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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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There are four things that you should remember as you minister to the family of a prisoner.

FIRST: Many of the necessities of daily life are furnished by welfare for needy dependent family members of any inmate. This is part of the high cost of incarceration in our society today. As Christians, we can help with the special needs of the prisoner’s family like moving, automobile repair, prison transportation, and by checking that the daily necessities of life such as food, clothing and housing are actually furnished by welfare.

SECOND: The trauma and emotional effects of arrest, trial and incarceration are shared by the inmate’s family and friends. They go through the strain of lockup and the brutal reality of the justice system with their loved one. Although they may not show it, they will be under this strain when you contact them.

THIRD: Relatives feel “locked-up” with their loved one who is in prison and they will continue to have this feeling to some degree until that person is released from jail. There is no way that anyone can adequately explain what it is like to have a loved one in prison without going through that experience personally. We must try to put ourselves in their place and try to understand how they must feel so that we can successfully minister to a prisoner’s family.

FOURTH: It is well to remember that marriages are under a terrible strain at this time due to the total separation of both marriage partners. Survival of the marriage may depend on your Christian understanding and concern. If the prisoner can come home to a loving and waiting family, he has a much greater chance of avoiding crime and staying out of prison in the future.

The family of the prison inmate is deeply concerned about the absence and lock-up of their loved one. There are 10 things that you can do to ease the terrible burden they carry and deliver the message of salvation at the same time.

1. Pray for the prisoner and pray for his family. Nothing is more important than prayer!

2. Specifically, testify to the prisoner’s family about your personal faith in Christ Jesus and invite them to share it.

3. Welcome them into your church without condemning them for what their loved one may have done.


4. Visit the inmate at the prison and tell the relatives how well the visit went for you.

5. Include the prisoner’s family in community and church affairs to help them lead a normal life while they wait.

6. Assist the prisoner’s family with special needs as moving or car repair.

7. Help the family arrange transportation to the jail for regular prison visits.

8. Keep yourself fully informed by subscribing to the prison newspaper or joining an established prison service organization so you can better understand the family’s needs.

9. Teach others about the special requirements of a prisoner’s family and invite them to help.

10. “Remember the prisoners as though in prison with them” (Hebrews 13:3). Also, remember the prisoner’s family and try to understand how they feel.

Churches or civic o rganizations in large metropolitan areas can consider operating a bus between the population center and the state penal institution. A modest fee can be charged to those who can afford it and the transportation can be given to those who can’t pay. A simple Christian ministry can be conducted during the bus trip enroute to the prison by dedicated Christians who ride along.

There is nothing that will benefit an inmate more after his release than a waiting Christian family that is ready to take him back and help him start his life over again. You can accomplish a dual purpose by bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the prisoner’s family and helping the inmate readjust to society when you minister to the family of someone in prison.


Most people who visit in prison do not understand the meaning of parole and probation, but there is an important difference. Probation is really a stayed prison sentence. If the convict under a prison sentence does certain things as prescribed by the court such as obey the law in the future and make restitution for a specified period of time, he will never actually have to go to jail.

Many inmates that you will minister to in prison are there because they “failed” probation. Their prison sentence is no longer “stayed” and they are now in jail to serve their actual prison sentence.

There is usually no daily credit for time served in probation and the full sentence is ahead of them starting from day number one. Men who have gone through this and failed probation are also afraid they will “fail” parole.

Parole status is prison time, so to speak. Some inmates call it “easy prison time,” but not all prisoners regard it that way. Inmates do not trust the system and they simply do not want to serve time on parole. This feeling is so intense in many prisoners that they will actually sit in prison a year or two longer to avoid any parole time. They simply do not trust themselves or their ability to serve parole time successfully. Each day served on parole is one day of prison time and usually counts (in most states) as such. If the parole is violated the inmate is returned to jail, but the “clock is still running,” as prisoners say, and the original sentence is reduced by all of the time served including the parole time that was successful.

It is important to know this because your prisoner is thinking about these things and your approach to him has to reach him through the system that controls him. His thinking is affected by probation, probation violation, incarceration and eventual parole plus the possibility of a parole failure. If you consider this fact with the uncertainty for the future that he has, you actually have the formula for failure on the street unless he has Jesus Christ in his life.

There are two important facts about parole and release that every prison minister should know.

FIRST: There is no day that is lower in your life than the day that you go to jail and no day that is more joyous or happier than the one when you get out of prison. Take it from the author of this book who is an ex-offender.

SECOND: Few inmates ever go back to jail if they know Jesus Christ as their Savior. This is a fact!

In one prison after another across the United States, the author finds that sincere adult Christians have a nearly perfect record for staying out of jail. This is your number one selling point (after salvation) as a reason for believing in Christ. Inmates are traditionally afraid of release although they may not say so, but will accept release and successfully complete parole if they are Christians.

Your ministry in prison will have a three-fold result. It will save a soul. It will change a lifestyle inside and outside the prison wall. It will save your state or federal government a lot of money for future imprisonment. This is how important your work as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be inside the prison walls.

Be aware of the trauma of arrest, incarceration, the joy of release as well as the uncertainty of parole from the point of view of an inmate, and minister to him with confidence and love. After all, our Lord died that we might live for Him—even on parole!


