Saturdays

Enid’s alarm rings at 5.30am every Saturday morning. She drives through the dark of the Alice Springs morning to the Visitor Centre of the prison. Saturday is visitor day and 88-year-old Enid wants to be sure that when families arrive, they are welcomed with a smile and helping hands. There is much paperwork and administration that needs to be conducted before the families are permitted to enter the prison and it is the Prison Fellowship volunteers who assist with this work.

“Mainly I help people,” Enid says. “I am there to be of assistance, be a friend and most of all do the administrative work for their visit.

“The Visitor Centre is always full of people and noisy children, but we get through. I am so very busy getting everyone written up for each appointment that there is rarely ever time for even a lunch break. Once one appointment has gone in, it’s head down getting the next (group) in.”

The prison environment is, naturally, alien to many, and quite overwhelming for children. Prison Fellowship volunteers are there to provide emotional support and sort out any challenges that families may encounter when visiting loved ones. A majority of the families are visitors to  Alice Springs from remote communities and are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Given that they may live in hot and dry conditions, they often arrive with nothing on their feet. Without footwear you are not permitted to enter the prison, so as an additional ministry, Enid and the team provide  thongs for those with nothing on their feet.  

Over and above the support families receive in the Visitors Centre, Prison Fellowship provides a bus service which picks people up from the Alice Springs CBD and travels to the Correctional Centre some 25 kms out of town. In 2018/19, 1877 loved ones travelled on that bus which operates every weekend of the year.

It’s amazing the work that a small team of dedicated workers can achieve. A lot of that comes from the devotion that Enid has given for more than two decades, ensuring that each weekend the bus was able to run and that she is at the other end waiting for them.  

– Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager

Celebrating 20 Years of Camp for Kids!

The year 2000 was a year of great change across the world, and marked a new era in the life of Prison Fellowship. In April 2000, the first Camp for Kids in NSW began. A chance for children with a parent in prison to have a break from ‘normal’ life in the company of caring Christian leaders and other children who understand their situation. Archery, swimming, basketball, BMX bike riding, abseiling and bushwalks were a welcome adventure.

“All the children had experienced rejection. They coped in different ways… Yet… over the four days of camp, we noticed them blossom and change,” said one leader at the historic camp.

After the first camp, a grandmother of one of the children sent the following in a letter:


“Many thanks for all the work that went into giving our grandchildren such a wonderful time at camp. They had a great time and got a lot out of the fellowship with Christian leaders and have asked to go again. My husband and I truly appreciated the break with only one child to care for at home. Thank you to everyone involved. PS Thanks for the bibles you gave to the children. They find them easy to understand. Thank you again.”


Twenty years later, Camp for Kids has become a hallmark of the Prison Fellowship year in NSW. This year’s camp had the theme of forgiveness. Camp leader Claire said:

“Our theme, Forgiveness, was a toughie, particularly for young children who have been hurt, bullied, abused, rejected, moved from home to home and sometimes carer to carer. As leaders we had a lot to learn from the yielding hearts of the campers who wrote the names of those they wanted to forgive on paper which was later burnt in a campfire to symbolise letting go and forgiveness.”

As a result, Mia visited her father in prison to tell him she forgives him. A daughter’s forgiveness brought Mia’s father to tears. Mia says she “felt really happy and free”.

Camper Mia* grew up in a family who “didn’t believe in Jesus or God because they were all aboriginals and believed in the Dreamtime.” When Mia’s dad went back to prison, she felt hurt and betrayed. He broke his promise to not reoffend, so Mia decided not to speak to him. After coming on camp and learning about Jesus and his forgiveness, Mia decided “you can’t hold hate; you’ve got to just forgive people no matter what they do.”

This year alone, more than twenty campers wanted to get to know more about Jesus, and as a result have connected with ongoing local kids clubs and youth groups.

– Joanna Mann, Staff Writer

The “Too Hard” Box

When she walked in she had everyone’s attention. She ran the room and she knew it. Taylah* was heavily-built, covered in tattoos, and had one of those domineering personalities that silenced the other women. The Prisoner’s Journey facilitator, Maire, says that Taylah’s presence made the other prisoners in the course feel discouraged.

After two weeks of this tension, Maire decided to pull the imposing woman aside. “I had to really pray, because I thought this is either going to go really good or really bad!!”

“She was so hostile, but I said to her, ‘you need to look at me.’ When she did, the look in her eyes made me think, ‘oh no…!’

“‘You are distracting the class, and I’m telling you this because I respect you,’ I told her. ‘You need to calm down. There are people who are going through things, and you need to respect everyone else.’

“From that day forth it changed our relationship. She really started to calm down. She was doing her homework and sharing her story with the group. In the past when she had tried to change, she was discouraged about relapsing. But she had been trying to change on her own. By the end of the course she was a different person and was desperate for a mentor to meet with regularly!

“The other women were so proud of her because they knew she was the angry one. But now she is able to walk away from fights and you can see that change in her,” Maire says.

Maire & her husband

Maire says a lot of the women had been looking for a purpose. “We shared with them the message of Jesus. They would tell me, ‘we always knew he died but didn’t understand the extent of why he died!’ Their anger reduced over a period of time as they began to understand the message of the cross a lot more.”

A few times Maire began to doubt herself. She would question whether God had really called her to work in prisons. But it was the support from the other volunteers with her that helped her process that feeling. “‘Are you kidding?!’ they would say. ‘Of course you will come up against doubts when you are moving forwards.’”

“I never want to give up on someone,” says Maire, “because I know that Jesus never gave up on me. I have a heart for seeing the best in people behind bars. So many people put them in the ‘too hard box’ but that’s not the way of Jesus. God is faithful. His love isn’t restricted to certain people based on their past.

Having now completed two courses of The Prisoner’s Journey, Maire is training to be a prison chaplain in Queensland. “I am so excited! I’ve been looking for something like Prison Fellowship for nearly seven years. At the moment I’m here only once a week, but when I’m here as a chaplain as well, I think maybe these guys are going to get sick of me!” Maire laughs.

“An encouragement I want to share is don’t pass the buck to someone else. Don’t wait for someone else to step up when you are called to step up. Trust that the Lord has a better plan for you than you have for yourself. Willingness and availability are so important,” says Maire.

– Joanna Mann, Staff Writer

Colouring In

What’s the highlight of your week? Is it that coffee in your hand? Is it sitting in front of the TV watching your football team play at their best? Or is it picking your grandchildren up from child care and having them give you a cuddle that will stay with you for the next week? Maybe it’s as simple as enjoying the sunshine on your face.

Unfortunately for many of the men and women in Australian prisons they have little to look forward to.  Prison may mean spending most of their day in their cell with little natural light – just four walls to keep them company. One of the ways that Prison Fellowship adds colour to inmates’ lives is through a program called Art From Inside. This year, South Australia introduced its first such program. Art From Inside encourages inmates to use their creativity to produce works that express who they are and what they are going through.

Despite only having permission to use standard HB grey pencils at this stage, Prison Fellowship volunteers run these classes once a fortnight and have been received enthusiastically by the inmates.

The classes are simple with a focus on drawing and sketching. Our art teacher brings in different pictures inmates can use as a guide. Many of the guys who attend have been “inside” for a long time and will remain in prison for months or years to come, so attending this 2-hour session once a fortnight has become a highlight. Although still not using colour pencils, it brings colour into these men’s lives.

– Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager

Transformation

My name is Benni* and I am nearly 30 years old. I am currently incarcerated in a maximum security prison.

Growing up I was taught morals, manners and respect. I excelled in primary school but by Year 9 I decided that I was tired of being good. Maybe it was the single incident of sexual abuse or maybe it was watching my older brother being bullied throughout his school life. I didn’t want to be a victim so I decided to be the polar extreme. I became what I was scared of.

I ‘met’ God when I was 16. I was attracted to a Christian girl and asked her out. She rejected me. So I asked to go to church with her. I was not genuine but used it as a way to be with her. When I went I got ‘goose bumps’ all over my body and thought “Maybe this God dude is real”. I kept going to youth group on Fridays and church on Sundays.

I felt like a black sheep but at least I was a sheep.

I became a Christian, was baptized and played in the youth group band. For about a year I was truly happy. I had a romantic notion of going to Afghanistan to hand out Bibles, be killed and become a martyr for God’s cause. When it didn’t happen I became angry with God and fell away.

I started using drugs and very quickly became an addict, I ended up homeless and was imprisoned for armed robbery. I bargained with God to “Let me go home and I’ll be good”. Instead of the 4 years I was expecting, God gave me a suspended sentence!

It was a miracle.

18 months later the same thing happened – again the charges were miraculously dropped.

My drug use took me to a house, one thing led to another, and by the end of the night a man was dead. I had killed him.

In my first few years in prison my behaviour was out of control. I was ostracized and for a whole year nobody spoke to me in the unit. I cried out to God and began reading the Bible.

God used this time to rebuild me into His creation. When I got moved from that unit into a different area with more freedom, amazingly, I was given a single cell and a job in the prison chapel.

 Another miracle!

As a result of this I have been heavily involved in the Prison Fellowship programs and have been a mentor and peer facilitator on many The Prisoner’s Journey courses.

God has completely transformed my life.

He has turned my mistakes into a beautiful testimony that has enabled me to do His work within the prison walls. I now have work to do for His Name and His Kingdom and all the glory goes to God.

Benni.


“A volunteer who has been on a few programs with Benni has heard him share many times how God is actively working in his life, growing him into the man God wants him to be. They said his understanding and way of expressing God’s grace, total acceptance and love to the other inmates, with a very practical picture of what that looks like in a prison environment, is profound. His prayer life is bringing about dramatic changes to his way of thinking and behaving and is in direct contrast to his old ways.”

Sport Lights A Message

Simon* is in prison. He has been in prison for a while! He describes his lifestyle before he went ‘inside’ as “a life of drugs, violence and crime.”  He freely admits that he has not always been a ‘good guy’, even in prison. There were times when he was plain nasty, standing over people and pushing others around.

