One day, Tess* received a phone call that changed her life. Her local church ran a children’s home and needed a stable home for an orphaned teenage boy, Jack*. “We were a bit shocked and non-committal at first, because the description given wasn’t too encouraging,” she said. Jack’s birth mother was widowed and worked long hours in various jobs to get by, meaning Jack was often left to his own devices, and regularly skipped school. “As you do when you’re poverty stricken,” said Tess, “his mother had to keep moving, and Jack had several schools in both primary and high school. His academic record was poor, and his attendance was poor.” Jack’s lack of discipline became even worse when his mother died young.
So when the church called Tess, her husband said dryly, “Well, I’d better make this kid a desk,” and that was that. Tess’s family grew as Jack joined the tribe.
It was not long after this, when the kids were all in high school, that Tess was able to return to university to study fine arts – a long-time passion.
Her experience as an artist and art teacher meant Tess was well placed to judge Prison Fellowship’s Art From Inside competition. Prisoners in each state submit artworks on a theme, exploring deep issues relevant to those behind bars. “I judged it for quite a few years and I would share the gospel according to the theme,” said Tess, who described that, in Tasmania, inmate artists from the minimum security prison are allowed to visit the exhibition for the award ceremony.
Working with prisoners took on a new, personal perspective for Tess when her son Jack received a long sentence. His world crumbled and he was ashamed, now behind bars. Tess went to visit. “I said to him, ‘Alright. Before we go any further, you need to recommit your life to Christ and we will go from there.’” Tess’s deep relationship with her son meant this dose of tough love was well timed.
“I encouraged him to connect with the chaplains who were very good. I started helping him to read the Bible and asked him each visit what he had read since we last spoke. He definitely came back.” Tess said, describing her son’s initiative to upskill during his sentence, and his obvious spiritual growth.
While it has not been easy, Tess is determined to see Jack’s faith continue to grow, and to journey with him in his recovery. Her experience demonstrates that on both sides of the prison fence, as a Prison Fellowship volunteer and as a parent of a prisoner, God remains faithful. There is always hope.