Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
My son-in-law sent me a book entitled ‘40 stories of Hope’. It is book that the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have recommended as the Lent course for 2018. It contains 40 stories, mostly by prisoners or ex offenders, telling how faith in Christ has changed their lives,
Having once been involved in the criminal justice system, I have visited several penal institutions, from the austere, terrifying Victorian inner city prisons to some more modern Youth Offender Units. All had the same claustrophobic effect. Once that steel door clanged shut the outside world was a foreign place and all hope vanished. I was grateful that I would be there for just a few hours, and that I could sleep in my own bed at night. The prospect of being confined in such a place, with a lot of people I did not know, or even want to know, for years on end would have terrified me. It is not surprising to find a high rate of suicide amongst the more vulnerable inmates. Some prisoners were old lags who had spent half their life or more behind bars, but some were young men and women serving their first custodial sentence. That was sad to see especially as seven out of ten young people released from prison reoffend in the first year after release.
Perhaps the saddest visit I had to make was to a women’s prison. Here a number of foreign women were serving a long sentence for smuggling drugs into the country before being deported on their release. You have no sympathy for them? You are not alone. To Mr Big counting his ill-gotten gains safely on the other side of the border she is already ancient history, she was always expendable. To her family she no longer exists whilst her children have already forgotten her. Hope may seem far off for all prisoners but in such situations it must seem non-existent.
Now, before you start throwing stones remember that none of us is perfect; all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet to God the Father she, and we, are all His beloved, though erring children. He is waiting for us to repent, to turn to Him. So there is hope because, as Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury says in his foreword to the book. “The resurrection of Christ is the hope for our world, because it proclaims the defeat of all that is evil and destroys human nature”.
Lent is a time to reach out to support those working with people in the criminal justice system. Through growing links with prisons, victim support services and other organisations we can serve God. But on a personal level let us turn away from our sinfulness and recommit ourselves to following Christ. Then hope will be fulfilled as Our Father welcomes us home with open arms.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK