Peace in Prison

“Sometimes they mock her, but she knows what she has found and she stands firm.” Diandra* finds it hard to explain to her family why she has peace while living in prison. She has difficulty understanding it even for herself. Finding peace in prison is not what she would have ever expected.

As course facilitators, Louise* and Ben* have spent time with Diandra, discussing what it means to have joy. How joy is more than just feeling happy. “We explained to her that joy is something that the Holy Spirit gives you, and that is why she has so much peace,” Louise said. “She told us that when she had a day in court, which would normally have freaked her out, she was reading her Bible in the waiting room and had absolute peace.”

“When Diandra first heard about The Prisoner’s Journey, she came to us and said she hadn’t even heard about Jesus. She has now attended three courses and has brought someone along each time. She’s not only become a disciple but one who makes other disciples. Diandra even asks visitors not to come on TPJ days – she’s had 100% attendance!” Louise is excited to see Diandra’s steady growth. “Her kids would like to be a normal family and go to church. Now Diandra can’t wait to get out and go to church with her family.

“We do challenge the course participants about what things stand in the way of following Jesus. I was very impressed by Diandra’s honesty in terms of the things she needs to change and let go in order to grow. She was quite specific about the things she needed to change. Her understanding of God’s grace and her joy is amazing.”

Louise sees how valuable The Prisoner’s Journey is for its ability to speak into a difficult time for prisoners. “We don’t have a high completion rate for the course because people are moved before they can finish. The uncertainty [of prison life] is hard for the women. There’s a lot of ups and downs in the process. It’s helpful to get a long-term perspective of something that’s eternal, especially in prison life.”

The eternal perspective of the gospel is presented clearly and simply in The Prisoner’s Journey, and Louise believes this is the strength of the course. “Who Jesus is, why he came, how we can respond. For me it expands grace and how Jesus died for sinners. One of the things we share is that there are two ways we can miss that message. One is to say ‘I’m too bad; God can’t forgive me,’ and the other is ‘I’m too good that I don’t need saving.’

“I feel humbled that God allows me to go in and share this message. About seven years ago I had a dream where God told me to work with Aboriginal women in prisons. I searched for an avenue to do this for quite a while. The day before the first course of The Prisoner’s Journey began, someone called to ask if I would be available.” Louise says she never would have expected to be serving people in this way but is passionate to meet people where they are with the good news of Jesus.

“A few weeks ago we were saying to the guards, ‘thanks for always walking us around and helping us to get to [the unit].’ The guard actually said, ‘we need to thank YOU because we see the change in the people as a result of the course!’ Praise God.”

Joanna Mann, Staff Writer

Major Surgery

Brendon entered the local juvenile detention centre on Good Friday to skate with young offenders. As a sponsored skateboarder and Prison Fellowship volunteer, Brendon asked Danny* if he is ready to go skating.

“Can’t,” Danny said. He pulled his hands out of his hoodie pocket to reveal a bandaged hand. 

“What happened?!”

“Well, last night I got really angry about my situation and started hitting my wall,” Danny explained, almost proudly. 

“Oh bro, you’re never going to win that fight! Your wall is concrete!”

Danny described blood spattered everywhere and the intense pain in his hand. 

“The nurse had a look at it and said I broke the two smallest knuckles and pushed them back into my hand about 2cm and broke the bone on the side of my hand. She said I’ll need major surgery otherwise it’ll heal broken,” Danny reported. 

“Look Danny, I know you did this out of anger and it’s self-inflicted. But would you mind if I prayed for you?”

“That’s not gonna do anything!!” Danny laughed. 

Brendon was unfazed. “Well, I’ve seen incredible things already and I know God loves you and He would like the opportunity to show you.” 

Danny gave the go-ahead, so Brendon sat down with him and three other incarcerated youth and began praying. 

“Bro, bro, bro, STOP!!” Danny yelled suddenly. 

“What are you feeling?” 

“It’s like a firecracker in my hand!” Danny was alarmed. 

“Some people do feel strange sensations when God is healing,” Brendon explained. “God is answering our prayers.” 

The group continued to pray, then Brendon encouraged Danny to test his hand. 

“See, I told you I couldn’t- ” Danny stopped mid-sentence. His fingers began bending. As there was still some pain, the group began to pray again. Now Danny could make a whole fist. 

“Broooooo! I couldn’t even wiggle my fingers a second ago. I could feel the knuckles that were 2cm back but now they are in the right spot!” Danny was astounded. He pressed on the side of his hand where the last bone had been broken, and yelped in pain. 

“Told you it didn’t work,” Danny immediately challenged. 

Brendon was still untroubled. “No, I told you God loves you and He’s going to show you. Let’s pray again.” They prayed, then Brendon told Danny to push on that bone again. 

Danny’s face couldn’t contain his shock. He was so amazed he started swearing and punching things. He unwound the bandages and checked out his restored hand. 

The prison staff watching on had their jaws on the floor. 

“You know it’s Easter, right?” Brendon said. “At Easter, Jesus died on the cross for you and for me. Through his death, victory was made perfect. He rose again to resurrect us out of the grave because we were all destined for death and destruction and separation from God. He wants to restore us and give us new life.” 

At this, some kids asked, “Can you pray for our addictions?”

Three young people sat side by side as Brendon prayed for their hearts and their addictions. He prayed that God would set them free from their burdens and bondage. 

Fearing the kids misunderstood where this healing power comes from, Brendon encouraged them to pray for one another. Seb* had injured his ankle climbing a fence, so Brendon asked Cameron* if he would like to pray for his fellow inmate Seb. After Cameron prayed, Seb was able to sprint around the room. (A few weeks later, Cameron asked Jesus to be part of his life!) 

The kids were all amazed at God’s power and His care for their situations. 

“So… do you want to go skating now?” Brendon asked them. 

Joanna Mann, Staff Writer

Don’t Waste A Moment

As he walks off the plane, down the walkway, and into the terminal, Ian knows he is a long way from home. When he left Adelaide three hours ago, it was cold and rainy. He breathes in the air, heavy with heat, and makes his way out of the Darwin airport to his car.

Ian Townsend is the Adelaide-based State Manager for South Australia and the Northern Territory, and is overwhelmed by the sense of peace he feels in both remarkably contrasting locations. “I don’t know if it’s because Darwin is becoming familiar, a bit like a second home, or the opportunity to enjoy a very different environment, but a peace comes over me as I drive down these (now!) familiar roads,” he said. “There is beautiful scenery, a lack of people, and I know the outback isn’t far away. That conjures a lot of peace for me.”

The next day, Ian is offered the chance to preach in the Darwin Correctional Centre. “During the worship time and leading up to the message, the [inmates] are talking to each other and messing around a little, but the moment I start to preach God’s word, a peace fills the room.” Some of these men may have waited three months to attend a church service, so when God’s word is spoken, they choose not to waste a moment. Their full attention is on Ian during his whole sermon.

Prison Fellowship has an amazing opportunity to provide regular church services in Darwin prison, and to allow inmates to experience God’s love and peace, even if for only a short time. In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager

Patience Pays Off

“The first time we got to run the [Change on the Inside] course was November last year. That was probably fourteen months after I first applied!” By necessity, Clyde* had to learn a lot about patience when volunteering in prison. “Of course, it’s worth the wait,” he says. “One doesn’t do this training and then put it on the shelf. I’m just pleased to help out when these things finally come together.”

Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager, created a prospectus of Prison Fellowship’s programs to present at each South Australian prison. “A number of prisons were interested in SLAM [sports programs] but I couldn’t find enough players at the time!” says Ian. “But one prison did put up their hand for Change on the Inside.” Over the next nine months, Ian discussed with the program coordinator about the logistics of running the course. Once it was approved, they found a space and timeslot that was convenient for the prison, and have now run four courses!

Having been part of all four courses, Clyde shares about his journey as a volunteer. “I haven’t done anything like this in a long time,” he says, but commends the accessibility of the course for inmates. “There are two things that engage well [with the prisoners]. One is that we are not paid staff. We choose to be there, and we aren’t preaching at them. The other is that stories and humour make the more serious points easier to receive.”

The team are excited to see small but steady growth in this program. “It is an opportunity to put something meaningful before the prisoners,” says Clyde. Watching inmates explore what they would do differently if they had their time over, and what they would do differently in the future as a result of the course, has been very rewarding.

Ian says the prison has been eager to have Change on the Inside running, and he is confident of the impact it is having. “It is getting a good wrap. The prison’s core business is making sure the prisoners are safe, that they don’t run away, and they are fed and showered. After that comes rehabilitation.” Ian values the work prison staff do and understands their high workload. Patience has been crucial, and has paid off in promoting a positive relationship between Prison Fellowship and the prison. We never take this for granted!

Ian Townsend, SA/NT State Manager

In Conversation: Transition 24

Interview with Gavin, T24 Coordinator, Prison Fellowship QLD

When you first signed up for T24, what did you hope would come from the program?
Prison Fellowship run amazing in-prison programs, which achieve some incredible results, but I saw a lack of support for released prisoners. I heard the chaplains tell amazing stories about inmates on a positive pathway, who struggled when released without support. It becomes a vicious cycle. They would be back inside within twelve months. Prison Fellowship QLD’s reach stopped at the gate, so I really wanted to see a pathway that supports prisoners upon release.

What is the process for these prisoners? Is there a ‘common’ T24 experience?
T24 is currently a pilot program running in one QLD prison only. We provide twelve months’ support prior to release, then twelve months post-release. Prisoners apply for the program, then I’ll do an assessment. After that I write to the prison requesting a visit. If the prison agrees, I meet with them and build a relationship. Getting to know what their needs are upon release is crucial so that by the time they are released we know exactly how to support them.

Can you tell me a story of someone who has been impacted by being part of T24?
I met Greg* four years ago. He was deeply impacted when he completed the Sycamore Tree Project in prison. Upon release, he had issues trying to reintegrate, but was very positive about wanting to turn his life around. Prison Fellowship was his primary support outside prison. The biggest change in Greg has been his attitude and determination to stay out. He is always asking, ‘How can I help other people turn their lives around?’

How have you seen God working in Greg’s situation?
Greg is growing in his faith, surrounding himself with other believers and attending church regularly. I have seen him stay close and reliant on God during tough times. I admire his courage and strength to get through a traumatic few years – God has given him the strength to keep going when many of us may have given up.

How have you personally been impacted by the program?
I feel so blessed to be surrounded by love and family. It can be easy to take this for granted. There are people out there who have done the wrong thing, want to change, but do not know how to. Everybody deserves a second chance – we are all in need of forgiveness.

What issues are most prevalent in the transition to life outside prison?
Accommodation can be a major issue. Getting work with a criminal record is near impossible. Mental health, connection with family, and having no support make it hard. Even reintegrating into church life can be difficult. It has been challenging to get church engagement with the program, which has surprised me.

What advice would you give to churches who are unsure how to support ex-prisoners?
The majority of inmates are going to be released. As Christians, we should desire to see ex-inmates find community and support within the church. We have to change our perception of prisoners. We need to support them, just like anyone else in need – this will make the community a safer place. They are the forgotten and often marginalised in our society. We need to be prayerful about the local church’s role in reintegration. Prison Fellowship will play a major part in supporting churches. We will walk with you on this journey! We won’t leave you to walk this path with ex-prisoners alone.

The Sins of the Fathers

Family life for Gordon was scarred by his father’s alcoholism and the domestic abuse of his mum. Though quite capable of good results at school, Gordon became distracted by the dysfunction at home and he lost interest in his studies. Worry morphed into anger and resentment which, in turn, morphed into experimenting with illicit substances. Disappointing HSC results were the product of a heavy pot habit and his dreams of a high-paying professional career slipped out of view.

A job in administration lead to some success and disposable income gave rise to experimentation with heroin and eventually addiction. Before long, Gordon’s income was insufficient to fund his habit and he began breaking, entering and stealing to fund the addiction.

Eventually, the law caught up with him and Gordon entered prison for the first of 6 sentences. Now in his late 40s, Gordon is confronted by a habit that is an ever-present burden that dominates his thinking. Though he hates what it has done to him, addiction is an oppressive master from which escape often seems impossible.

