I woke up one morning to find a policeman at the end of our bed, armed and holding a baton. The next 24 hours was a blur as they questioned our then 22-year-old son, David*, about a girl he was seeing. Turns out she was 14.
We were a typical suburban family raising two kids and the only connection we had with the wrong side of the law were speeding fines. Prison only affected those who were uneducated, came from violent families with a long history of crime and probably deserved to be locked away. That was my thoughtless, ill-informed and dispassionate view. I did not think of them as human beings who made a mistake and who were sons, daughters, mothers, fathers of someone else. I did not spare a thought that whole families were shattered. I did not think of them at all. Until our son confessed and was charged.
My world crumbled, David’s sister could not continue with her studies and his dad kept us together.
We visited our son in prison every week. We talked, we nodded to familiar faces who were also regular visitors. The guards and prisoners who remembered our faces, smiled and said G’Day. I began to see sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, joy and pain, laughter, togetherness, in that visitors room sharing precious time, huddled close or walking laps around the small yard, hand in hand. Lining up to get hot chips and Coke. I wasn’t the only one who suffered, the only one in pain in that room! I was still angry and lost but I began to feel an overwhelming compassion and the desire to serve my fellow travelers in the room.
Prison Fellowship gave me a safe place to pray with volunteers, pastors and other compassionate people and bit by bit, I am able to tell my story with less shame and guilt.
I have been able to share my story with other mothers, with sons or daughters in prison through Prison Fellowship’s Family Support. Every time I comfort and encourage a mother, I feel a layer of shame and pain peel away from me so when they thank me, I say, “No, thank-you!”.
I prayed and berated God at the same time, but somehow, He found ways to speak to my heart; He had plans for us. I knew the skills I had were His gifts to me and I knew that I was to use it to serve. He led me back to studies and I now work with prisoners and their families whenever I have the opportunity. I pray that He will also grace our son with the gifts he has, to serve Him.
*Names have been changed
Romans 12: 6-8
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
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.”
Joanna Mann, Staff Writer
*Names have been changed
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
“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