Leaving prison with faith
Serena Bailey highlights the power of supportive faith communities for prison leavers with faith - and introduces the Welcome Directory, a fully searchable national directory of faith communities prepared to welcome and appropriately support people who have left or are leaving prison
We all have moments from our lives that we deeply regret. Moments when weakness or poor judgement got the better of us.
For me, my faith is my saving grace in such moments. 1 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
This teaching reminds me that I am not defined by my worst moments and that redemption is available to me, enabling me to choose a better path next time.
I recently interviewed Bob Wilson, a prison chaplain and Baptist minister (pictured) who has worked within prison ministry for over 25 years.
He told me about Jonathon’s story, which demonstrates the power of such faith for helping individuals to rebuild their lives.
Jonathon's story - by Bob Wilson, prison chaplain and Baptist minister
Jonathon* led a challenged life, with a final downward spiral that resulted in his incarceration. During his time in prison, he took the first steps on a faith journey... Having heard the Lord’s Prayer countless times before, he found himself finally connecting with the words, and threw himself into exploring his faith further. He sought every opportunity to develop his faith, engaging in Bible study, Alpha courses and in-house recovery programmes.
Having had no faith before prison he found that his chaplaincy team were an invaluable source of support, helping him to stay focused and to imagine a more positive future.
As his release day drew closer, he began to wonder how he could continue his faith journey beyond the prison gates. Would he be able to find a supportive church? Would anyone accept him and welcome him despite his past?
Fortunately for Jonathon, his chaplaincy team had strong connections with a local Baptist church who were committed to accepting and welcoming prison leavers. The chaplaincy team made contact, and some members of the congregation came to visit him before his release. Together they discussed his positive plans for the future, and how they could support him beyond the prison gates. On his first Sunday after release, they picked him up and accompanied him to his first service in his new church.
Jonathon was released in 2010 and is still a member of that congregation to this day. He is highly involved in the life of the church and got married in that same church where he attended his first Sunday service. His journey hasn’t been smooth sailing, with painful challenges like losing his father and his business.
However, at every hurdle he had the benefit of a support system and his own faith to help him to make good choices and get back on track. His faith community was a stabilising influence and helped him to seek positive solutions when hope felt lost.
The Welcome Directory
Jonathon’s story really demonstrates the power that a good supportive church can have in supporting people as they leave prison. In fact, research shows that inclusion within a faith community reduces reoffending and helps prison leavers to have more positive journeys beyond the prison gates.
Unfortunately, not all prison leavers share Jonathon’s experience. People leaving prison are not always guaranteed a fresh start, as stigma and negative stereotypes are widespread. Fear of rejection and judgement hold some back from engaging with new communities, with only 20 per cent of prison leavers with faith going on to join new faith communities. This can result in them losing traction with the faith they left prison with.
That is why The Welcome Directory exists. We are a charity, dedicated to helping faith communities across beliefs become places where people who leave prison find acceptance. We maintain a directory, listing registered faith communities who have declared their commitment to welcoming and appropriately supporting prison leavers.
This directory is used by prison chaplains, probation workers and prison leavers themselves, to identify welcoming communities upon release from prison. Communities where people like Jonathon can find the support and care they need.
The Welcome Directory did not exist when Jonathon was released - his church was identified via personal networks in the chaplaincy team. However as soon as The Welcome Directory was born, his church was the second faith community to register. We now have close to 140 faith communities registered with almost a quarter of them being Baptist churches.
However we need to continue to increase that number. Our vision is to reach a stage where all prison leavers with faith can find a supportive faith community, wherever they are, whatever they believe.
If you believe that your faith community is ready to welcome prison leavers or would like to learn more, please visit our website today or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
*A pseudonym has been used to protect this individual’s identity.
Prison image | Matthew Ansley | Unsplash
Serena Bailey is the Communications and Fundraising Officer, The Welcome Directory.