Sunday

But one thing I do. One thing. I press on.

Foreword by The Most Rev. and the Rt Hon. the Archbishop of Canterbury The Apostle Paul here speaks as someone who knows the pain of endurance and hopelessness. Tortured and beaten, in prison many times for his faith, he nonetheless spoke to fellow prisoners about the hope he had found in Jesus. He had started as offender, hurting and maiming others, but found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Yet life did not magically grow easier; instead he had to learn to live with his past, and face an uncertain present of false accusations and persecution for his faith. He was someone kept alive by hope, who endured and persevered in the face of desperate circumstances.

What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope, but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.


A reflection from Gareth Barton, Spread Creative Ltd...

'I want to know Christ —yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.


But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 'Philippians 3:10-14'

But one thing I do. One thing. I press on.

We believe that prayer is effective! It's been said that 'faith moves mountains but prayer moves God'; that if we pray, God moves and things change for the better. Why else would we do it? We don't pray because it is nice to get together socially, and we͛re really not convinced by the power of wishful thinking. We pray together and expect things to change. We expect because we believe that 'faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see' (Heb 11:1). Confident and sure.

And now, after forty years of pressing on in prayer to support those affected by prison, Prisons Week has a new look.

The new logo represents a week marked off in strokes in a manner often associated with time measured by those in prison, or isolated in some way. It speaks directly to the role of Prisons Week—to be a week of prayer for those who feel cut off and find themselves marking off the days.

It is for prisoners counting the days until their release, victims wondering how long before time heals their wounds, families waiting to be reunited, prison staff longing to see lasting change in those for whom they care, those involved in criminal justice searching for meaningful solutions to the toughest of challenges, and communities aching for reconciliation and a time of peace.

So, however you count the days, and for whatever reason, Prisons Week is busy urging the Christian church to press on in prayer for you. And through our prayers we speak directly to you and urge you— plead with you—whatever else you do, do this one thing: forget what is behind and press onto what is ahead.

Please, for God's sake, press on.

The Prisons Week Prayer - Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

But one thing I do. One thing. I press on.

Monday

For those who are prisoners

Counting the days in prison, longing for release, trying to keep our heads above water, life inside can be a daily struggle for survival. The past is hauntingly present, leaving it behind seems impossible. However distant the possibility of redemption and release might feel, we must still press on in hope. As tempting as it is to allow one day to roll into another, let us have the focus to realise the change we need, to ask for and offer encouragement to help us get there. Like an athlete in training, let us press on towards the goal of victory, towards freedom to live the lives which Christ has won for us.


A reflection from Venerable Michael Kavanagh, Chaplain General, HMPPS...

One of the men who was on the Belief in Change Community* was almost exactly my age – late 50s. Our adult lives had been very different. Most of his had been spent in and out of jail and he had barely worked. He had family but relations were distant as he had not really been there for them. He also had health problems having been a heavy smoker and drinker in years gone by. But his early life had been different too. No family support, time in care, no one to believe in him. He had given up and was reconciled to this being his life. He went on the programme with little hope but through the experience of community and the belief of the staff as well as the practical assistance he received, he began to believe in himself. His relations with his wife had improved and he was rebuilding those with his children. He still had a long way to go but he had found hope and vision. He had learned and is still learning how to Press On.


*Belief in Change was a pilot programme for persistent prolific offenders that was holistic in approach and faith informed focussing heavily on resettlement

God of hope, by the power of your Holy Spirit, bring strength and encouragement to all those in prison. Sustain and support them as they seek to survive and grow into the new life offered to all in Christ. Bring them true repentance and a new start, support their hopes, calm their fears, and be present as they press on seeking redemption and release from the past, and courage and inspiration for the future. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For those who are prisoners

Additional resources for Monday

Tuesday

For victims of crime

To be a victim of crime is to be the object of exploitation or abuse by others, to have your life changed with immediate effect. Hopes and dreams can be lost and the future turned to disappointment, even despair. Faith can be tested to the limit and fear may trap us into a continual cycle of distress, unable to move away from past events. We need God’s help to break out and to press on. We need friends and loved ones to teach us how to trust again, to support us in our suffering and affirm us in our progress and perseverance, offering fresh hope for the future.


