Prison visits in Victoria have been on a rollercoaster ride since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 restrictions resulting in 6 separate lockdowns to date. Prison Fellowship volunteers have been unable to travel and unable to visit in prisons, but just as the Word of God is not chained, so we have found ways of staying connected. Here are the stories of three Victorian Prison Fellowship volunteers who are keeping the connection going – even during lockdown!
Staying connected on Zoom
Our team of 7 volunteers has not stopped praying for those we regularly visit in . While we as a team have been able to catch up in person for a cuppa, fellowship, and prayer between lockdowns, we have been unable to visit prisons in person. This has required some creative thinking!
Zoom needs no introduction these days, and thankfully, visits via Zoom were allowed to continue during the lockdowns. I have been able to catch up regularly with two inmates, Rod* and Ken*, over Zoom, to encourage each other by reading God’s Word together, listening to each other, and praying together. They are very keen for us to return and support them in person when we are able to! Please pray for Rod and Ken as they seek to be reunited with their families. They are doing it hard, but continue to trust our Faithful God.
I also had the opportunity to follow up with an inmate, Joe*, who has recently been released from prison, again through Zoom. This has been a wonderful encouragement to me, as he has sought out these meetings and looks forward to them each week. To walk with Joe after his release has been a privilege. It has also been eye-opening for me, as I have seen how difficult life can be after release. I now recognise the support structures that are necessary for those being released, especially in order to strengthen their faith. There are now five of us meeting online each week, including some of Joe’s friends, and friends of friends. We meet to study God’s Word together, and to encourage each other. We have been going through the books of Matthew and Genesis. These are very engaging times for all of us, with many thoughtful conversations and many wonderful discussions, as each person explores and strengthens their faith.
Jesus is clearly present through all these encounters. Despite being limited by physical disconnectedness, we are connected spiritually, emotionally, and even visually. Thank you, Jesus!
Staying connected by phone
When the first COVID lockdown hit last year, all in-person prison visits were suspended. It felt strange to stay at home instead of driving to visit people in prison! Initially, I resorted to writing letters to those I used to see every week. However, the communication was mainly one-way and there were few replies.
One day prison management emailed me a personal note from an inmate I had befriended several years ago. It was a request to connect over the phone. This note suddenly made me realise that I was able to book phone catch-ups with individual inmates! I was thrilled that I could resume my prison visits over a phone call, and the inmates were too! They really appreciated the opportunities to keep in touch regularly, and through our conversations we are able to share our concerns, encourage each other with God’s Word, and pray together.
Apart from having weekly contact with those I knew before, I’m amazed that God enabled me to meet some new inmates too, either through referrals from my friends inside or from other Prison Fellowship volunteers.
“For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” – Isaiah 14:27
Thanks be to our almighty God for His faithfulness!
Staying connected through letters
What a blessing it has been to be able to keep in touch with our friends in prison by means of letter-writing during the Victorian lockdowns. It was somewhat unexpected, as in the past we had been unable to write letters to the same inmates we visited, unless with special permission. However, we received news last year that we had been granted approval to write letters to those with whom we had an existing relationship .
What an encouragement to be told by one inmate, Mitch*, that he and some friends are being wonderfully sustained by their faith despite the stress of lockdowns, which resulted in greater restrictions inside the prisons. As he said, “we are too blessed to be distressed”.
It was also a great joy to hear from Luke*, whom I had met only momentarily, that he was concerned at the delayed delivery of “Our Daily Bread”, the Bible reading notes that we send to about 60 inmates. He was eager to receive them and share them with others, so that he and a handful of other inmates could spend time together each day, sharing the readings and the devotional material accompanying them.
Praise the Lord!
Richard, Warwick, and Gerard – Victorian team members and volunteers
*Prisoner’s names have been changed