Over fifteen years ago, the chaplain at Dartmoor Prison asked for some complimentary DayOne Diaries to give to the prisoners.
The diaries carry a daily Bible verse and monthly topical Bible theme and are illustrated by colour photographs. They introduce people to gospel truths in a simple way.
The idea caught on. Soon, other HM prison chaplains asked for diaries.
Each year the number of complimentary diaries provided to chaplains has risen (to 140,000 for 2002). One prison chaplain humorously remarked: ‘The prisoners would kill for these diaries!’
Last year, DayOne also gave prisons 50,000 copies of its evangelistic booklet How can God accept me? Both diary and booklet now feature in some induction packs for new prisoners.
DayOne could not meet the demand from prison chaplains to provide speakers. So I was appointed to organise this ministry, supported by my wife Phillippa, and travel to prisons to preach the gospel.
My wife and I started in April 2000. The initial response was warm and positive. That welcome has become progressively warmer since our first prison services at Strangeways, Manchester, and Maghaberry, Northern Ireland.
We now have the privilege of presenting the gospel in prisons all over the UK, and the pleasure of fellowship with many chaplains, individual Christians and churches or groups, who minister in local prisons. Prison Fellowship visitors have also been supportive.
We are constantly humbled as we present the wonderful news of our crucified yet risen Saviour, who alone sets man free from sin. The vibrant trust in Christ of some prisoners has also challenged us deeply. To be a Christian in prison is not easy.
One Young Offenders Institute lets us speak to 100 young men in two successive services.
At Holloway nearly half the inmates attended two services. Some prisons hold three or more services on the Lord’s Day, with numbers varying between 30 and 100.
Sometimes we run a 90-minute magazine-type programme. This may include advising on the best use of verses in the diary; teaching illustrated Bible texts; testimonies (sometimes we take other Christians with us); and (often lively!) open question times.
The offer of booklets at the end of meetings is invariably taken up by most attending. Normally we meet with the men or women afterwards over tea or coffee, and valuable personal conversations and correspondence result.
Responses vary. Some do trust Christ for forgiveness, whilst others are unmoved. But spontaneous applause at the end of many presentations indicates the prisoners’ interest (even though we don’t seek applause).
Many express gratitude that Christians are concerned enough to spend time with them. Many never considered Christian things until they came to prison.
One convicted murderer confided: ‘If I had never come to prison I would never have come to Christ’. His testimony reflects the power of the risen Lord to change lives.
Many other experiences could be cited. One man asked his chaplain for an old AV Bible. He then used the thin paper to roll his cigarettes!
He smoked his way through the New Testament until he got to Luke’s Gospel, was challenged by the text and converted!
Another inmate, flippant at first, was stopped in his tracks when I began to teach the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20. At the end of the meeting, after talking to a converted fellow inmate, he volunteered: ‘I just repented of my sins and trusted Jesus’.
In a letter afterwards he told how God got his attention by the word ‘Exodus’. The police operation that led to his conviction was code-named ‘Operation Exodus’!
Some Muslim women prisoners, after keenly listening to and discussing the Gospel, urged us to send diaries to their families.
A young man, frightened to leave prison and go back to his peer group, asked us to pray for him. He feared he would shoot someone who had offended him.
Another young man, accused of murder, in his despair turned to Christ in prison. He discovered later that his wife (in hospital after a nervous breakdown induced the premature birth of their first child) had also come to know the Lord. She had read a Gideon Bible and been visited by a lady from Prison Fellowship.
Another prisoner had attempted suicide by cutting his wrists and throat. A prison officer had left his lighter in the cell. Returning for it he saw blood coming from under the door.
The man’s life was saved. His only unspoiled possession was his DayOne Diary. He began to read the verses. He has been so blessed by them that one prison officer jokingly said to him: ‘You have no right to be so happy in prison!’ The man has recently confirmed his trust in Christ.
What a privilege it was last Easter Sunday, in a Northern Irish prison, to point out that Jesus loved and cared for convicted prisoners, despite their sin and guilt — almost his last words from the cross were to a convicted but repentant criminal.