A reflection from Ray & Vi Donovan...

That tragic night our son Christopher was killed it felt like our world had turned upside down and have come to an end. The last thing on our minds was that one day we would meet the people that killed our son, but by Gods grace we did.

It all started by a phone call from Christopher’s former R E teacher she invited us to visit a local women’s prison and speak as victims of crime on a course which is run by prison fellowship called: The Sycamore Tree.

As victims this was the last thing we expected to do, so we prayed about it and heard God say "GO". The Sycamore Tree got us interested in Restorative Justice and because of this we met all three at different times, and as they walked into the room we held out our arms and hugged them, just like Jesus showed mercy for us.

So since 2005 we have travelled up and down the country speaking to the inmates as victims of crime, this includes some Sunday services too.

If you were to ask us how we Press On, re-living our story time and time again, then our answer would be simple. By Gods strength and grace we are able to watch lives change, and see a lot of good coming out of a tragic event. We feel it is an honour that God has called us to do this work, that as victims of murder we would just want to stay in bed for the rest of our lives in the hope we will wake up and it will be a bad dream. The bible say’s in Jeremiah: 29-11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

A lot of people call us victims of crime, but under God we are Victors in Christ.

God of hope, be present with all those who have become the victims of crime. Pour out your Holy Spirit into lives broken and distorted by the actions of others. Surround those in distress with your love, and the love of friends and family. Restore strength and confidence, build resilience, bring healing and peace as they press on, and out of sorrow bring joy. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For victims of crime

Additional resources for Tuesday

Wednesday

For the families

The challenges of family life for those affected by criminal behaviour can be never ending. Powerful emotions including anger, betrayal, injustice and shame are felt by children and families of both offenders and of victims. Their lives may have been devastated by crimes of which they are innocent. But their role is vital, literally life-giving, to support and motivate their loved ones to press on towards a future where repentance and forgiveness can bring healing and restoration within the family and the wider community.


A reflection from Rachel Shackleton, Spurgeons children's charity...

"I'm never coming back in here, I need to be a proper dad now" a young prisoner told me, picking up his 13 month old daughter and hugging her for the first time in six months. Meanwhile, his partner was looking daggers at him, just about keeping a lid on her anger. I offered to play with the little girl while they 'sorted stuff out' within sight but out of earshot. Emotions can run high on Family Days in prisons.

Family Days run in most prisons every few months for two or three hours, providing precious time for children and their parent, sibling or other close relative in prison. It's not much time to talk, play and re-connect compared to the evenings and weekends of the previous life on the outside. Families might have to set off in the early hours, on a long, costly, tiring journey and go through a rollercoaster of emotions in the course of a day. But it still feels like gold dust compared to standard visits, where prisoners have to stay seated, time's always tight and there are restrictions in place. Prisoners have to earn the right to be considered for Family Days, which are always oversubscribed.

Prisoners and victims of crime need and rely on their children and families to help them 'press on' through the hard, bad, dark times, to give them hope and a reason to live life differently. Children and families of prisoners need support too, as they 'press on' through the emotional, financial, practical difficulties of living with the consequences of a crime they did not commit.

God of hope, in you we find wholeness and peace, forgiveness and new life. Send your Spirit to heal damaged and broken relationships. Support and restore all those who have been wounded and affected by the consequences of crime to fullness of life. Rebuild hope and trust, that pressing on in faith, a sense of recovery becomes possible. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For the families

Additional resources for Wednesday

Thursday

For our communites

We are more aware than ever of the fragility and fragmentation of our community life, the prejudice, aggression and negativity that fills our screens, airwaves and human interactions. The fear and stress of crime, the chance that anyone, everyone, could become a victim weighs heavy in many places. We need more than ever to press on in building strong communities, growing together, so that everyone can thrive and live a positive life.


A reflection from Matt Wall, Community Chaplaincy Association...

You are about to leave prison.

What will people think about you in the communities to which you return?

  • Will you be given a second chance at work?
  • Will a local landlord trust you enough to offer you a tenancy?
  • What will be the reaction from people in your church?

Where communities keep people returning from prison at arms-length and continue to judge them, it can feel paralysing.

