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Don’t forget the prisoners…

July 11, 2011

prison visit prisonerFor a while now I have been what is known as an Official Prison Visitor (OPV), a voluntary position which links up a regular person like myself with an inmate who otherwise wouldn’t get any visitors. The scheme is generally organised by the Prison Chaplaincy team and involves an initial visit, a relatively small amount of paperwork, an interview and a security brief. Becoming a OPV is fairly easy and once completed you commit to meet with a prisoner a minimum of once every six weeks. The prisoners you visit are those, as I’ve said, who would otherwise not get a visitor (my bloke hadn’t seen anyone from outside for 6 years) and helps the prisoner on an emotional level and thereby helps the staff who guard the prisoner. The routine in prison is pretty much the same everyday so any change is welcome and a visit seems to be a highlight for him. The guy I go and see, and he suggests this is similar for many of the prisoners, is a story of a difficult childhood, with few people who cared for him, a rebellious adolescence with few real possibilities for him and a spate of crimes usually fueled by drugs or alcohol. Now that he is inside, he has completed a drug rehabilitation course and now is qualified to help others with their own drug problem. None of this excuses his past crimes, which he recognises as mistakes, but I often wonder if given similar situations I wouldn’t have ended up in his positions. There but for the grace of God go I!

I’m writing because from my experience there do not seem to be that many OPV’s and it’s something which I want Christians to really consider. Now at first glance I admit it is a little daunting, particularly if like me you’ve never visited a prison before. But having been a few times now it isn’t actually all that bad. The staff at my prison are helpful and the prisoners are just glad to have someone to talk too. As Christians we are called to serve our community and be a light to all those around us and this will include for many of us a prison somewhere within driving distance. The role of an OPV is not evangelistic and is certainly something which people of any or no faith can do, but given that in meeting with a prisoner is about sharing lives our faith is guaranteed to come up. I’ve had a number of good conversations with my guy, who is very happy to talk about almost anything and is genuinely grateful for the time I’ve given to him. As Christians we need to be caring and reaching out to everyone and prisoners are no exception!

If this is something you have time to do then why not visit the National Association of Official Prison Visitor’s website which you can find here!

For an amazing insight into life behind bars from the point of view of a Prison Chaplain read ‘The Cross Behind Bars’ by Jenny Cooke which you can find here!

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 3:40 pm

    Mike, I think that’s awesome! This is such an inspiring post to reach out to those in the margins of society (and really removed from society totally so I don’t even know if we could consider them in the margins!) Just like Jesus did. This is something that I would love to do in the future. I don’t know an organization in CT, where I live, that does it, but I’m sure one exists. It’s so important, as Christians, to move past our comfort zones and reach out to those who are suffering, even if we might not always understand where they are coming from. Christ didn’t tell us to understand, that’s not the point…to love and have compassion is.
    A great post!

  2. July 11, 2011 3:48 pm

    when i think about the person in prison i wonder if i had been their friend or just Liston to them heard their stories. maybe they would not be there. i have visited many and i be long to a group called friends on the outside. thank you for caring and god bless

  3. July 11, 2011 5:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! What a great way to inform people about another great outlet to share compassion with each other! We who so often look past the homeless and disabled and ignore the imprisoned – thank you for challenging us to consider an opportunity like this one. Definitely something I will look into!

  4. July 12, 2011 1:40 am

    Good informative post. I have a son who is in and out of jail/prison and I know that he as well as many others would want the company. I pray that when he is there someone will care about him besides me. I’m sure all mothers do. Thank you, for sharing this and for what you do.

  5. July 12, 2011 12:05 pm

    Mike,
    Thanks so much for this post! I have felt a tugging to go do something like this but like you said it just seems so daunting… and scary. A little? (I’m a wuss. Just fyi) Thanks for the insight and the link!

  6. July 12, 2011 12:22 pm

    Looked into how to volunteer or do faith based service for prisons and found this one for the state of Ohio in USA…

    http://www.drc.ohio.gov/web/volunteers.htm

    If you aren’t in ohio, I would suggest calling the state police or doing a google search and looking for your own state’s government website!

    • July 12, 2011 4:16 pm

      Thanks for the link Bryan!

      If anyone else stops by and can recommend links for their state/country please do leave them! 🙂

  7. July 17, 2011 1:24 pm

    I haven’t been sent on a similar mission although we’ve visited a women’s prison once. You know what I felt? I felt scared . We were not even allowed to interact much with them.

    But given another chance, perhaps, my outlook with them would be different. It would be a challenge to overcome my fears and use Christ’s eyes and heart inorder to love them and serve them or just be with them.

    Challenging post Mike…hmmm…

  8. October 10, 2011 11:19 am

    This is something I’ve thought about doing, but, have been, to be honest, afraid to try. I know that Jesus would want us to visit the lonely and misunderstood souls in prison; your article has inspired me to look up a program for this here in our community.
    Thanks, Mike, for another terrific, spirit-challenging post!
    Blessings!

  9. October 10, 2011 11:27 am

    This is an awesome service which you are doing. Blessings. Thanks for sharing.

  10. October 10, 2011 1:13 pm

    I have worked with lots of people deemed “scary” you know what they are people and there is usually a reason as to what led them to be in their position. Listen to their story and you will discover! Even us non believers can do stuff sometimes 😉

  11. October 10, 2011 1:27 pm

    Wow Mike, this is a great idea! I guess I never really gave it much thought that there would be prisoners that didn’t receive at least one visitor. I may have to look into this as we have a prison less than an hour away from us. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  12. October 10, 2011 2:35 pm

    I think it’s a great idea. Well done to you – for anyone interested in helping in this way but would rather write than actually visit there is also an organisation called Lifelines – based in Cambridgeshire which matches people with prisoners on death row – and perhaps with other prisoners though I’m not sure. I made a film with one of the ” penpals” once and it was a real insight especially as I went on to meet the prisoner and his family in the US. He was found guilty of double murder but the case was very disturbing legally and he protests his innocence. He ‘s still alive but I always fear that phonecall or email. It’s not for the fainthearted but this kind of contact is very important to the prisoner – and their families. It gives some shred of hope.

  13. October 10, 2011 4:51 pm

    I think it’s AWESOME what you do..I know of a few here that do it too…quite a ministry…Go boy go…..As always …XOXOXOXO

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