We met by chance. Gabriella* was an inmate who worked as a ‘sweeper’ (cleaner) in the visiting area. Each week as I visited in the prison, I saw her from the corner of my eye as she vacuumed. She always seemed curious about the meetings I had with other ladies, as she was always watching, and not afraid to make eye contact with me. One day as I was waiting for the next lady, I said “hello”, and as we chatted I told her about Prison Fellowship and she went to the chaplain and put in a form to request a Prison Fellowship visitor. As a result, I began visiting Gabriella weeky, then fortnightly after a few months.
From day one Gabriella wanted to do weekly Bible study and we began some basic foundational studies. Over the years we then went onto some deeper studies. We never much talked about her past, but I always knew there were some very deep hurts that she never talked about. I knew God would be there for her when she was ready.
Because I had been seeing her for a number of years, it was a surprise when things began to change for Gabriella. One day, Gabriella was reading me a poem she had written about how she felt about being in prison. I heard God say one word over and over as she recited her poem. The word was ‘justice’, and seemingly had nothing to do with what she was reading! That one word was God beginning a journey of restoration in a woman’s life that only God can do. The crimes that had led my friend into prison began as she was hurt as a child, and never saw justice for them. I have learnt that God loves to heal the person, not just what they’ve done in the crime. Gabriella is learning that God treasures her.
When I met Gabriella, she had served 5 years of a 20 year sentence and was still unsettled, not knowing how to make up for the people she had hurt, and God was just an angry man upstairs. Today she is facing her past hurts and God is helping her heal. Gabriella has become “strong and courageous,” just as the Bible teaches her to be, and she has very real and growing relationship with the Lord.
Everything Gabriella learns about God, she treasures in her folder. It is a big white ring binder, the thickest one you can buy, with the clear cover you can slide things into. Every Bible study we do, Gabriella files away to refer back to when she has a question. These things occur in our lives all the time and we must go back to the foundations of grace.
The other day Gabriella gave me something from the front of this precious folder. It is a piece called “Prison Holds God’s Treasures”, which she found in a book. It says how God sees her, which she shares with the other inmates. Gabriella’s faith and peace are a constant voice to others about the Lord’s love and mercy and how He can help them, too.
*Name has been changed.
– Dearne Cipolla, Prison Fellowship Volunteer & Team Leader