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‘There but for the grace of God go I.’

A visit to prison often leaves me with this thought. As the gates close behind me, I thank God for my loving family who gave me a good start in life. This regular reflection makes me even more determined to help those who were not as fortunate as me in their early years, or whose choices have landed them in prison.

Not visiting prison for two years has been very frustrating for me and many of Prison Fellowship’s volunteers. I know we have done so much through the pandemic—like launching our Prayer Line service and weekly Bible Study sheets which are still appreciated now in more normal times. However, not being able to run our restorative justice programme Sycamore Tree at full capacity across the prison estate has been a big loss to people in prison who are longing to learn.

It was a huge source of encouragement that, when Sycamore Tree recommenced again after lockdown, many of our volunteers who deliver the course got in touch with me to share stories of its impact:

Tony told me about Greg. He graduated from Sycamore Tree a few years ago now, but still resides in the prison where Tony volunteers. Tony shares, ‘Greg has had a number of jobs in the prison involving him being “out and about”, and so I often see him. Whenever we meet, the first thing he says to me is, “How’s Barbara?” Barbara was the Group Facilitator on his course. Her support has had a long lasting impact on him. The second thing he says is, “Please send her my love.”

Another volunteer, Diana, recalls a young learner named Chantelle who stood up to give her symbolic act of restitution in the final session of the course. She confessed, ‘I only signed up for a laugh.’ She hoped that taking part would shorten her sentence. But, having listened to our victims of crime speak in week three about the death of their son after taking drugs recreationally, Chantelle realised that this couple could have been her own mother and father grieving over her. And so, Chantelle decided to make some positive changes in her own life.

PF volunteer, Janet, tells me a similar story. She explains, ‘When the victim of crime speaks in week three, the reality of the hurt the learners have caused with their own crimes shakes them. They need to say sorry to their families, too.

‘One learner, Jack, would have nothing to do with his sister since he had been in prison. I remember him rushing in at the start of session four and declaring, “Miss! This course has changed my life!” He told me how after session three, he had felt really bad about the way he had treated his sister. He made a phone call and apologised. She was thrilled and organised a visit to help heal the rift! Jack went on to contact other people he had pushed away. He was a different man—kind, helpful and so grateful to be able to forgive and accept being forgiven.’

The good news is that wherever you live in England and Wales, Sycamore Tree is likely to be running again soon in a prison near you! People across the prison estate will once again be learning about the impact of their crimes on themselves, their family, their victims and their community. And they will be making positive changes to their lives—just like Graham, Chantelle and Jack.

Another of our volunteers, Gail, has recently started a Sycamore Tree course at her local prison. She asserts, ‘It’s a privilege to once again be meeting with learners and working with them through the Sycamore Tree material. We never get to see the finished picture, because the impact of Sycamore Tree will continue to grow after the course is finished.

‘Session six, our final week with the learners, is both a high and low. We get to see the impact the course has had on the learners, but we know too that we won’t be back for week seven or eight or nine. It’s a conclusion to that understanding and friendship that has developed. And a glimpse of some of the change that has taken place.’

As I prepare to start re-visiting prison, stories like these excite me. I am more determined than ever to help those who reside there. It encourages me to know that right now, Prison Fellowship’s ministry is reaching more people in prison than ever before! The programmes that we launched during the pandemic are continuing to benefit people in prison and will keep running. And now, our face to face programmes like Sycamore Tree are returning, too.

To ensure that more people can benefit from the course, since 2016 Sycamore Tree has been delivered for free across the prison estate. 

I am most grateful to you for your regular support of our ministry. Perhaps, like me, you were blessed with a good start in life. Or maybe you are someone who has turned your life around? Whatever your back story, thank you so much for remembering the people in our prisons.

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“I can honestly say that I never had as much satisfaction when I worked as I do now as a volunteer.” — Arthur, Chaplaincy Support volunteer

Volunteer with PF

Volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation, and what they do in the lives of those in prison and as they pray, is incredibly valuable. If you are looking to use your time to support some of the most marginalised people in our society to transform their lives, then volunteering could be for you.

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