Prisoners have been experiencing difficult conditions in the extreme version of lockdown they have had to endure. Many were in their cell for up to 23 hours a day. And, with many activities suspended, they often had little to do.
Prayer and chapel services usually provide an outlet for prisoners. But, in lockdown, these also came to a halt.
Fr Bob Halshaw, Head of Chaplaincy at Lancaster Diocesan Prisons Service explains, “For many of our residents, Chaplaincy is an opportunity for them to recharge their batteries and it provided an outlet for their concerns, anxieties and fears. This need was not being met elsewhere in the prison because of the lockdown.”
To add to this, there was a great deal of anxiety about because of Covid-19.
Understanding the challenges prisoners were going through, Prison Fellowship prayed for a channel to reach prisoners and help them feel connected even during shielding and isolation.
The answer came in the form of Prayer Line.
Prayer Line is a telephone service with a freephone number, where prisoners can request prayer – any prayers that are on their heart – by leaving their request as a recorded message.
The messages are then picked up by PF staff and distributed to PF volunteer prayer groups.
Members of PF volunteer prayer group are sent a set of anonymised prayer requests, and set about joining the prisoner in spirit, praying to God for an answer.
Prayers that have been received through Prayer Line range from requests for freedom, prayers for victims, for family, prison staff, and Prison Fellowship volunteers to name just a few
R wanted prayer for the Lord to give him strength so he “can stay focused and stay strong so (he) can get through the period in (his) life with ease and with comfort”.
M requested prayer that he would be reunited with his wife and children. He also wanted prayer for his parents and siblings, particularly two of his brothers who are also in prison.
A asked for prayer that his “friends and family are safe during the Coronavirus pandemic”. He also asked that we remember in prayer “those who have no food and water, nowhere to wash their hands and no support” and he asked that “everyone be kept safe.”
The prayer requests demonstrate some of the tenderness and gentleness of so many men and women in prison, expressing the deep yearnings of their heart, sometimes the regrets they feel, and the hopes they have. It is a rare opportunity to present the inner thoughts and feelings of these prisoners, to God.
Rev Sarah Parkinson is an Anglican Prison Chaplain at HMP Low Newton, a women’s prison in County Durham.
Sarah talks of the advantages of Prayer Line for prisoners. She says: “Prayer Line is a wonderful service. It is especially good for prisoners who are shy, who may find face-to-face conversation difficult. There are times when chaplains are not in, or times prisoners may not want to talk to us. Some prisoners prefer anonymity and so Prayer Line is a way of getting their worries heard, without revealing their identity.”
Stephen Hawkins is Operations Manager at Prison Fellowship and helps oversee the running of Prayer Line.
Stephen says: “At Prison Fellowship, prayer is at the heart of our ministry. We put prayer first. Before we do anything, we pray.
“Prayer Line allows intercessory prayer which is a different way to connect with God.
“Even when people are calling, they believe in prayer. They may have faith the size of a mustard seed. But they believe something is going to change and that God hears. We are joining in with that.
“Prayer Line allows another way of staying connected with God and prisoners.”