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Setting the Captives Free

Chaplaincy Support for prisoners

When I was eighteen, I received a prophetic word that I would be involved in “setting the captives free.” Many years later, I heard a sermon at my church about the importance of getting involved in the community. I opened my local newspaper that afternoon and saw an advert for the Independent Monitoring Board, which monitors the day-to-day life in every prison and ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained.

I got involved in HMP Send, a prison just a few miles from my home. It was quite a shock to find out there were over 200 women imprisoned so close. Later, I went into HMP Coldingley and it was home. You have to hold on to what God has said, even if it takes years.

I’m a Sycamore Tree Tutor, so a big part of my role is setting up for the sessions, and delivering it. We run it in the prison chaplaincy, in a room right next door to the chapel. There are often logistics issues to work around. Prisoners lead a haphazard life. If the course is meant to start at 1pm, but the learners don’t get unlocked until 1:30 pm for some reason, it requires you to be flexible.

The learners respond brilliantly to Sycamore Tree. They are a bit suspicious on week one, and you do more of the talking. They are wondering what are these volunteers doing, why are they really here? And we are raising a subject that they have tried to bury. By week two, though, they soften. Week three is a critical week, when a victim of crime comes in to tell their story. By week six, most of them are free.

I rarely look up their files, even though I have access now. They talk about their crime to us, tell their story from their side. But I take them at face value. We treat them equally, love them no matter what they are in for.

The Sycamore Tree content is actually very simple; it doesn’t guarantee anything, but it is opening a door.

The learners tell us it’s the best course in the prison. I like walking around the prison, because you meet learners from past courses, and they’ll tell you, “that session with Nick really opened me up.”

I’m also involved with bereavement support. I often meet three or four prisoners in a day, one-to-one in the Chapel. We might talk about a recent bereavement, if a family member has died while they are inside. Or it might have been something from the past — a death or murder that caused them to get off course in life, and end up committing a crime.

It’s amazing to see people’s lives changed. If you’ve been considering getting involved in your local prison, come to a session six of Sycamore Tree and see what it’s like to be in prison and in Chaplaincy. Come and have a chat with us
and explore all the options.

John Gloster - PF volunteer

John Gloster has been a PF member for nine years. We talked with him about his volunteer work in prison.

“I can honestly say that I never had as much satisfaction when I worked as I do now as a volunteer.” — Arthur, Chaplaincy Support volunteer

Volunteer with PF

Volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation, and what they do in the lives of those in prison and as they pray, is incredibly valuable. If you are looking to use your time to support some of the most marginalised people in our society to transform their lives, then volunteering could be for you.

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