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

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