It’s your first day at your new ‘home’. You’re surrounded by a cacophony of sounds and people keep ordering you around and telling you what to do. A new ‘friend’ is introduced to you as your cell mate and behind the locked door you go. Will you cope? If you show any weakness, will you be violently bullied? Will you be able to keep clear of the illicit drugs that people keep offering you? You steady yourself; you talk to yourself; you remind yourself how ‘tough’ you are, and you get on with life in prison. Then your cell door opens and on the wing is a Christian chaplain to welcome you to life behind bars!
How do we take the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to a culture that is like no other? The overwhelming majority of prisoners are in the grip of drug or alcohol addiction and have been in prison many times before. Inside the prison it is noisy, how can the gospel of peace break into this environment? It does because King Jesus is building his kingdom and not even the gates of His Majesty’s prisons can stand against him! There are opportunities within the prison walls to take church services, run Bible studies or courses like the prison edition of Christianity Explored. Jesus is saving people in our prisons, despite the cultural difficulties.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit a prison, here are my top four tips.
Be yourself with the prisoners. We often try to build relationships with people through shared experiences, but if you think that a prisoner will think you are like them because you once got into trouble for breaking a window with a ball, they won’t! We may all be sinners, but not to the same degree. A prisoner will spot someone who is not authentic or genuine and will not listen further.
Whilst speaking in short sentences and using everyday language is helpful, it is easy to become patronising. Prisoners know that they are sinners, they really do. You don’t need to keep reminding them of this!
Teach them the Bible
Then teach it again. Prisoners often need to hear the same message many times before it begins to be understood. Biblical literacy is virtually non-existent amongst the prison population and many prisoners will have minds affected by addictions or learning difficulties or both.
Tell them about Jesus
Always tell them about Jesus and not yourself. We often have limited time so get on with the job in hand.
There are currently over 80,000 people imprisoned in the United Kingdom. They need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and whilst the culture of prison makes this difficult, the power of the gospel can break into any prison and into any heart.