Mind the Gap

The Gap between prison and the “real world” beyond the gates can be very daunting for inmates nearing release. Many are more fearful of The Gap than they are of life inside prison. The Gap is a dark, blank space between a past that they never want to go back to and a future that seems beyond their reach.

On average, 46% of all inmates return to prison within two years of their release (termed “recidivism”). Consistently high recidivism rates, throughout the country (and throughout the world) point to the difficulty of crossing The Gap.

In Tasmania, Prison Fellowship Australia is involved in a unique partnership to prepare inmates for The Gap. Prison Fellowship’s volunteers partner with Onesimus Foundation to facilitate a six week course for inmates, called Inside Out.

Onesimus Foundation grew out of the Christian Family Centre, a church located next door to Risdon Prison. The foundation works primarily with offenders and their families and provides a range of services that complement the work of Prison Fellowship (and vice versa). The Inside Out course takes inmates on a step-by-step restoration process based on individual engagement. The course was written by Tony Carter, who volunteers with both Onesimus Foundation and Prison Fellowship and is a member of the CFC church.

Upon graduating from Inside Out, inmates are invited to meet regularly with a mentor – including after their release. Sam successfully negotiated The Gap before the course was available, having served a 21-year sentence. He is made of strong stuff, but openly admits that, after his release, “There were times when I sat down and cried, because it was all too hard.” Sam now urges inmates to find a mentor to support them on their journey through The Gap. He promotes Inside Out because it helps inmates to “get real” about the difficulties that lie ahead of them and to see the benefit of talking through the issues with a mentor who they trust.

Prison Fellowship’s partnership with Onesimus Foundation brings together volunteers from both sides of The Gap – some working predominantly on the inside (with current prisoners) and others working mostly on the outside with ex-inmates and with families.

The setting for the course is special. It is held in a low security facility, representing a significant level of trust in the participants by prison management. Participation is a privilege, and this alone elicits a positive response from the inmates. Each week, participants share a home cooked meal with the facilitators. They then spend the afternoon discussing their plans to journey through The Gap. Personal testimonies, written reflections and practical exercises fuel the discussion – most of which takes place in small groups.

You will not be surprised to learn that not all participants experience the complete recovery that we might all hope for, and that not all graduates have been able to negotiate The Gap successfully. The good news is that this partnership, utilising Prison Fellowship volunteers, good food, good fellowship and “real life” discussions have combined to change the lives of many inmates who have now been able to “reclaim the second half of their lives” – as Sam has done.

– Michael Wood, TAS Chairman