FAQs for our Founding Director
What got you interested in prison ministry? Four years ago, I had no interest in prison ministry at all! But in 2018 a friend managed to persuade me to participate in a 5-day Kairos Inside mission at HMP Whitemoor, and during this time I got to see 18 lives be radically changed by the gospel. I soon learned that at that time, the chapel inside Whitemoor was the fastest growing church in the Diocese. As I got to know some of the men inside, it became apparent that there was a need for further discipleship material, as well as a deep hunger to learn more about theology. In this particular prison, we are ministering to people who are serving life sentences with very long minimum terms, so they do not have access to the usual resources that Christians on the outside have. My mission, therefore, is to pioneer this organisation with the aim of providing discipleship material, accredited theological training for ministry and mission, and regular support from Sponsor Churches on the outside.
Has something like this ever been done before? As far as I’m aware, this has not been done before in Britain. However, I have been in touch with an organisation in the USA called the Prison Seminaries Foundation, which has a similar model, connecting Maximum-Security Penitentiaries with local seminaries to run a four-year BA program in theology. Their main goal is to train their students in peer-to-peer Christian ministry, and they currently operate in 17 states with the view to expand to 12 more. In 2012 a group of criminologists conducted a peer reviewed study on the impact this program had on its pilot prison in Louisiana, and found that it had an overwhelmingly positive affect on inmate’s identity, which in turn enabled a pathway to desistance and rehabilitation. You can watch a talk given by one of the researchers here, or read the following publications: Hallet et al, The Angola Prison Seminary: Effects of Faith-Based Ministry on Identity Transformation, Desistance, and Rehabilitation (2017) Routledge and Johnson et al, The Restorative Prison: Essays on Inmate Peer Ministry and Prosocial Corrections (2022) Routledge.
Why aren’t you going into women’s prisons? In short, we are piloting our program in a Category-A men’s prison because we have an existing relationship with that prison, and we have noticed rapid growth in chapel attendance and strong engagement with faith-related activities. Our aim is to maximise pre-existing interest in the Christian faith and help take these people deeper in their spiritual journeys. We do have a vision to expand to other prisons in the future, and I am excited by the prospect of ministering in women’s prisons when we are able.
How is this different from Learning Together? We have a good relationship with a number of people who were involved in LT, and, while I fully endorse what their project was aiming for, the primary thing that makes us different is that we are faith-based. Their focus was more on making education accessible to all, whereas our focus is on enabling the church to better equip Christians inside with theology and discipleship material. What they did was a brilliant program that empowered a lot of people, but what makes us different is our specific calling to focus on Christians inside who want to mature in their faith and be equipped as ministers for the gospel.
What is your approach to risk, given the tragedy that happened on London Bridge in 2019? What happened at the Fishmonger’s Hall in 2019 was absolutely terrible, and we are doing everything we can to learn from what went wrong and navigate this pathway as best we can. I will never do anything that I know will openly put our staff or volunteers at risk, and I also want to be as sensitive as possible to the families of those who were killed. However, I also want to honour the legacy of those who were killed, and it is important to remember that they were deeply passionate about prisoner rehabilitation through education, and I wouldn’t want to veto our project when there is potential for so much benefit in this area.
Nevertheless, we do have to be careful with what we can and cannot offer the prison in terms of rehabilitation. We intend to measure the impact of our program by assessing how far each student has come in both their grades and their spiritual maturity, but we want to be clear that the ultimate responsibility of assessing their risk to the public lies with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. We strongly hope that spiritual input will contribute to the rehabilitation of each student that comes through our program, but it will be up to the PPS to decide the level of risk for each prisoner.
When it comes to our own internal risk assessments and safeguarding policy, we will be using the services of a safeguarding consultancy company, and an updated version of our policy will be available in due course.
Aren’t you worried about your safety? I will honestly say that I feel a lot safer inside than I do walking the streets of Cambridge at night! This is partly because I have very good rapport with the men but also because I am always accompanied by officers and chaplaincy staff. There is of course a need for healthy boundaries and a rigorous safeguarding policy, however I am not fearful of the people that we work with.
Why don’t you have a registered charity number? We will do. We are currently setting ourselves up as a registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), but we won’t get our number from the Charity Commission until this process is complete. While we are in this interim phase, all money that goes towards my salary comes under Stewardship’s charitable status.
How is this funded? Some very generous individuals, churches and foundations have gifted some start-up grants to get the project started, and we also have some very kind supporters who give on a monthly basis.
We are currently looking to increase our network of supporters so that the work can be financially sustainable. If you would like to become a financial supporter, click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a meeting to discuss things further.