Sitting watching ‘The Prisoners’ on BBC iplayer I was amazed by how many ‘Crystal”s I can remember, how many ‘Jade’s my heart has broken for. I am pleased the documentary seems to depict, in a very real way, the true paths so many people follow-the ‘revolving door’ so many feel trapped in.
My head has been going over and remembering so many girls like Jade. Girls who are so young and have been in and out of prison too many times. Women who are broken from a history of abuse and neglect and begin to find their home inside prison walls. Yet the hope that I have seen in lives changed and women breaking out of that pattern to newness and an end to generational cycles of prisoners.
I have worked also with many girls like Crystal. I worked last year with girls who were in a relationship and I had loved getting to know them in prison. I will call them Ali&Sam, Ali was 19yrs and Sam was 22yrs. They had met in prison and started a relationship, they loved each other very much. Ali was interested in chapel and came to my group..Sam started coming to but I knew it was only really to see Ali! Upon release they contacted me a while after they had got out and explained what was happening.
Sam had got out of prison first and had nowhere to stay. She had been offered a room by another girl in prison. Sam moved in and very quickly was addicted to heroin after first dealing it as ‘rent’ for the ‘friend’ from prison. After not very long Ali was released and joined them in the house, soon she too was addicted. In order for them to pay for there habit as well as stay in the house their ‘friend’ said Sam would need to sleep with a range of men that would be set up for her.
Thank God, Ali found out and immediately they packed up and left. They were now homeless. They had been living on the streets for a couple of weeks untill they contacted me to ask for help. At first I felt so hopeful that I could sort out all this mess, that I had the solutions and would see change where others had failed them. I was so shocked to see their appearance and the illness’ they were getting from living rough and addictions.
We met with housing people and I rang charities and looked into all kinds of things on day one. My number one rule is, and always will be,that I do not give out money directly and I really felt God was making that very clear to me. Day one was coming to about 3pm and the girls started getting very panicky. It was looking like all these organisations wouldn’t take them as a pair and wouldn’t be able to offer anything for a couple of weeks.
In order for the girls to not sleep on street but at least stay in a disgusting hostel, they needed to go and shoplift for money. I spoke to a housing guy, specialising in helping the homeless and sat right in his face and said
‘I don’t think you understand, if we don’t help them have somewhere to stay tonight, your telling me I have no option but to drop them off in town to shoplift? Then probably see them back in prison very soon?!’
Unfortunately yes that was the case. These girls were in a relationship, they have a history between them that could write a very ‘unrealistic’ episode of EastEnders They didn’t want to be separated and would rather sleep together on a street than separate in a hostel and have risk of abuse. Which they had both suffered previously. I got them food parcel and did everything I could, but ultimately had to drop them off in town.
This continued for a few days. I went and visited Ali’s mum in Manchester one day. I sat and asked about the reasons she couldn’t be at home. One was due to Sam’s bad influence on Ali, something I was very aware of myself. Then she explained that even if they weren’t together, Ali wouldn’t want to stay at her mums. The abuse she had been through happened in that house, as well as awful things I don’t want to delve into on the internet! I understood.
Ultimately these girls needed rehab. So I arranged it all, they would have to go separately but in the long term that would help them. I had been in talks with Ali’s probation worker and it was all set. If Ali just turned up on one day, signed a document she would be in rehab and getting on the right path.
She didn’t turn up. I rang and Sam answered pretending to not hear who it was and told me in not uncertain terms to F Off.
So much hard work and my heart so poured out to help them. Yet they were not willing to see the bigger picture and help themselves. I didn’t chase them, I just prayed for them. A few weeks later I saw them back in prison. Sam wouldn’t look at me but Ali brought me a tea bag (sounds weird but it was nice!) and thanked me for everything. She said she knows I did more than I was meant to, but one day she will be clean. She said nobody had ever cared for her as much as me.
What!? I had felt I did nothing. I felt like I had been used and actually just felt stupid. Yet I know there is hope. In each conversation during those days in the car we spoke of Jesus. Ali would always say she knew Him, she had amazing stories of strength and knowing his protection..she said she just found it hard to be like Him. So even if those days were to plant seeds..I need to take that. This song really helped me think about them as I prayed and questioned God at this time. He is our protection, and I couldn’t forgive myself it I left them just the way I found them.
The only thing the tv show was missing was Jesus. I felt it was so obvious in each story that the women (and man) needed unconditional love. That is why prison was Jade’s home, because one officer loved her continually-even after she self harmed, she fought her, she swore at her, she repeated offending behaviour- this officer was always there to sit with a kind word. That is why prison was her home.
I thank Jesus for The Message Trust and Reflex. They have seen the need of these cycles and are making a real change. To know now that a girl can come to my group, then upon release come into one of our House of Hope and be supported by a church and loved by a community-as well as gaining the responsibility and trust of having a job with a wage. Unbelievable So much as these shows can seem hopeless, some stories don’t have the perfect ending (yet). We can trust God that his plans are far bigger than ours!
Please pray today for all those working in prison;
For the officers, that the awful things they deal with each day won’t haunt their dreams.
For the inmates, that they would see the truth of the gospel and find a strength and a new way with him.
For reflex workers and chaplaincy teams, that they would be encouraged and see hope in each life no matter how dark it looks.
For Sam&Ali, that soon I will be able to tell a positive end, that they are no longer addicts but are beautiful women of God and have a bright future.