Our House was Raided by the AFP

I woke up one morning to find a policeman at the end of our bed, armed and holding a baton. The next 24 hours was a blur as they questioned our then 22-year-old son, David*, about a girl he was seeing. Turns out she was 14. 

We were a typical suburban family raising two kids and the only connection we had with the wrong side of the law were speeding fines. Prison only affected those who were uneducated, came from violent families with a long history of crime and probably deserved to be locked away. That was my thoughtless, ill-informed and dispassionate view. I did not think of them as human beings who made a mistake and who were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers of someone else. I did not spare a thought that whole families were shattered. I did not think of them at all. Until our son confessed and was charged.

My world crumbled, David’s sister could not continue with her studies and his dad kept us together.

We visited our son in prison every week. We talked, we nodded to familiar faces who were also regular visitors. The guards and prisoners who remembered our faces, smiled and said G’Day. I began to see sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, joy and pain, laughter, togetherness, in that visitors room sharing precious time, huddled close or walking laps around the small yard, hand in hand. Lining up to get hot chips and Coke. I wasn’t the only one who suffered, the only one in pain in that room! I was still angry and lost but I began to feel an overwhelming compassion and the desire to serve my fellow travelers in the room.

Prison Fellowship gave me a safe place to pray with volunteers, pastors and other compassionate people and bit by bit, I am able to tell my story with less shame and guilt.

I have been able to share my story with other mothers, with sons or daughters in prison through Prison Fellowship’s Family Support. Every time I comfort and encourage a mother, I feel a layer of shame and pain peel away from me so when they thank me, I say, “No, thank-you!”. 

I prayed and berated God at the same time, but somehow, He found ways to speak to my heart; He had plans for us. I knew the skills I had were His gifts to me and I knew that I was to use it to serve.  He led me back to studies and I now work with prisoners and their families whenever I have the opportunity. I pray that He will also grace our son with the gifts he has, to serve Him.

– Kathy* 

*Names have been changed

 

Romans 12: 6-8

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.    

 

The Circuit Breaker

As we sit sipping our drinks in the noisy coffee shop, I am intrigued by Julie’s eyes. Intelligent and enquiring, there is an elusive look that speaks of life and all the associated experiences – expected as well as unanticipated – that come our way on this journey. The threads of joy and of pain; of hope and loss; threads that make up the fabric of life. Julie is a new donor to Prison Fellowship, and was glad to meet with me and chat over a coffee and get to know the ministry.

Straining above the loud chatter around us, it becomes apparent as Julie talks, that she has been impacted by the prevalence in the news lately of the tragedy of many people worldwide who have died while in custody. Julie had been left with a profound sense of disillusionment coupled with powerlessness to make any meaningful impact. She has always been acutely aware of the devastating impact of the effects of ‘the cards that some people have been dealt’ in life.

“The deck is not always fairly stacked,” Julie says softly, and her heart of compassion is evident as she goes on to speak of a man from her church who displays the impact of clearly having ‘done it rough’ in his past.

It was while attending her church one Sunday that Julie had noticed a Prison Fellowship brochure pinned to the notice board and had felt compelled to remove it and take it home to find out more. As she read through the edition of Set Free, she had been moved by the stories of the lives of people incarcerated and paying the consequences of their decisions. But with this came a new awareness; the realization that although they were confined to prison now, the stories of these inmates spoke of the paradox of a sense of freedom while being confined to prison. 

A freedom which they had never experienced before. 

As we sip our coffees, Julie reflects on her own life; on her own spiritual journey, one which for a long time was nothing more than religious formality. In many ways, its own kind of prison.

She shares her own life-changing experience of an unmistakeable encounter that came with comprehending the truth that she was truly loved by Jesus; valued by Him; treasured by Him. “I discovered that Jesus loves me and everything else is peripheral. He is the ‘core business’”, she says. She speaks of the painful ways in her life that she had been made to feel ‘less than’, living with coercive controlling lies that implied ‘you will never be good enough’. Lies that were exposed on the day she encountered for the first time the compassion, patience and love of Christ that said, “You are loved enough that I would die for you.”

The circuit breaker.

Julie explains that on reading that Prison Fellowship magazine, she no longer felt powerless to address the inequity of the lives of those who perhaps have been victims themselves through life circumstances. A reality which very few who having grown up in a privileged environment, can authentically identify with.

She knows from her experience that the Christ of Isaiah 53, Who although perfect, said not a word when unjustly accused and condemned, is the voice for each of us. “If He can change me and give me a voice, He can change the lives of those who have ended up in prison.  But they need to hear about Him. We need to be empowering those in prison to hear this message. It is the only lasting and effective way of breaking the destructive, imprisoning, repetitive circuit that just keeps going round and round.”

She had pinned the notice back on the church notice board the following week … and knew her way forward to make a difference.

Julie is now an ongoing ChainBreaker donor and also gives support for various other programs, as she is led. She knows the meaning of ‘my chains are gone I’ve been set free’ in her own life. She is determined to be a part of making this a possibility for those on the inside and breaking the circuit of reoffending.

A possibility for all who hear the message of the boundless redeeming love of Christ.

As we prepare to leave the coffee shop, I am again struck by Julie’s eyes. And I now realize that reflected there, is in fact the irrepressible essence, of hope.

 Yvonne Smuts – Staff Writer

Week of Prayer

Our annual Week of Prayer is happening from 12-19 September 2021!

Save the date, and join us as together with others around Australia, pray for prisoners, victims of crime, ex-prisoners, and their families.

If you’re part of a church that is keen to get involved, you can contact your local state office to organise a speaker for your church or connect group! We also have some resources that can be used during your weekly services.