But Gordon has another dominant subject that occupies his mind – his teenage son, Jake. Gordon loves his son with all his heart. The memories of Jake’s childhood flood his waking hours and he is often overcome with feelings of guilt and regret. The thought of Jake growing into adulthood without a dad present to guide and encourage him adds a sense of failure to his emotional baggage.

Initially, Gordon wrote to Jake but received no reply. He respected Jake’s choice and decided to write for Christmas and Birthdays only rather than place pressure on him to write. Jake’s mum was hurt by the past and had emphatically refused to allow Jake to visit Gordon in a prison setting. In fact, Jake and his mum had made the choice to live silently with the shame of dad being in prison.

Eventually, the pressure on Gordon got to fever pitch and he exploded with a barrage of love-letters to his ‘beautiful son’ – six or seven letters in 10 days and many pages. He simply had to let Jake know that he loved him and thought of him constantly. Initially, Jake responded with frustration, anger and language that his father had never heard from him before. Gordon accepted this judgement, but continued to write. Out of the blue, Jake’s mum wrote a letter of encouragement to Gordon to keep writing, and just recently, Jake has finally been able to visit his dad in prison – twice.

The emotion is overwhelming for Gordon. Jake has a girlfriend and has moved on from the sporting interests that his dad introduced him to as a small boy. But Jake also has a deep wish to see his dad free from his addictions when he is released next year. The spark of love between them has been rekindled and is a powerful motivator for Gordon to reduce his dependence on methadone in preparation for life beyond addiction.

Gordon has a very real faith and a deep desire to honour God through his journey out of addiction. Join him in praying that the sins of his father will not be passed down again.

Bob Johnston, Prison Fellowship volunteer

A Very Memorable Birthday

Often in ministry, things don’t turn out how we expect! What was going to be an ordinary T24 pick-up turned into a cake delivery expedition! But we know God uses everything and even the setbacks are part of His good purposes.

 “We received the referral at short notice. Josh* was going to be released [from prison] at 9am on his birthday,” volunteer Graham says. “I had to preach that morning but could be at the prison to pick him up by 12.30, and the prison said that would be fine. When we got there, we couldn’t find him! He seemingly didn’t want to hang around the prison after he was released.”

Graham and Marg went to reception to ask where Josh was, and they were informed that Josh had left a few hours earlier with his remaining belongings. While they were glad to hear Josh had been able to find his way to his accommodation, Graham and Marg had a dilemma.

Knowing that Josh was to be released on his birthday, Graham’s wife had baked him a birthday cake! “My only part to play was to go up to the shop to buy the freckles and smarties for the top!” Graham declared.

Cake in hand and not entirely sure where to go, Graham and Marg decided to “take a punt and take it to where we were going to take him.”

When they arrived, Josh wasn’t available, but Graham and Marg left the cake and some extra essentials at reception. “The receptionist promised he wouldn’t eat the cake!” Graham laughed.

A few days later, “Josh called to thank us for the birthday cake and the duffle bag of basic things we left for him at reception. He said he had tried to ring me but had copied my number incorrectly. He said he was looking for a church but wouldn’t know his location until after he met with a housing worker,” says Graham.

A few weeks later, we received an email from the prison’s Family Liaison Officer:

“Hi Prison Fellowship,

I am writing this email to thank you and the volunteers who picked up one of our men recently.

As you may recall, when we requested a volunteer to pick up [Josh], we mentioned over the phone that the day of his release also coincided with his birthday.

When the Prison Fellowship volunteer attended the prison to pick Josh up, not only they provided him with clothes, toiletries, and also some food for the weekend, but Josh was also provided a cake for his birthday.

This was such a kind gesture, which meant so much to Josh, and that’s the reason we are writing to Prison Fellowship as we would like to thank your organisation for such an act of kindness and emotional support.

I read recently this quote and would like to share with you: “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” – Barbara De Angelis

Can you please share this message with all involved parties at your organisation, especially those who assisted Josh and made his release and birthday so memorable?

We thank you very much for your ongoing support and assistance.”

Graham and the famous birthday cake

Joanna Mann, Staff Writer
*Names have been changed

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