Surviving and thriving through the pandemic
“Being present” with people is something CEO Peter Holloway holds at the centre of PF’s work. He says that “while the Covid-19 crisis has brought tremendous difficulties to people across our nation, especially those who are in prison and vulnerable in other ways, at the heart of our mission is what I often call ‘the ministry of presence.’
“When we look someone in the eye and through our words, our tone and our actions, we say ‘you are an image of God, just like me and ‘worth’ the same in every way,’ this is the start of everything.
“In all we do, we retain that basic spiritual principle of respect and unconditional regard for others. It’s been a very tough time with much pain, but through it we have also done our best to hold onto what we have always known in PF – that God loves each of us and all those in prison with an everlasting love. And we are called to reflect that love, with His help.”
This love is transmitted through the gift of communication, which is made possible through the focus of our attention, our accessibility, and our body language. It is our gift from God to reflect God’s unconditional love to others.
Even when Covid-19 thickened prison walls and brought about separation, communication was enabled through Prayer Line. Prisoners can communicate their prayer requests to PF volunteers through ringing a freephone telephone number.
Stephen Hawkins, PF’s Operations Manager, recognises that Prayer Line is a way of reaching prisoners even when prison visits are not possible. He says, “God is building a house. Although physically we can’t go into prison, prayer can. It can’t be restricted by bars or walls or cells.
“A lot of our volunteers were desperately missing visiting and meeting prisoners, and this is reminding them of what is going on in prison – reminding them we can still fulfil a purpose before going back in.
“Prayer Line is keeping our volunteers connected to those in prison, encouraging them to feel positive and purposeful and enhancing their prayer life.”
Letter Link is another PF programme that has pierced through the lockdown barriers. Volunteers writing letters to prisoners has kept the channel of hope and communication open, even while prison visits have been impossible.
Our Letter Link Administrator, Joanna Perkins, speaks passionately about how the programme is helping PF stay strong in the face of Covid-19: “At times when family visits haven’t been possible, letters have been even more important. They are a way for a person in prison to receive encouragement and a link to the outside world. It’s a non-judgemental – a safe place to write. It allows them to be seen as a person, someone who has interests, thoughts, and who can be listened to.”
Joanna feels that Covid-19 has heightened awareness in the general population of what it is like to be in prison. “Lockdown has made us look at other places and people and highlighted for us in the outside what it is like to be restricted in our movements, and not have face-to-face contact with others. It has given our volunteers a deeper understanding of what it means to be locked up.
“Covid-19 has highlighted the need to care and ask how people are. This is being reflected more and more in letters from both sides. Letter Link has enabled prisoners and volunteers to keep sharing, and show understanding. It is a blessing for both.”
In the face of the pandemic, we also adapted our Angel Tree programme which enables people in prison to send a Christmas present to their children. Maureen Douglas is an Angel Tree Coordinator in Leicestershire. She explains:
“We have changed the way we do the programme. I asked people who usually make a donation of presents to make a monetary gift instead. A lot of people who buy the gifts are elderly, so it might not be as easy for them to get to the shops. So I have given them the option of making a donation and a present was bought on their behalf for the child.”
Maureen believes that Angel Tree volunteering remains, even during lockdown, as “following the Gospel message as Jesus taught us – ‘I was in prison and you visited me’. Although we can’t visit at the moment, doing this for prisoners is helping them see they are not forgotten.”
Peter Holloway reminds us that everything we do in PF, must be rooted in our foundations and our mission:
“PF was and is founded in prayer. It remains the lifeblood of the organisation and feeds our mission to show Christ’s love to all those in prison. If we are to continue in the work that God has set for us, then we must stay aligned with His will.
“Praying, and always having our mission in our sights, keeps us in the right place. We are not interested in ‘just surviving’. Our desire is to love God and love our neighbours, especially those who are suffering in prison.”