praise the Lord.”
· Another chaplain told of how he gave a Bible to an inmate. Upon returning to the cell he found that the inmate had read the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel where all the names of Jesus ancestors are listed. He thought the man would have found that chapter boring but instead discovered the man was elated. “At last,” said the prisoner, “I now know that Jesus is a real man and not just a fictitious character, why else would someone give all the names of his ancestors!”
· Two men who had come to faith in prison were at the CPR meeting. John and Craig reported that they had come to know and put their trust in Jesus through the presentation of the Gospel to them whilst serving time in prison and said how their lives had been transformed as a result.
My experience as a volunteer Prison Chaplain
My own experience of prison visitation two days a week is as follows: entering the prison and ‘drawing keys’ is something of a depressing experience. Locking and unlocking doors and gates and walking through endless walkways between different house blocks was not exactly how I had imagined I would be spending so much of my retirement days. However, the spiritual hunger of many is a source of real excitement and not a little intimidating as some of these men are being exposed to the truth of Christianity. They have time to read the Bible, many for the first time, but their lives contain so much baggage. I have lost count of the number of times I find it necessary to explain that knowing Christ is about a relationship with Him not a religion of ‘do’s and don’ts’.
I meet the broken lives of people convicted of dreadful crimes, but my work is not to be a judge but to tell them that God loves them and that there is forgiveness for those who confess their sin and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.
Some are sex offenders and are in prison for historical offences. They are housed in a special block apart from other prisoners and this is where I have had some of my most meaningful conversations. Sometimes I must visit the Health block (hospital wing) where there are some very sad and challenging cases of mental illness and drug addiction.
The Segregation wing is the most challenging of all wings housing some of the most violent of men. If the prisoners are not locked in, I must be accompanied by at least two prison officers for my own protection. However, these are all souls for whom Christ died and Jesus would not have discriminated and I must believe that He can turn these men’s lives around.
My main objective.
My main objective is one of helping prisoners towards the end of their sentence to resettle back into society. Homelessness, lack of employment and little or no support from relatives are just some of the problems they face. If, for whatever reason, the prison service is unable to provide for these men they will be released with just £47 in their pocket, a bag of their personal possessions and turned out onto the street to fend for themselves. It is little wonder that so many re-offend! I am commissioned to try to help those who want to be linked into a Christian fellowship and find a place where they will receive some support and, if possible, arranging for the pastor of the selected church to come into prison to meet with the person prior to their release.
As an HMP chaplain my work must stop at the prison gate. Once released I am not permitted to have further contact with any offender and if, by accident, I should meet them on the street I am duty bound to complete a report on such a meeting. So gauging success of my work is hard to quantify.
In an ideal world every prison needs a person doing this ‘Resettlement’ work, and helping them plan for their return to society.
Do pray for this work in our prisons.