Interview with Gavin, T24 Coordinator, Prison Fellowship QLD
When you first signed up for T24, what did you hope would come from the program?
Prison Fellowship run amazing in-prison programs, which achieve some incredible results, but I saw a lack of support for released prisoners. I heard the chaplains tell amazing stories about inmates on a positive pathway, who struggled when released without support. It becomes a vicious cycle. They would be back inside within twelve months. Prison Fellowship QLD’s reach stopped at the gate, so I really wanted to see a pathway that supports prisoners upon release.
What is the process for these prisoners? Is there a ‘common’ T24 experience?
T24 is currently a pilot program running in one QLD prison only. We provide twelve months’ support prior to release, then twelve months post-release. Prisoners apply for the program, then I’ll do an assessment. After that I write to the prison requesting a visit. If the prison agrees, I meet with them and build a relationship. Getting to know what their needs are upon release is crucial so that by the time they are released we know exactly how to support them.
Can you tell me a story of someone who has been impacted by being part of T24?
I met Greg* four years ago. He was deeply impacted when he completed the Sycamore Tree Project in prison. Upon release, he had issues trying to reintegrate, but was very positive about wanting to turn his life around. Prison Fellowship was his primary support outside prison. The biggest change in Greg has been his attitude and determination to stay out. He is always asking, ‘How can I help other people turn their lives around?’
How have you seen God working in Greg’s situation?
Greg is growing in his faith, surrounding himself with other believers and attending church regularly. I have seen him stay close and reliant on God during tough times. I admire his courage and strength to get through a traumatic few years – God has given him the strength to keep going when many of us may have given up.
How have you personally been impacted by the program?
I feel so blessed to be surrounded by love and family. It can be easy to take this for granted. There are people out there who have done the wrong thing, want to change, but do not know how to. Everybody deserves a second chance – we are all in need of forgiveness.
What issues are most prevalent in the transition to life outside prison?
Accommodation can be a major issue. Getting work with a criminal record is near impossible. Mental health, connection with family, and having no support make it hard. Even reintegrating into church life can be difficult. It has been challenging to get church engagement with the program, which has surprised me.
What advice would you give to churches who are unsure how to support ex-prisoners?
The majority of inmates are going to be released. As Christians, we should desire to see ex-inmates find community and support within the church. We have to change our perception of prisoners. We need to support them, just like anyone else in need – this will make the community a safer place. They are the forgotten and often marginalised in our society. We need to be prayerful about the local church’s role in reintegration. Prison Fellowship will play a major part in supporting churches. We will walk with you on this journey! We won’t leave you to walk this path with ex-prisoners alone.