A prison term can be a terrible thing and ex-offenders have had a traumatic experie nce. They tend to distrust the justice system and society in general. They need our acceptance and understanding. Their background and prison sentence often leaves a deep scar on their emotional make-up. Your ministry and the love of Jesus Christ can help them over-come the trauma and paranoia caused by being locked up in prison. If they are new Christians, we need to accept them into our churches and realize that their prison sentence may influence their attitude and actions for sometime to come. They need our acceptance, tolerance and prayers.

One of the most difficult tasks that any Christian can face today is ministering to an ex-offender.

The social, educational and personal experience background of the ex-convict is so different that basic understanding and communications are hard to achieve. Both pastors and laymen often experience difficulty in relating to ex-convicts and in delivering their divine message without sounding like a New Testament Pharisee. Even the most effective evangelists may not succeed in reaching these individuals for Christ.

Ministering to an ex-offender is much the same as ministering to a recovering alcoholic. Often the two are one and the same person. Many times an offender is caught and prosecuted because his drug or alcohol problem slowed his judgment or reaction time. Maybe he got the “nerve” to go ahead with a particular crime while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Often we are ministering to a combination recovering alcoholic and ex-convict.

It is a common mistake to assume that all criminals are repeaters, just as it is an error to assume that alcoholics cannot recover. Figures show that nearly two-thirds of all convicts released from the prison system in the United States never return to jail.

While there is no accurate national population census on ex-convicts, it is reliably estimated that there are over 10 million ex-offenders in America today who are quietly forgetting the past and hoping no one will remember or ever find out. It is easy to see how more than 500,000 men and women in our prisons and local jails can quickly multiply into millions of ex-offenders. More than half of them finish their sentences and are released back into society each year and two-thirds of them never go back to any jail in the future.

The important thing about an ex-convict is that he wants to forget. He firmly believes he has paid his debt to society and he doesn’t need to be reminded of his past failure. If we can honestly treat him as “paid in full” in the eyes of the law, we can conduct a much more successful ministry. Most ex-convicts never talk about their experiences nor advertise their status as such. They are in your neighborhood, factory, church or civic group and you simply don’t know about it. They seldom discuss their past life with anyone. These ex-offenders present a distinct and different challenge for your evangelistic effort.

The average American citizen does not realize the basic problems that most ex-convicts face in everyday life. Normally they cannot make even small credit purchases without help from a co-signer or guarantor. Insurance companies sometimes hesitate to issue any type of liability insurance to them because they feel that an ex-convict does not make a “good witness” in court in future litigation resulting from the policy coverage.

Many times the ex-convict faces family and financial problems as a result of his prosecution and incarceration. He knows he may never be able to win a criminal trial again even if he is innocent because most juries will not consider him to be a good and creditable witness and accept his testimony in self-defense. He is forever on guard against the blunt and outspoken citizen who wants to verbally put him down because of his criminal record and he tries to avoid these obvious confrontations.

It takes an ex-convict at least one year after he is released to start thinking normally. Some prisoners, who have been locked up for several years, need three years or more to adjust their thinking 27 to the outside. Prison life requires special defensive thinking a self-preservation or loner attitudes that fit into the inmate culture of a penitentiary. After you have adjusted to life inside the prison wall, it takes time to readjust to the outside society.

By outward appearance the ex-offender is normal and he obeys the law as he sets an acceptable daily schedule for himself, but the inner person is still emotionally tuned to prison life. The author is an ex-convict and can personally relate to these problems and needs. No one can ever adequately explain what it is like to be locked up month after month and year after year! You must try to understand incarceration to minister to the ex-offender.

There are three distinct areas that affect the attitude of the ex-convict toward your ministry:

FIRST: He lacks self-respect that obviously comes from being locked up in a social system that attaches a certain stigma to imprisonment.

SECOND: He has a mistrust for society that comes from watching a system come down hard on him, while missing many o thers who deserve punishment just as much as he does. He has viewed the many others who deserve punishment just as much as he does. He has viewed the many inequities in the justice system over the years and is afraid it will fail again for him.

THIRD: He usually lacks a secondary education to communicate with you and digest what you have to say. He also may not be able to read the regular Christian literature that you use in your ministry. Ex-convicts are well above the national average in basic intelligence, but are well below average in literacy and grade level. As such, they present a good profile as a potential learning group but are not easily trainable because of the lack of self-respect, mistrust for society in general, and a basic lack of reading ability.

If the ex-offender is still married he may need many months to readjust to his wife, who has become accustomed to living alone. He may also need to overlook an affair that his wife may have had because of the lonely months or years without her husband. As you minister to this ex-offender you can only guess that this may be the case. Experienced prison counselors will tell you that such an arrangement by the wife is more common if the husband’s incarceration lasts more than one year.

The ex-offender may be concealing more than marital infidelity, also. He may know of hideous crimes that are not yet solved or ones that were planned while he was in jail. He may have committed other crimes that have not caught up with him yet and lives in the uncertainty of the situation until the statute of limitations expires on the event, which may be several years away. Sometimes the statutes never expire on a specific event. All these things plague an ex-offender along with the trauma of his arrest and incarceration.

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