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«Personal Witnessing In Jails and Prisons By Allen D. Hanson CONTENTS “REMEMBER THE PRISONERS.” 1. Six things you need to know about the justice ...»

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Sometimes there is no logical reason why someone will commit a capital crime. Many prison terms have been started by mixing legal prescription drugs and alcohol. Others result from stormy marriages or ill-considered responses to significant problems such as marital infidelity or a triangle affair. But behind it all is often a rebellious will and a weak religious faith. Parents do have a good deal of control over tomorrow’s prison inmate population and again Jesus Christ is the answer to keeping your child out of prison.


Almost every city or large political subdivision has a local lockup or county jail. This temporary holding activity is used to detain men and women who are awaiting trial or legal hearings. Many of these jails are old, overcrowded and dirty. Often short prison sentences are actually served in these institutions. All types of prisoners can be found here from the first offenders to the hardened criminal.

As a result, this ministry offers an unusual opportunity right in your own hometown to reach prisoners for Jesus Christ and minister to them at a time when they are experiencing a dramatic change in their daily lives. The trauma of arrest and incarceration will occasionally jolt a new inmate into a serious evaluation of priorities and present lifestyle. This is an excellent time to talk to these new prisoners about salvation.

There are three things that you should keep in mind as you start to minister in the county or city jail.

First: Much of your effectiveness will depend on understanding each type of inmate held in this institution. This may take some training and experience, but the officials in charge of the jail can assist you in evaluating each classification if you ask them for help. Second: Certain prisoners are kept in these local jails for a very short time. Your first contact may be your only chance to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Be prepared to offer an effective testimony on the first visit without being overbearing or offensive. Third: No one can adequately explain what it is like to be locked up day after day, because a prison experience is a terrible thing. Be aware that you are ministering under extreme stress and trauma conditions. While inmates are more receptive to your Gospel presentation in this situation, the stage is also set for future hate and distrust of society. Your Christian testimony can help to prevent this serious social problem.

It is easier to start a new prison ministry if two or three concerned Christians go to the jail together.

Try to arrange with the authorities for a special time each week for your visit that will not conflict with regular family or lawyer visiting hours. Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning are among the best available times. If you and your Christian group are the only visitors at the jail, you will get all the attention from both the staff and the inmates. These visits will be anticipated by prisoners who spend several weeks in the institution and they will look forward to your next call. There is less discipline trouble in a prison that allows regular Christian visits. Trained law enforcement officers know that religious visits by dedicated Christians cut the so-called “incident rate” in any jail. They will be inclined to help you even if they are not Christians themselves. It would be beneficial for anyone considering a prison ministry to join a group going into a jail in a nearby town for several weeks to get “on-the-job” training and experience. The techniques you will acquire in a short time will make the necessary travel well worthwhile.

There are 10 steps you should take to have an effective ministry in the local jail.

1. Pray daily for this ministry and everyone involved in it. Start each prison visit with prayer.

2. Keep a definite schedule without interruption. Prisoners will anticipate your regular visits.

3. Dress conservatively. A suit coat is never out of place in jail although a tie isn’t necessary.

Clergymen may wear collars for identification if they wish.

4. Don’t give the prisoners anything without first checking with authorities. Stay well within the established rules of the jail.

5. Don’t ask the prisoners for details about their criminal case. Often these charges are pending trial or appeal. If you learn anything about their legal status, be sure to keep it confidential.

6. Don’t expect a normal response. Conditions in jail are not normal. You are reaching the inmate with your testimony even if he doesn’t respond immediately, so don’t be discouraged.

7. Whenever possible, arrange for a follow-up by a local church to minister to the offender after he is released.


8. Be forgiving. The justice system is tough enough without your personal judgment and condemnation. Be a true minister of the Gospel and radiate the love of God in your visit.

9. Focus your ministry on the heart of the Gospel. Most prisoners have little church background and do not understand theological differences.

10. “Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them...” (Hebrews 13:3). Put yourself in the prisoners place and try to understand the way they think.

There are enormous differences in jails from one town to the next. In some urban areas they are virtual fortresses with large high-rise buildings. In sparsely populated areas the entire unit may consist of one cell. Christians need to get acquainted with their local situation and adapt their calls and their Christian ministry to the facilities that exist. Above all, however, is the need to make regular contact at this institution to be assured that no prisoner passes through the local jail without some form of witness from a local Christian.

The county or city jail offers the average citizen a real opportunity to do mission work right in his own home town in a ministry that most Christians neglect. The local lockup contains souls that need the Gospel of Jesus Christ just as certainly as any foreign mission field and it is located near your own home.


Very little has been written about the trauma or fear connected with arrest, prosecution and incarceration as it concerns the prison ministry. The general public thinks that this fear is what the criminal deserves for committing the crime. The police use this fear and uncertainty to obtain information and confessions. The lawyers exploit this fear in prisoners to expedite due process of law and speed up plea bargaining. The men and women who minister in prison need to understand this fear or trauma to properly approach their prospect with the Gospel o Jesus Christ. It is an awesome f experience to be arrested, jailed and put on trial. No one can adequately explain what it is like to be detained without going through the experience. The total change and interruption of the regular daily schedule, plus the uncertainty surrounding a sudden arrest will jolt almost anyone into a traumatic state.

The lack of a foreseeable future is very frustrating. All of this contributes to the paranoia that will last a long time after the new inmate is jailed and later rele ased back into society.

When the police arrest a person there is usually no announcement or warning as one or two squad cars converge and the handcuffs are applied and locked. Arresting officers use handcuffs for all types of crimes such as murder, rape, armed robbery and the simplest property offenses, such as bad checks, petty theft or income tax evasion. Police officers don’t usually play “Mr. Nice Guy” at the time of the initial arrest and transportation to the local jail. They do their job according to set procedures.

The suspect may then be charged with several crimes (or different charges for the same event) to give the prosecutor a chance to make a deal with him or “plea bargain.” If the new suspect can work out a deal to avoid a trial he will start his prison sentence immediately, or he could face several months of traumatic wait and a jury trial. In any case, the prison sentence he is facing will almost certainly begin soon. A prison experience can be a terrible thing and a traumatic event as you take up your new life in the state or federal penitentiary. It is an unforgettable day when you walk out in the yard of a major United States prison for the first time as a brand new inmate. You suddenly realize that you are a prisoner in one of the nation’s penal institutions and your prison sentence is very much for real.

As you serve your time and wait for the parole board to act on your case, you go through the uncertainty of a release date. The unstable nature of many of the inmates has its effect on you as you witness violence, or experience threats that keep you constantly on guard for your own personal safety.

All of these feelings slowly generate an attitude about the entire prison experience. When the day comes to walk out the front door of the prison and you try to start your life over, emotionally you are not the same person. You have had a terrifying experience and you will be a little different from that day on for the rest of your life.

Our job as witnesses for Jesus Christ in prison is to anticipate this fear at every stage of incarceration and adjust our ministry to this paranoia. How can we do this? There are two ways.

First: Be aware of the trauma and adjust your Christian message to it. You may not need to preach much “law” inside the prison wall. The prisoner may well be aware that he has broken the commandments and does need the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The trauma of arrest and jail will actually help prepare many to receive it. Men who could not be reached outside the prison wall may often have an open mind and heart for the Gospel message after they are locked up. Use your knowledge of this to deliver a better witness and be more effective ministering in prison.

One problem may be that the inmate realizes that he is in trouble with society, does not understand that he is in trouble also with God, not just because of the crime which caused him to be locked up but because of unbelief and lovelessness and all kinds of other wrongs. From God’s law he needs to learn the full extent of his problem. Because of his lack of religious training, he may have little awareness of this problem.

12 Second: Consider the conduct of the inmate and particularly the ex-offender as he is affected by this terror. Actually observe him under the influence of this fear and paranoia. It will help you understand the inmates regular conversation and personal conduct. Most inmates are not dangerous but they often act defensively, by our way of thinking, outside the wall (or “on the street,” as they say in prison). This can only be explained by taking into account the paranoia that goes along with a jail sentence. Men and women who go into prison to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ must realize this natural reaction, in each inmate, as part of their ministry and adjust to it. It will work for you if you consider the consequences of this fear.

Understanding the trauma of arrest, prosecution and incarceration is important to your success as an evangelist; but more important is the fact that we understand our subject. This paranoia gains strength the longer the inmate is locked up and it lessens with each passing month after his release from jail.

It is easy to recognize this fear if you are aware of it. This explains much of the strange conduct often associated with convicts or ex-offenders. There are many factors involved in locking people up in our society today and this is one of the hidden costs that is not always counted. There is little connection between public safety and this paranoia, but understanding this obstacle will make you a much more effective missionary in prison.

May the Lord help us overcome this special problem as we minister in prisons and jails.


Many well-meaning Christians put all inmates into one general category that i cludes dirt, drugs, n and derogatory language. The television version of “Rocky the Convict” with his ball and chain hardly fits today’s prison population. The modern day inmate is under 28 years old, chemically dependent (drugs or alcohol), and a grade school drop-out. While he is above normal in intelligence, he is way below average in grade level. He has probably gone to school (on the average) through the ninth grade, but he will test out at the seventh or eighth grade level. He usually has no formal church training and has not been baptized. He may come from a broken home and was probably abused to some extent as a child. He is serving his first prison term, although he has probably been arrested before as a juvenile at least once.

His prison sentence (the one he will really serve) is about 18 months to 24 months of actual jail time and he probably will not come back into the prison system again after he gets out. If he does repeat and comes back to prison, it is likely that he will do so within two years after his release. About one-third of the first offenders will actually come back although some of them may return several times. Other than this description of a typical average inmate, the prison system holds all kinds of people from the 70year-old rapist and the New York stock broker to the small town banker and the local drug pusher at the area high school. There is one thing about almost all offenders that few people consider. They are often frustrated doers or achievers.

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