Prison Fellowship Compelled to visit those in prison
to visit those
Sycamore Tree course staff and volunteers Jordan Smith, Dean Moore, Joanne Reid and Walter Jess.
By Robin Scott
For over 40 years, Prison Fellowship NI have had the privilege of visiting men and women in prison and supporting those impacted by crime, their families and those released.
It is often said that prison rejects no one. When a person is sentenced, they are presented at the gates and taken in. Prisons are a microcosm of society - the businessman or women, the professional, the labourer, the unemployed, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters - you can find all of these in our prisons for breaking the law. However, crime and its consequences reaches much further than prisons. It has an alarming impact on children and families of prisoners, and devastating consequences on victims.
Since 1981, Prison Fellowship has been granted access into the prisons of Northern Ireland, visiting one to one on the landings, conducting weekly Lifesplan groups, fellowship meetings, an annual mission as well as a range of other activities - a monthly coffee morning in the female prison, 5-aside football, and Sycamore Tree our accredited Restorative Justice programme. We actively support vulnerable prisoners, assisting with transport for those leaving prison, providing practical support to facilitate family visits and where necessary especially during the pandemic assisted with virtual visits between family members and prisoners.
Those we visit in prison have been convicted of crime and sentenced by the courts to serve a prison sentence. It is in these visits that staff and volunteers spend time building friendships and listening to individuals as they share their concerns, fears, and not least the shame and guilt that they have for the crime they have committed. But it is into these conversations we have the joy of bringing the message of Hope that in Christ there can be a new beginning.
Peter was visibly distraught as I called to visit him in the cell, he had just arrived back from court having been sentenced to an 18-year sentence. As we spoke the immensity of his crime and the fear of prison was overwhelming. I told him who we would be happy to visit if he wanted and that we could also offer support to his family. Over many visits we chatted and read scripture together, usually interspersed with questions, how could God ever love or indeed forgive me?
It was following a visit from a missionary who spoke at a Sunday service in the prison that the challenge was given to surrender their lives to God and allow Him to change their broken messed up lives. Peter struggled but decided to speak to the visitor following the service knowing what he needed to do would be life changing, both personally and within the prison his hard man image was all a façade and would also have to go. Tearfully but simply, he came to faith that day and is continuing to serve Jesus. As Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, said
“The real legacy of my life was my biggest failure - that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation - being sent to prison - was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory.”
If you would like to hear more about Prison Fellowship, we are available to come along to Sunday services or to groups in your church. We also have openings for you to volunteer and would love to have an opportunity to chat about the areas in which you could be involved.
Prison Fellowship NI
39 University Street, Belfast BT7 1FY
T: 028 9024 3691 | E: email@example.com | www.pfni.org
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