When a Loved One Goes to Jail – Prison Ministry Making a Difference
By: Amy Cheng
Fourteen years ago, Jill’s* husband was arrested and sent to prison, but that was just the beginning of her story.
“I was at work at the time and my daughter rang me crying to say that the police had come and taken him away,” she said in an interview.
“I rang the police station where they said they’d taken him to ask if I could come and see him and they told me ‘no’, that I wasn’t allowed to see him, so I had no idea what was happening.”
At the time, Jill was the only person in the family bringing in an income and she also had three children to look after.
“My other problem was that I had always been brought up as a Christian in a very sheltered Christian home and I had absolutely no experience with jail,” she said.
“I didn’t know anybody who’d been to jail, didn’t know what to do and… because my husband’s case was on the television and in the papers and magazines, everybody knew.”
But nobody would talk to her about it, she said, nobody asked how she was going or if she needed help.
“For me, it meant I was totally isolated; I had no one to talk to or who understood what I was going through or how I felt.
“I just felt totally alone, so I typed into the internet for help for people who have someone in jail… and up popped Kairos.”
What is Kairos Outside?
There is a saying by those in prison: “We do the crime, but friends and family also share the time”, which refers to the impact their imprisonment has on their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and close female friends.
Kairos Outside provides support for these women, beginning with a weekend away that is free to attend; these are usually held every six months and have an average of 15 women or ‘guests’, as Kairos Outside refers to them.
All guests must be 18 years or older and, although the weekend is run by Christians, the women do not need to be Christian to attend.
“I was totally isolated; I had no one to talk to or who understood what I was going through or how I felt,” – Jill
Gill Begbie, Chair of the Kairos Outside Sydney region committee, believes this is a “unique sort of niche outreach”.
“If you’ve ever talked to a woman who has had, at any time, someone close to her in prison, the impact is absolutely devastating but the support is almost nil,” she said.
“There have been a few exceptions but, in the main, every single woman who comes to one of our weekends leaves changed and touched and strengthened for whatever lies ahead.”
Impact of Prison on Loved Ones
The imprisonment of a loved one can affect women differently, according to Ms Begbie.
“It depends on whether they’ve been aware of the person… stepping into the criminal world.
“If they have been, the arrest, court appearances and imprisonment don’t come with quite the degree of shock that it does to women who had absolutely no idea.
“It depends on the crime, but for the mothers, the greatest initial sense is guilt – What did I do wrong? Did I fall short as a parent? Did I not give my child the proper guidance?
“Whereas for the ones whose husbands or anybody close to them have done something that society deems just beyond the pale, their main feeling is one of shame and complete shattering of their world and disbelief.”
“If you’ve ever talked to a woman who has had, at any time, someone close to her in prison, the impact is absolutely devastating but the support is almost nil,” – Gill Begbie, Chair of the Kairos Outside Sydney region committee
Once that initial shock has been processed, then comes the reality of imprisonment, Ms Begbie said.
“They’ve got all the practical stuff; if it’s a breadwinner that’s gone to jail then, suddenly, they have to find work if they haven’t been working.
“I know women who’ve been left with five and six children and they’re the homebody and, suddenly, they’ve got to find a way forward to look after their kids.”
What Happens on the Weekend Away?
A month after her husband was arrested, Jill attended the weekend away.
“When I went on the weekend, I had no idea what to expect, absolutely nothing; and I probably didn’t contribute very much.
“When you go on the Friday night… you don’t know what’s going to happen and everybody’s a stranger and you’re scared, (so) you don’t open up much.
“But by Sunday, the impact the weekend had made, I can really say I have never felt unconditional love like that ever because people listened to me.”
“I can really say I have never felt unconditional love like that ever because people listened to me,” – Jill
The weekend consists of two full days and two evenings, beginning on Friday around 6pm and ending on Sunday afternoon.
During the weekend, the women receive support from Christians and are given the opportunity to interact with other women in similar situations and learn how to form small groups for support.
On Saturday evening, there is a ‘Walking in Love’ event open to other members of the Christian community.
This is a service where they can pray for the women and listen to stories about how the weekend is going – all this is done in confidence and nobody is identified.
“Then they make a pathway with candles and the guests move from one part of the venue to … the place where they’re going to do a really, really beautiful activity to demonstrate what forgiveness can look like,” Ms Begbie said.
“They often say that that was probably one of the most significant events for them on the weekend… it was just that sense of ‘these people have driven all this way just to see us for five minutes’.”
“That is a practical demonstration of what a true Christian community can look like and is often the reason why some of these women want to connect up with church,” – Gill Begbie, Chair of the Kairos Outside Sydney region committee
On Sunday afternoon, the closing activity is also open to Christians in the community, who are invited to come and welcome the guests into the wider Christian community.
“These people come again, they were here last night and they’re back again just to hear from these women and this is absolutely incredible,” Ms Begbie said.
“That is a practical demonstration of what a true Christian community can look like and is often the reason why some of these women want to connect up with church and see if they can find a place that accepts them.”
Pointing to God
The weekend had a big impact on Jill, she said.
“The whole weekend just pointed me to God and the love that those women showed was just amazing.
“It made me able to raise my head up again because I felt so ashamed that I was the only person, and so it even gave me courage.”
Ms Begbie believes the women find encouragement from hearing stories of how other women were able to forgive.
“They then often, not always, but often start reflecting on their own situation – if (that other woman) found a way through (or) even just beginning the forgiveness process… (and) we’re not expecting that it will be a one off.
“But even just beginning to let go of some of that resentment, deep anger and how someone else’s selfish actions stuffed up your life, they just have a new lightness, a new sense that this is possible.”
“The whole weekend just pointed me to God and the love that those women showed was just amazing,” – Jill
Men on the Team
Kairos Outside is a woman-to-woman ministry but there are usually four men who make up part of the team and this is intentional.
They serve in the kitchen and dining room only and have no other contact with the guests.
“Think about it, how many of the women have been deeply hurt by men who have ended up in prison?” Ms Begbie said.
“And here are godly Christian men who are… quiet, respectful, they treat the women with dignity, all things that many of them have never seen.
“It’s another living example of how God can work in people’s lives to change behaviour and attitude.”
Kairos Outside is a woman-to-woman ministry but there are usually four men on the team and this is intentional.
After the Weekend
When the weekend ends, women are followed up with ongoing support groups and regular reunions.
Some of these women later return to join the Kairos Outside team and help other women, such as Jill.
“I have kept connected with Kairos because I want to help other people who are in a similar situation to me.
“I’ve led two weekends and I’ve done just about every job on the team, and I just find that every time I do a weekend, I learn and I grow and it just keeps me focused on God.”
*Name has been changed
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash