Over the years Christians in the UK have responded to Christ’s call to visit those in prison (Matthew 25). Reformers such as John Howard and Elizabeth Fry did much to alleviate the appalling prison conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Christians influenced 19th century prison legislation which provided for individual cells instead of dormitories and for the appointment of three members of staff – governor, doctor and chaplain.
Prison Fellowship was founded in the United States in 1976 by Charles W. Colson, following his release from prison after serving a sentence for a “Watergate” related crime. Prior to his imprisonment, Mr Colson had served as chief counsel for President Richard Nixon. His time in prison showed him the importance of a Christian witness in prisons and on the basis of his experiences he founded Prison Fellowship in the USA. To quote his own words ….. “all my achievements meant nothing in Gods account . No 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”. This became the basis of a worldwide organisation – Prison Fellowship International, which is now the world’s largest and most extensive association of national Christian ministries working within the criminal justice field.
Prison Fellowship International, has the following aims:
that every prisoner has access to support and prayer.
to show Christ’s love to prisoners by coming alongside them and supporting them.
Prison Fellowship works in three prison establishments in Leicestershire, Leicester, Gartree and Glen Parva. Below are three areas of work Prison Fellowship is involved in.
Angel Tree Projects support prisoners in their family relationships by providing a way for them to give Christmas presents to their children. Volunteers raise funds and work with churches and prison chaplains to buy and deliver the presents. The parent in prison is also able to write a personal message to their child. The same principle is used each March for Mothers Day where our volunteers enable Young Offenders to send their Mum a card and gift on Mother’s Day.
Prison Fellowship also runs ‘Sycamore Tree’. Sycamore Tree is a victim awareness programme that teaches the principles of restorative justice. It is taught in prisons in groups of up to 20 learners by Prison Fellowship volunteers. Prisoners on the programme explore the effects of crime on victims, offenders, and the community, and discuss what it would mean to take responsibility for their personal actions. For most offenders on Sycamore Tree the most powerful element of the programme is when a victim of crime comes in to talk through how crime has impacted their lives. Offenders have an opportunity in the final session to express their remorse – some write letters, poems or create works of art or craft.
The third area of work is letter writing. Prisoners often feel extremely lonely and isolated, and many have lost touch with their family and friends on the outside. We believe that something as simple as writing letters can make a huge difference to the lives of prisoners. A letter might be the only communication a prisoner receives and can provide huge encouragement and a link to the outside world.
Pray for this practical and important ministry.