As we have been celebrating 40 years of Prison Fellowship’s mission this year, we’ve been very aware that the most important people are missing from the celebrations: the men and women we serve in prison.
We wanted their voices to be heard. So, in the spring, we distributed Hope Cards through prison chaplaincies across England and Wales, with support from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service communications team.
Each card asks the question, “What do you hope for?”
Hope is often a rare commodity in prison, but we all hope for something, and those hopes orient our lives and future actions. Hundreds of cards have been sent back to the PF Support Team, and it is an honour and humbling to read people’s deepest hopes for their own lives and for the wider world.
They represent the diversity of the men and women who spend time in prison, as well as the many things they have in common with each other.
There were hopes that were poignant and philosophical. Some were laugh-out-loud funny. Some were angry or passionately seeking justice. Others were desperately sad, holding onto hope by a thin frayed thread.
As we read them, some distinct themes emerged. While we can never attempt to sum up or generalise the experience of the 82,000 prisoners in England and Wales, these give us a glimpse into some of the hopes that men and women serving a sentence carry.
HOPE TO MAKE IT RIGHT
The Sycamore Tree course helps learners look at their own crime and the ripple effect it had, and consider how to make amends. It was a theme we heard coming through in the cards, too. Many responses reflected on the reason they were in prison, and what they hoped would be different in the future.
“I hope that I get this sentence out of the way, then when released, stay substance free and start building bridges and making up for the time I’ve wasted.”
“I hope for the strength and guidance to follow through with all the changes I’ve made to my life, once I’m released back into society.”
There were also many who expressed the hope that they would find their place again, and be fully accepted back into society.
“I hope that upon my release people don’t just judge me for what I have done in my past and that I can just live a loving happy life with my little girls and family. I really do know that this is make or break for me so I will not fail in my new life.”
These hopes reflect a question back to us — how are we helping or hindering that return to life outside prison? Are our churches welcoming places for them? How do we react when we hear that someone has a criminal record, at work or in our community?
HOPE FOR FAMILY
Prison separates families. Husbands and wives, parents and children. Even pets. The burden on those relationships can be very great: children might need to be taken in care; families may be forced to leave their home if their income is suddenly changed; and it can sometimes take many hours to get to the prison for visiting hours.
It is hard to be away from those you love — even harder when you recognise it is your fault.
“I hope to change my life, be with my family, love and care for them, be happy and make memories and treasure time together as life is so important and family are precious.”
PF’s Angel Tree programme is making a simple but important contribution to helping protect and repair those precious family relationships, by enabling parents to send their children gifts at Christmas, and young offenders to send their mum a gift for Mothers’ Day.
HOPE FOR A POSITIVE FUTURE
Overwhelmingly, the largest theme of the responses was that of freedom. The men and women who responded hope for their release, hope for good outcomes at their parole hearings, hope for fairer sentencing practices, hope for a change to IPP sentencing.
And then they hope for a good life.
“I hope to live a better future than my past. I hope to receive the help and support that will enable me to achieve my potential. I hope that one day I will look forward to waking up as much as I presently look at going to sleep. I hope you will pray for me.”
The specifics vary for each respondent, but include receiving an education, getting a stable and good job, staying connected with family and friends, living a crime-free life, and finding peace. The same basic hopes we all have for our lives.
HOPE IN CHRIST
Most of our Hope Cards were kindly distributed through prison chaplaincies. And so it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but many prisoners wrote about the hope their faith gave them and the hope that that faith might grow.
“I hope when I am released from prison I can follow the Lord and ask him to guide me to build a new life in my community where I can follow him.”
“I am hoping for the Lord Jesus Christ to guide me along in life and hope that God can forgive my past and let me live a life free of crime and drugs.”
We know the hope that following Christ brings. Like the men and women we serve in prison, we have all gone through our own troubles and hardships and know what it is “to have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)
We have this hope in common with our brothers and sisters inside, and so we pray that they might continue to hold fast to that hope.
Bring the Prisoners’ Hope cards to your church!
We have created a special church pack that includes a selection of the cards we received from men and women in prison, together with posters, questions for reflection, and ideas for how your church can engage with the cards while you have them.
This is an ideal way to raise awareness of prison ministry and the men and women we serve!
To request a church pack, or discuss it further, please contact Fiona by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 020 7799 2500.