There were also times when he pretended to be a Christian just so that he could have a pen pal with whom to correspond. He credits the generosity and the good heart of his pen pal as catalysts for what happened next.

January 5th, 2018 was “conversion day”… Simon is very specific!  The previous night he had been reading his Bible and rather liked the idea of being a Christian. On the night of the 5th, however, this vague thought became a reality. In his cell he was hearing footsteps and felt an evil spirit touching him.

“It was the scariest night of my life.” In fear and hope, “I cried out to Jesus and I was relieved at once. I knew immediately – This is real.”  From the next morning he began his spiritual journey and he says: “I am the happiest I have ever been” and “I have different desires and paths to follow. I really want whatever God’s will is for me.”

Simon is not historically or by nature a sportsman. Before prison his sporting experiences were confined to footy and cricket at school. However, the prison has sports facilities which inmates can access, including a basketball court, and it was here that he met the SLAM team. SLAM (Sport Lights a Message) is a Prison Fellowship sporting outreach to inmates in Victoria and there are a number of SLAM teams throughout the State.

A minibus load of Christians arrives on Saturday morning to spend the day playing basketball against inmates. There are four playing sessions, each one hour in duration, and a different unit of the prison takes part each session. At the end of each session someone from the unit will be nominated ‘best & fairest’ and get the treasured prize – a bottle of Gatorade! During each visit there is an opportunity for a SLAM team member to give a testimony.

Simon gravitated to the members of the SLAM team, not primarily because of basketball, but more as an opportunity to be around other Christians and to share his testimony. Imagine the feelings that ran through Simon when he was invited by Darryl to share his testimony on the next SLAM visit!! At first he was sceptical…. but the idea grew on him.

He decided not to write out his speech but to just speak as led by God. He was very nervous but he really wanted to share what God had given him and to tell other inmates that they could have it also. Remember – his audience was “the boys” with whom he lived and from whom he could not escape…. a daunting thought. Everyone watched him and listened and a few boys even said: “Good on ya!” It was a very special and positive experience.

Simon’s mission in the prison has widened and each week on a Tuesday afternoon he meets up with a few boys to share Bible readings. “Coming to the Lord is the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m grateful and keen to learn more. Also – a big thanks to Prison Fellowship!”

– Kevin, Prison Fellowship volunteer writer

SLAM logo

“We have been approached by the management of two Juvenile Centres in Victoria to begin running SLAM programs in their facilities! Please pray for this exciting new opportunity to come to fruition.” – Richard Feeney, VIC State Manager

Mind the Gap

The Gap between prison and the “real world” beyond the gates can be very daunting for inmates nearing release. Many are more fearful of The Gap than they are of life inside prison. The Gap is a dark, blank space between a past that they never want to go back to and a future that seems beyond their reach.

On average, 46% of all inmates return to prison within two years of their release (termed “recidivism”). Consistently high recidivism rates, throughout the country (and throughout the world) point to the difficulty of crossing The Gap.

In Tasmania, Prison Fellowship Australia is involved in a unique partnership to prepare inmates for The Gap. Prison Fellowship’s volunteers partner with Onesimus Foundation to facilitate a six week course for inmates, called Inside Out.

Onesimus Foundation grew out of the Christian Family Centre, a church located next door to Risdon Prison. The foundation works primarily with offenders and their families and provides a range of services that complement the work of Prison Fellowship (and vice versa). The Inside Out course takes inmates on a step-by-step restoration process based on individual engagement. The course was written by Tony Carter, who volunteers with both Onesimus Foundation and Prison Fellowship and is a member of the CFC church.

Upon graduating from Inside Out, inmates are invited to meet regularly with a mentor – including after their release. Sam successfully negotiated The Gap before the course was available, having served a 21-year sentence. He is made of strong stuff, but openly admits that, after his release, “There were times when I sat down and cried, because it was all too hard.” Sam now urges inmates to find a mentor to support them on their journey through The Gap. He promotes Inside Out because it helps inmates to “get real” about the difficulties that lie ahead of them and to see the benefit of talking through the issues with a mentor who they trust.

Prison Fellowship’s partnership with Onesimus Foundation brings together volunteers from both sides of The Gap – some working predominantly on the inside (with current prisoners) and others working mostly on the outside with ex-inmates and with families.

The setting for the course is special. It is held in a low security facility, representing a significant level of trust in the participants by prison management. Participation is a privilege, and this alone elicits a positive response from the inmates. Each week, participants share a home cooked meal with the facilitators. They then spend the afternoon discussing their plans to journey through The Gap. Personal testimonies, written reflections and practical exercises fuel the discussion – most of which takes place in small groups.

You will not be surprised to learn that not all participants experience the complete recovery that we might all hope for, and that not all graduates have been able to negotiate The Gap successfully. The good news is that this partnership, utilising Prison Fellowship volunteers, good food, good fellowship and “real life” discussions have combined to change the lives of many inmates who have now been able to “reclaim the second half of their lives” – as Sam has done.

– Michael Wood, TAS Chairman

Tyson’s TPJ Turnaround

Forgiving My Husband’s Killer

Turning the Page