We cannot stay out of prison!
‘Hi Tim. What on earth are you doing in here again?’
‘Breach of licence. This geezer said I had threatened him, and I’m back inside. You know me, Gerard. He was lying’.
Tim smiled wryly and looked knowingly at me. At previous prisons he was known as the gentlest prisoner on the block. Some chaplains wondered if his proneness to suggestibility produced a wrong conviction for his original crime. His unusually long recorded police interview is to interviews what Wimbledon’s recent marathon first round match between Isner and Mahut is to tennis. After it, he confessed ‘all’.
‘I’m leaving it with the Lord’, he assured me, and joined 30 fellow inmates to listen to God’s Word.
We never ask why a prisoner is in custody. Tim was the exception. We were so surprised to see him locked up again. (He was converted in prison.)
Re-offending is a major concern. The re-offending rate within two years of release stands at 59 per cent. How can ex-convicts go straight and keep clean? Peer pressure, especially drugs- or alcohol-related, is huge.
The change of management within a prisoner, when he turns from wrongdoing to trust Christ for forgiveness and new life, is the best way to avoid re-offending. Even then, following Christ can be very hard. We need Christians’ and churches’ active involvement in prison, and with ex-offenders after sentence.
Frances Jane van Alstyne wrote: ‘The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives’. The gospel that Christ died to bear our sins, judgement and punishment, and then rose again to live today is wonderful for all – especially for those with a criminal record. But caring follow-up inside and outside prison is nevertheless essential.
While urging others to avoid returning to prison, the Chrispins have failed to do that themselves! In December 2008 we retired from Daylight Christian Prison Trust to pass the leadership baton to a younger man. For a period we worked independently, but missed the team spirit, fellowship and accountability.
We considered other avenues to serve Christ, old and new. But none of these were right; God had other plans. Christian Prison Resources (CPR) Ministries’ leadership board – Brian Edwards, John Temple, Timothy Laurence and David Fortune – warmly invited us to join the CPR team.
We prayed, considered and discussed. The rest is (recent) history! In a blessed role reversal I now work with and for David Fortune, who formerly was a member of my team.
Question: How can CPR help the daily residents of UK’s 170 prisons and immigration removal centres – nearly 100,000 people – to come into the blessings of salvation?
Answer: By praying for them; by going to their prisons, invited by chaplains, to preach at their services and meetings; by organising teams to run courses and lead Bible studies; by visiting one-on-one; by providing helpful Christian literature and CDs; by writing to them; and by seeking to link ex-offenders with Christian churches and people.
Question: How can Christians and churches also actively help?
Answer: By inviting CPR to come to your church or fellowship to make the work known; by praying for us (CPR would love to hear that you will become a prayer partner); by providing potential speakers, teachers, personal workers and supporters to accompany CPR’s prison teams for Bible studies and courses; by receiving training, if you are suited for prison work.
For example, CPR’s current project is to provide thousands of 4-CD sets and simple expository books on Mark’s Gospel (called Mark time) for prisoners, many of whom have reading difficulties and no gospel background.
We hope then to add a Mark time group course and correspondence course, with volunteer markers (Read and hear Mark time on http://thechristiananswer.org/MarkTime.aspx ).
Average UK Sunday congregations in prisons are about 70 – sometimes far more, sometimes considerably less. And they nearly always listen well and courteously. As they leave the services with booklets in hand and say their own thank yous, it really is moving.
Weekday meetings rarely attract more than 30, but can vary in length between 30-90 minutes. Then we have precious one-on-ones and receive prisoners’ letters. Each prisoner is different, but each calls out for Christian care and love in their own way.
Does all this affect individuals? Ask one security van and cash tills robber who told Phillippa, during one course, that ‘I am going to change my balaclava for a Bible’.
Was that just ‘words’? Two weeks later he was baptised. Shortly afterwards he cleared his cell of pornography. Recently he read to me his letter ‘to Jesus’ – to express his joy and gratitude and to ask to keep close to Christ. His former ‘trainee’ in robbery recently asked how he could become a Christian, because of the difference in his friend and former mentor.
These are early days, but this is all encouraging. Since coming back to prison with CPR there have been some heart-warming responses across the board, with people personally considering the claims of Christ.
There is something about speaking for the Lord in prisons which has an edge and dimension hard to explain. Perhaps that is why the Bible abounds with prison references. And much of God’s Word was penned ‘behind bars’.
God willing, we hope to keep going there, as long as our dinosaur legs will carry us there!
CPR Ministries, PO Box 61685, London, SE9 9BL (www.christianprisonresources.org.uk; firstname.lastname@example.org)