How prison set Jackie free
For Jackie, 10 months in prison set her free. It was in prison that Jackie met Prison Fellowship volunteer, Kim, who unlike the often cold and sterile environment of prison, emanated God’s love and kindness during her visits to the women’s prison.
“I’ll never forget the day I met Kim,” Jackie says. “She had such a fire of God within her. One day she looked in my eyes and said, ‘God has a plan for you, a plan and a purpose.’ From that point, I just knew that everything was going to be okay.”
Arrest and Sentencing
In her early 20s, Jackie lived in Papua new Guinea with her husband and young son, Jordan*, and taught at a local school. But when the marriage broke down, Jackie’s life took a sudden turn and she was forced to return to Australia without Jordan.
Heartbroken and reeling, Jackie was plunged into deep depression. In order to combat her loneliness and despair, Jackie began using methamphetamine.
Very quickly, Jackie’s addiction had taken over her life. Homeless and unstable, Jackie found herself on the Gold Coast, dealing drugs to support her habit.
But even in the depths of her despair, Jackie maintained a strong moral code that she had learnt as a child, and wanted to live a morally-upright life. After several failed attempts to get clean, Jackie became overwhelmed and desperate, and she began to pray to God.
In November 2018, Jackie was arrested for possession of 2.5 ounces of methamphetamine and three firearms. At the time, she was living with a career criminal, who was on parole for bank robbery. In order to protect him, Jackie claimed the stash was her own. As the police officers walked her out to the car, Jackie says there was a, “crazy moment that I felt prompted to pray”, so she knelt and prayed the Lord’s Prayer.
Jackie received a two year sentence, but served 10 months in prison with 14 months on parole. At the beginning of her imprisonment, Jackie vowed that she would spend the time getting clean, and she recalls feeling “carried by God” in this time. Jackie explains that despite, “what should have been an extremely terrifying experience, I felt an incredible peace, a peace that I knew had to be from the Heavenly Father.”
Carried by God
One of the ways Jackie was carried by God through her imprisonment was through the regular visits from a team of Prison Fellowship volunteers. Jackie says these women, “Carried the love of God”.
“Prison is very sterile”, and, “these ladies have so much love, they share the love of God with us.”
Despite attending a Catholic school as a child, Jackie had never opened the Bible, and she did not know the God she prayed to occasionally. The Prison Fellowship team would pray with Jackie and the other inmates, read the Bible with them, and most of all, love them.
Jackie says, “They would remember things about us the next time they saw us. There’s a difference when you get treated with the love of Jesus. There’s no discrimination or fear – they don’t treat us differently…That was instrumental in turning things around.”
Jackie’s relationship with God grew, and she gave her life to Christ!
Release and Freedom
When Jackie was released in September 2019, she had a new lease on life, and was devoted to her relationship with God. As she walked out of the prison, she said to herself, “I’m going to come back to serve these women.”
However, within two weeks of her release, Jackie had fallen back into old habits, finding it very difficult to stay away from past relationships. She picked up her addiction again, but, knowing that “it wasn’t right”, she prayed earnestly to God for help. After 8 months of daily prayer, one night Jackie, “Went to bed an addict and woke up a non-addict.” God had answered her prayers and healed her overnight. “God extended that grace to me.”
Jackie now began to pick up the pieces and build a new life for herself. Looking back, she can see how God was at work at that time. There were “crazy little things”, Jackie says, “like after moving to south Brisbane, I was looking for a church. As I was exercising I saw the sign for iSEE church. I visited one service and never looked back. God’s had his hand on every little thing since my release.”
Volunteering with Prison Fellowship
Last year, life took another turn when Jackie began a Diploma of Leadership at iSEE Bible College. Soon after beginning college, Jackie connected with Graham Hembrow (Prison Fellowship Queensland State Manager) on Facebook. She soon learnt that not only had Graham attended iSEE College, but he also knew Jackie’s ex-boyfriend from ministering to him in prison. “It’s no coincidence that I got in touch with Graham,” she says.
Jackie knew that she wanted to be involved with Prison Fellowship after her release. She said, “I just wanted to make a difference – Prison Fellowship has made all the difference in my life.”
Her dream to become a prison chaplain is currently on hold, as her criminal history prevents her from doing that at the moment. However, after talking with Darren Painter (Engagement Officer, Queensland), Jackie decided to become an office-based volunteer with Prison Fellowship. She says it was “the happiest day ever,” and she was so pleased to be able to, “come full circle”, and “give back” to the community.
“Whatever I do, I’ll have the opportunity to serve people. I can’t step foot in jail, but I can help behind the scenes.”
Last year (2021), Jackie was able to assist with the Prison Fellowship ‘Art from Inside’ exhibition in Queensland, which was a real joy for her, especially as the opening of the exhibition marked 2 years since her release! “I was able to give back on that exact day that was my release anniversary.”
“I want to make a difference”
As Jackie knows from experience, post-release support is crucial for those wanting to make a permanent change in their lives. “That’s when they need the most support. After 10 months [in prison] everything felt so different, I felt insecure and uncertain about everything. It was a very vulnerable time, and it is very easy to fall back into old patterns and relationships that got you into trouble.”
“If I could set up connect groups with girls who have been released, that would be amazing. God will make a way,” she says. “With Graham’s help, God will be able to use me where needed.”
Jackie completed her Diploma of Leadership with iSEE College last year, and will begin an Associate Degree of Ministry this year, which she hopes will lead to some job opportunities. “I don’t care if I make peanuts, I want to make a difference.”
She says that “God has a funny way of throwing curve balls – who knows how it will pan out. But I’m waiting on a word from God.”
“Don’t underestimate your support”
In the meantime, Jackie “lives every day with joy as my portion with a whole heart.” She says, “My days following Jesus are filled with joy and purpose. Having purpose to my days now, no matter what comes my way, I’ve got that relationship with God. He will see me through everything.”
Looking back, Jackie can see all the ways that God was working in her life. “I needed [to go to prison] to get set free. I lost everything to crime – possessions, relationships, dignity,” which have now been restored by God’s grace. Even her relationship with her son, Jordan, has been restored. “There’s still a long way to go, but he’s not embarrassed by me anymore.”
“I wouldn’t change anything, because it was the only way to get to this point. My worst nightmare was going to prison, but it was where I had to go to be set completely free.”
I’m free of drugs, I’m free of that world.” She clings to the truth in John 8:36, “Who the son sets free is free indeed”. She says, “I have well and truly been set free.”
As she looks back on her time in prison, Jackie has a message for all Prison Fellowship supporters and volunteers. She says, “Don’t underestimate your support – it will reach farther than you can imagine…Mine’s just a small story to show how it can come full circle. I’m just one inmate. Never underestimate what your support is achieving.”
Bring hope to inmates. Volunteer in prisons around Australia with Prison Fellowship. To learn more, contact your local state office