“You are not alone” is the wonderful theme for Prisons Week 2020 which starts on 11th October. Prison Fellowship is a sponsor and supporter of this event which seeks to unite Christians from all denominations to pray for, and consider, all those living and working in UK prisons. What phrase could be more appropriate for the 83,500 individuals behind bars in UK prisons in 2020?
The weeks and months since 23rd March have been hard for almost everyone in some way. For the average prisoner, isolation and loneliness, those key risk-factors for offending behaviour, are simply facts of life behind bars; for some more than others. But for the first time in living memory, they have been present in the lives of those of us who are usually free to live as and how we want to.
There is a prisoner having to self-isolate at HMP Sudbury, where I work, and he is struggling. I tried to encourage him by suggesting that enforced isolation can be a way to grow and develop our characters. He smiled wryly and said ‘I think I’ve had enough opportunity for that since I started my sentence, Miss!’ I had to concede that he had a point; who am I to point out lessons learned from a few months of solitude and restricted movement to someone who’s been managing those things for years? I did not sense it was appropriate to start telling him that God is with him – perhaps I should have done – but he is in my prayers.
Of course, the phrase ‘You are not alone’ has a double significance. We are not alone because God is with us. We are not alone because others are thinking of and praying for us.
For prisoners in closed prisons where the daily regime has shrunk in such a way that most have only had an hour out of their cell – 5 minutes to fetch lunch and supper, 10 minutes to make a phone call, 10 minutes to have a shower, 30 minutes outside on the yard – the weeks and months of lockdown have been very difficult. Things are beginning to change (I am delighted to be typing this message on the Sunday when we are about to hold our first Christian service since lockdown began), but there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the months ahead of us hold. Some prisoners will have spirits open to the truth that they are not alone because God is with them. Others will not be in that place but, nevertheless, will be able to draw comfort from the fact that they are not alone because Christians across the country and thinking of and praying for them.
I have been blessed, in recent weeks, with some encouraging conversations with men who are finding faith in Jesus for the first time or rediscovering a childhood faith that they discarded a long time ago. Sam (not his real name) has given his life to Christ after reading Revd Paul Cowley’s recently published book, ‘Thief, Prisoner, Soldier, Priest.’ Others at Sudbury have been encouraged by the same book so do pray that it will be fruitful as it finds its way into the cells and onto the landings of all UK prisons.
God is not bound by Covid-19 guidelines or restrictions as He continues to work in the lives of individuals who are open to His presence. He is meeting us on country walks, during zoom and phone conversations, in the stillness of our hearts. For all of us, the truth that we are ‘not alone’ means that we are anchored and secure (Hebrew 6:19) whatever the storms we must live through.
Rev Jo Honour is a Trustee of Prison Fellowship England and Wales, and a Christian Chaplain at HMP and YOI Sudbury.
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