My Question: Prison Ministry

Happy Sunday, RZIM Connect Community!

I’m looking for guidance on prison ministries. If you have participated in one, can you give me your thoughts on the experience? Also, how did you go about getting involved in the ministry? Any thoughts will be much appreciated.

Thank you and God bless!

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Hi Emily,
I had been involved in prison ministry for about 10 yrs. It’s a humbling experience. There are various ways to get involved. The following are examples:

In-prison volunteer ministry - visitation, bible study
Outside ministry - letter writing

If your church doesn’t have a prison ministry, you should be able to search online for some in your area. Prison Fellowship Ministries has a very good reputation (prisonfellowship.org).

I was an inmate myself, so I know from both sides how life-changing it can be. If you have any other questions, let me know.
God bless.

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Hello Emily,

You’re perhaps getting a calling for prison ministry, how great! I’ve been teaching men’s Christian studies in prisons for nearly 5 years now. As @Kevingibson states, it is remarkably rewarding.

There is so much information to share on this topic. Do you have specific questions to start with? Perhaps how to get started? My heart and head say yes but what actually am I in for?! Etc.

Looking forward to seeing where this takes us!

Paul

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Hello Kevin,

I saw your reply and encouragement to @Mer_M Emily. Your suggestions of how to get started are true and accurate, a nice launch for Emily.

You were incarcerated, released and went back to serve our Lord?! You are one brave person to step back inside the walls. Your need to save your prison brothers must be monumental. I applaud you and pray for you.

What was it that actually brought you to Christ Kevin, if I may ask? Was it fellow believing inmates? An in-prison program like Prison Fellowship Ministries? Not related to either of these? I’m fascinated to listen if you’re comfortable with sharing.

God’s blessing,

Paul

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Hello @Kevingibson Thank you so much for what you have shared. I enjoyed reading your post. :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thank you so much, @Kevingibson! Your post was so helpful and I appreciate your candidness. Participating in a prison ministry has been on my mind so much lately, I think God is trying to tell me something! :smile: I don’t think my church has a prison ministry, unfortunately, so I will definitely checkout the link you provided in your response. Again, I really appreciate your guidance!

God bless,
Emily

Hi, @pdangelmajer! Honestly, there is so much I don’t know about these ministries, I’m not sure where to start in terms of my questions. Maybe its best to begin with this one: what should I expect? And, how deep should my knowledge be of the Bible?

Any guidance would be great!

God bless,
Emily

@Kevingibson - if you wouldn’t mind providing your thoughts, too, on what I should expect if I decide to participate in a prison ministry, that would be helpful. As I do more research into the ministry, I know I will have more questions!

God bless,
Emily

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Hi Emily. I was also involved in a prison ministry for 5 or 6 years. I was not actively in the prisons but once the guys got out and committed themselves to God, they were given a room in a house belonging to the ministry where we did Bible studies and general conversation there. I was involved in that part of it.

As others have said it was a wonderful experience and was very rewarding. These guys really enjoyed sharing stories, both good and bad, of our pasts, as well as Bible studies.

Over time they were required to get jobs and move out of the house to make room for others just getting out of prison. I think they were allowed to stay there for 3 months.

I made some great friendships there with people who overcame huge hurdles to become upstanding citizens in the community, though there were some that went back to their old ways.

I eventually moved away but miss it a lot. I hope you are able to get involved with one. I think you will find it very rewarding.

God bless and best of luck.

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Hi Paul,
I was heavily involved with drugs for many years in New York City, which repeatedly landed me in county jail on misdemeanor charges. The last time was a felony conviction that earned me a sentence in a state correctional facility. It was during that time that I received Jesus. I associated with other Christian brothers and developed an insatiable hunger for the Word. Shortly before my release the Lord put a burden on my heart to take the Gospel back into the prisons. Since moving to Pennsylvania the Lord closed the door on prison ministry, but opened another for discipleship classes at my church. The Lord has shown me so much personal love and grace, it is indescribable.
Thanks for asking.

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@Mer_M
I can give you two important tips off the top of my head:

  1. Inmates are intelligent human beings. Treat them as such, as Jesus would.
  2. Be real. Don’t try to make an impression.

Here are some more resources:

God bless

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Amazing story Kevin. Is not God’s calling to us personally of the greatest magnitude of any event we could ever experience? I taught at Otisville. You weren’t there were you?

Hi Emily,

That’s a great question, and I’ve really enjoyed reading the other replies. I also have high regard for Prison Fellowship. My own introduction to prison ministry came through the Gospel Echoes Team (www.gospelechoes.com). They have a literature ministry which distributes Bibles, correspondence courses, and other materials to prisoners. They also support several traveling teams which hold chapel services and other events to provide preaching and gospel music inside the prisons. I ended up serving on one of the music teams full-time for two years. It was a fantastic experience; God really taught and stretched me a lot during that time.

As is often the case, I found this ministry is all about relationship…not that you have to be great friends with someone before you can have an impact, but rather that impact comes through touching people with love and care (however short a time you have with them).

Prison ministry also gives us a great opportunity to deal with fear in our own lives, which then frees us to minister that freedom to others. A friend of mine nervously walked into a prison dorm for the first time, and was met by an inmate who asked him point-blank: “Are you afraid?” For me, it took a little over a year of frequent (usually several per week) chapel services before I really left that fear behind, and came to enjoy visiting with the incarcerated just as much (and sometimes more!) than with anyone else.

So I agree with the other comments — prison ministry is fantastically rewarding. But we don’t do it for what we receive; we do it for Christ, who invites us to visit Him in prison. In so doing, He changes us, and even blesses others in the process!

Getting connected with a ministry that can help guide you through safety considerations and navigating prison culture would be an ideal way to start. There’s a lot of opportunity for correspondence as well as physically going. I’d be happy to respond to further questions, although obviously some here have much more experience than I do. May God bless and guide your journey!

Adam

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Hi again Emily, @Mer_M

Would love to share more thoughts with you on the subject!

First, it’s quite a calling to want to go into prisons. The first 5 times you go inside the walls it is quite unnerving. What you see on TV is true to form, metal detectors, metal doors, cement walls, jump suits, tattoos, locking eyes, large prison guards, etc. If you’re ready for all that then keep reading lol!

A jail is different than a prison. Jail is where inmates are held before and during their court hearing. If guilty they’re assign to a prison that specializes in the crime they committed. The prison I go to specializes predominantly in gang members, sex offenders and white collar crimes. An odd mix I know but the Dept. of Corrections is impressive and I’m confident has good reason to mix these unlikely groups. Jails on occasion act as prisons. The jail I teach in is known for being impermeable. Paraphernalia does not get in so high profile prisoners are housed in the “Supermax” section. Guards don’t even like to be around them. I don’t know of any volunteer teachers that see these people, only clergy so don’t be concerned with that. Inmates either voluntarily come to your class or they are selected by the Chaplain. You would not be teaching men, women only. In-prison female teachers are less common than men so this may be good news for your quest!

Prisons and jails have predetermined time slots for volunteers. Christian teachers are in competition with other religious and secular teachers including general education courses. (Side note: the DOJ by law allows “Wickens” to teach, yes, Satan worshipping. So sad.) You’ll need to get inside by joining a group already inside or communicating directly with the prison/jail Chaplain for any current opportunities. I went directly to Prison Fellowship Ministries and literally pestered them until I got in. The have search seminars for volunteers, go online and find them. I would also find out who the Chaplain is and contact them, share your heart and goals and ask how you might get involved. Go through your church, online, friends, etc. until you get “in”.

Note too that you can serve a very important role by helping inmates that are just released back into society. Many times they are so frightened, wanting to find a church they will accept them, needing to be taught how to use a cell phone, where to buy one, etc. They’re particularly afraid of meeting up with the evil people from their past life. A simple conversation with a Christian brother or sister can literally keep them from returning to prison, often within a year. I don’t know much about post-prison ministries unfortunately, but it is a wonderful calling.

That’s a lot to digest so I’ll stop there! Looking forward to your questions and thoughts.

Paul

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His calling is a high honor but it also comes with a great amount of responsibility (James 3:1).
I was at Eastern C.F.

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So true about the responsibility. And with that comes God’s promise to be with us always. On my very first in-prison class I was suppose to be an observer in training. On the drive there the person giving the class said he could not make it and to go ahead without him! I hung up the cell call and the phone rang again just seconds later. It was the prison Chaplain saying she would not be there either!?! Lord what are you up to!

I walked in on pure faith and nerves. It was one of the most Godly 1.5 hours ever experienced in my life! It flew by in a blink. My words came as God hijacked my heart mind and lips, and I think He did! I give thanks for that divine opportunity and get a chuckle every time I think of it.

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Greetings Emily,
I am a retired police officer, and my wife and I live in S.E. Texas. We have 2 prisons about 10 miles from our home.Our church was negotiating with both chaplains about having our church service via video in the prison, I spoke with the Chaplain of the 2nd prison about what I could help him with…He needed of a volunteer to run a softball program once a month, and someone to take over a bible study that met weekly. I offered to help. Our church created a team of volunteers for each prison, and my wife and I lead one of those teams. Our church offered to remodel a very large room, install audio/video equipment, and donate it to the prison. This allows other people or ministries to use the equipment to address the inmates.This was done at first one prison, then the other.

I asked my wife to assist with the bible study of about 25 men. God blessed, the study grew, and we enlisted two lady friends to help. We each host a table of 11 to 12 inmates. We had 40+ men each week until the Covid-19 shutdown. We have seen healings and relationships restored. Recently one inmate’s fiancee was diagnosed with stage 4 uterine cancer. We all prayed fervently. When she returned for further testing the following week no cancer was found. God is pouring out his Spirit in both of these prisons. The men love us like family, and neither of us has ever felt so appreciated.

We are now a 501C3 enterprise. Our prisons don’t provide bible study materials, so we raise the funds to purchase the materials.We have done a couple online fun raisers, and exceeded our goal each time, but as our ministry grows, the needs are increasing. We are now a certified non-profit so that we can issue tax deductible receipts.

Call your local Prison Chaplain. Ask what needs they have that you might be able to help with. If none talk about what you are feeling led to do, and ask if that would work in their Unit. Our chaplains & wardens have been very helpful. Please contact me if you have further questions. JimO

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@JimO Jim. Jim… what a great post. The way you, your wife and church stepped up is incredible and so Godly! A key message to @Mer_M Emily is to first listen for a true calling, and second, get to know the Chaplains in prisons near you. God will lead from there. Paul D

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Thanks for the kind words Pau!l

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Thank you so much, JimO! Your post is so helpful and your thoughtful advice is very much appreciated.

God Bless!