However, it does not have to be this way.

Where people in the community are able to look past a criminal record and see the potential beyond this, a fresh start becomes possible.

In this way, change after prison becomes a responsibility for all of us, in whatever community settings we are involved in.

What kind of communities do we want to be?

 

God of hope, teach us to be good neighbours, your Spirit enabling all those who work to build community, make connections, develop networks and include the other. We remember those who struggle for inclusion and long for acceptance and affirmation. Teach us to be gentle with one another, to press on recognising our brothers and sisters in all their diversity as fellow members of your family, made in your image and worthy of all reverence and respect. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For our communites

Additional resources for Thursday

Friday

For those who work in prisons

Those working in prison today are under pressure. Those whom they care for are increasingly both vulnerable and violent, distressed and dangerous. Caring for and keeping safe some of society’s most difficult people each day brings new challenges, and sometimes joy. Let us hold up to God in prayer all those working in prison, support them and ask God’s blessing in their work. Let us all hold onto the hope that will encourage them to press on with courage and conviction, confident in God’s power to change and to save.


A reflection from Andy Keen-Downs, CEO, Pact (Prison Advice and Care Trust)...

A Prison Governor once told me that he advises new staff to be careful not to care too much. For prison officers, teaching staff, charity workers and chaplains who want to make a difference, this can be a hard message to hear. But it’s one I recognise. Care too much, and prison life can damage you, even if you are the one wearing the uniform, the dog collar, or the logo of your charitable employer. Caring too much can leave you compromised, or burned out.

And yet, not to care at all, would be the worst of mistakes. To become numb to the pain and despair felt by so many would mean that, you can do no good. Because most prisoners, like most people, respond to care. They respond to people who show belief in them, treat them with respect & compassion. And so, working in a prison means walking a tightrope, every day. To understand that some people will see compassion as a source of weakness - whilst at the same time, being mindful that compassion fatigue in a prison can lead to soulless or even brutal regimes.

I have the privilege of knowing many dedicated, professional yet caring prison staff of all faiths, and no faith, who walk this tightrope. They are people who demonstrate their belief in the innate dignity of every person, and in the potential for redemption, and who put their belief to the test, in the hardest of places.  This Prisons Week, let us be thankful for them, for what they do for prisoners and their families, and for the whole of Society. May God give them the strength to continue, and may our political leaders give them the support and recognition they deserve.

For all who work in prison, may we press on in hope together.

God of hope, keep hope alive in the difficult and stressful jobs in our prisons. Help those who work with the difficult and distressed to press on confidently, that by the power of your Holy Spirit your light will shine in the dark places. Give grace and strength, to all those who work and volunteer in our prisons to support one another and to give of their best to those in their care. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For those who work in prisons

Additional resources for Friday

Saturday

For all those working in the criminal justice system

There is always a balance to try and find in the criminal justice system between justice and mercy, between the needs of prisoners and their victims and the resources available. All those working in this field need our prayers as they press on with their task. They also need God’s wisdom, discernment and good judgement to maintain the balance of interests and demands made upon them.


A reflection from Alison Tyler, Prison Chaplain...

So how do people get into prison?

They go through the criminal justice system in a series of events involving lots of different people; all of them individuals trying to administer and uphold the law, and to defend the interests of both the community and the criminal in ways that are both transparent and just.

  • Arrested by the police on the street (or in a raid), perhaps saving them from the beating that they might have had from a co-defendant.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service determined that there was a good chance of a conviction in their case so decided to prosecute.
  • A solicitor or barrister goes to Court with them to defend them
  • The court found them guilty or they pleaded guilty, and the magistrates and the judges decide that only custody was the right sentence

At every stage, there were concerned individuals trying ‘to get it right’, to make the right decisions, to balance justice with mercy, to protect the defendant and the community.

 

God of hope, generous and merciful, gracious and strong, pour out your Holy Spirit on all those who work to administer justice. Give them your wisdom and discernment so that their decisions might be the best possible, give them the energy and enthusiasm to press on and to meet the needs of offender, victim and society for justice and for restoration. Lord, in hope we turn to you.

For all those working in the criminal justice system

Additional resources for Saturday