Before becoming a Prison Fellowship volunteer, Ruth was an official prison visitor. We hope this story of transformation that took place through her persistence as a visitor in building a long-lasting relationship encourages you.
I have been a prison visitor for many years. During this time, I have visited eight young people in my local prison. Five of them were on Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, which made it very difficult to motivate and encourage them as they had no idea when—or even if—they would be released.
I was asked to visit one young person, Isaac, as he had been badly let down by his prison visitor —they would cancel visits at short notice and later they failed to respond to communications from the prison.
Isaac had been in the prison system since the age of 16 and was approaching his 19th birthday when I began to visit him. During the three years I visited him, he received only one visit from family. Mine were the only Christmas and birthday cards he received (apart from one handed out by Chaplaincy).
He had been let down so many times over the years that he felt he could not trust anyone. He felt very depressed. He would not make eye contact, had very low self-esteem and lacked confidence. He compensated for this by displaying aggressive behaviour—mainly to stop other inmates picking on him. But this did not help his relationship with prison officers.
When Isaac was 21, he was moved to another prison. Sadly, I was not allowed to remain in contact with him. And so, in his eyes, I was yet another person to have let him down. I succeeded in tracing him through the system and got the permission of the Governor of my local prison to reconnect with him.
Firstly, we resumed contact through letters and later I was able to visit him every month in three different establishments. During this time, he became a committed Christian. He would phone me up, give me a Bible reference and say, ‘I’ll ring you back in 15 minutes to discuss the meaning of the verses.’
Then, three years ago, he was released from prison. And, last year, I had the immense privilege of being his ‘best man’ at his wedding. He said that I was his oldest friend—that I had been with him all the
way through his difficult times. And he wanted me to be beside him on his very special day!
On the morning of his wedding, he rang to ask if I knew how to tie a tie and would I do his for him—he’d never worn one before! When we arrived at the wedding, I was thrilled that he was back in contact with his family who were also present.
Isaac and his wife are my friends. Every week during lockdown, he and his wife contacted me to see if I was OK and if I needed anything. I even got the occasional surprise gift of sweets! And last year, as I was preparing to leave the UK to visit my family abroad, they stayed in my local area for two nights, so they could take me out for lunch. They even made up a ‘survival kit’ for me (English tea, chocolates, mosquito repellent, etc.) What a change from the unresponsive, bitter person I first visited! God is good and able! You often read it in books. But it is amazing to see it in action.
I would encourage any prison visitor who is finding the person they are visiting challenging and are worried that they are not getting through to them to persist and pray! It is amazing what God can and will do! If I had passed him on to someone else in the early days, as I sometimes considered, I would have missed seeing God in action.
We are very grateful to each of our volunteers who seeks to build long-lasting relationships with people in prison.
To find out more about volunteering with PF, please visit prisonfellowship.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer