David's Story

David's Story

David Spademan is the National Chaplaincy Representative for AOG. He is employed full time as a Managing Chaplain in a public sector prison. David is part of the steering group for Free Church Chaplaincy in HM Prison Service. He tells us about the importance of creating safe space in prisons.

Hope for the future often happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves

For me it was never something that I planned to do. I was on the leadership team of a local church and due to some changes I was asked to take on the role of senior minister on a part time basis. But I needed to do something else to bring in an income for me and my family. I began to look through my options and during that time of searching prisons kept coming up in every conversation, wherever I went prisons were mentioned and over time I really began to see what prison ministry could look like for me and the rest as they say is history.

Now as Managing Chaplain of HMP Onley, I’m responsible for the pastoral care of 742 prisoners and around 500 staff who work at the prison many from different faiths and backgrounds. Day to day, the multi-faith team plan worship and activities for each faith group within the prison from teaching and training to the observance of particular religious festivals.

I’d to love be able to say to you that everything is very positive but that isn’t the case. Much of the work that we do is very routine. The stress of everyday can be wearing from time to time. Sadly we are often bearers of bad news in prison and so whenever there is bad news from family, we must validate that information and pass it on in an appropriate and caring way to the men. However, when you see someone who’s come into prison with all sense of hope or purpose beaten out of them through the circumstances of life but leave the prison completely changed it’s hard not to be moved. You see them leave with a sense that they’ve got a hope for their future.

Often we find that this happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves and when they have opportunities to hear of faith and to respond to it. A few weeks ago I was quite moved, a prisoner who had just come into the establishment came out and knelt in the aisle of the Chapel during the worship time and actually then lay in the aisle as he was calling out to God. For me that was really wonderful that he felt able to express himself like that.

It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.

The regime of the prison is very structured by nature, it’s very institutionalised. We tell the men when they have to go to bed at night, we tell them when they’ve got to get up and have breakfast,  we tell them when they’ve got to go to work and come back from work and go to education and have their meals. So it’s important for that there’s an opportunity for some spontaneity within worship that they’re not there just because its part of the prison regime. It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.

But it also happens when we give prisoners the opportunities to ask the big questions about life and faith such as on Alpha. I’ve personally been involved in Alpha for a few years now and I’ve run Alpha on the outside of prison as well. Within the prison environment it allows people, as part of their religious training, to come to that place of discovery and it’s really useful tool for prisoners to explore their faith, especially when we can utilize volunteers to help facilitate this. I’m very passionate about the world of prison being part of the wider community, not to be seen as silent where we just lock people up so the public feel that 

We need to work with the men, women and the young people in prison to help them to become fully functioning and participating members of our society. One of my biggest challenges is to get church leaders to come into prison. Many of the churches that I know, in fact all of the churches have some kind of missions policy or statement of ministry yet there aren’t many churches who have an active prisons ministry, yet the bible is very clear, we need to remember those in prison. My challenge to church leaders is, have you been in to remember the people in prison? So for me, even with a very busy schedule, I will always prioritise time to bring a church leader into prison because I find that then changes their perspective as they begin to appreciate what it’s like to be in prison and to visit it. I’ve got a great passion for breaking down those barriers and that is driven by my faith, my faith is everything.

If you’re thinking about getting involved in Prison Ministry the first thing I’d say is you need to pray. I wouldn’t be in prison unless I felt a real sense of call from God to be there. Clearly there is not space in all the prisons for everyone to come in so we need people praying for us and supporting us. Certainly there are moments when we all feel like saying that’s it, I’m going to walk away, it’s too tough, but I’m there and I remain there because I feel that its where God has called me to be. I’m privileged to have friends that are praying for me on a regular basis and without the support of praying friends then I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Most prison chaplaincies are seeking volunteers, we couldn’t to half of what we do in prison without some very good and capable volunteers who work with us. So make an approach, find your nearest prison, contact the chaplain, and say 'Hey, how can I come and be part of what you’re doing.'

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David's Story

David's Story

David Spademan is the National Chaplaincy Representative for AOG. He is employed full time as a Managing Chaplain in a public sector prison. David is part of the steering group for Free Church Chaplaincy in HM Prison Service. He tells us about the importance of creating safe space in prisons.

Hope for the future often happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves

For me it was never something that I planned to do. I was on the leadership team of a local church and due to some changes I was asked to take on the role of senior minister on a part time basis. But I needed to do something else to bring in an income for me and my family. I began to look through my options and during that time of searching prisons kept coming up in every conversation, wherever I went prisons were mentioned and over time I really began to see what prison ministry could look like for me and the rest as they say is history.

Now as Managing Chaplain of HMP Onley, I’m responsible for the pastoral care of 742 prisoners and around 500 staff who work at the prison many from different faiths and backgrounds. Day to day, the multi-faith team plan worship and activities for each faith group within the prison from teaching and training to the observance of particular religious festivals.

I’d to love be able to say to you that everything is very positive but that isn’t the case. Much of the work that we do is very routine. The stress of everyday can be wearing from time to time. Sadly we are often bearers of bad news in prison and so whenever there is bad news from family, we must validate that information and pass it on in an appropriate and caring way to the men. However, when you see someone who’s come into prison with all sense of hope or purpose beaten out of them through the circumstances of life but leave the prison completely changed it’s hard not to be moved. You see them leave with a sense that they’ve got a hope for their future.

Often we find that this happens when we create Safe Space for prisoners to be themselves and when they have opportunities to hear of faith and to respond to it. A few weeks ago I was quite moved, a prisoner who had just come into the establishment came out and knelt in the aisle of the Chapel during the worship time and actually then lay in the aisle as he was calling out to God. For me that was really wonderful that he felt able to express himself like that.

It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.

The regime of the prison is very structured by nature, it’s very institutionalised. We tell the men when they have to go to bed at night, we tell them when they’ve got to get up and have breakfast,  we tell them when they’ve got to go to work and come back from work and go to education and have their meals. So it’s important for that there’s an opportunity for some spontaneity within worship that they’re not there just because its part of the prison regime. It’s important to create an environment without distraction where people can respond.

But it also happens when we give prisoners the opportunities to ask the big questions about life and faith such as on Alpha. I’ve personally been involved in Alpha for a few years now and I’ve run Alpha on the outside of prison as well. Within the prison environment it allows people, as part of their religious training, to come to that place of discovery and it’s really useful tool for prisoners to explore their faith, especially when we can utilize volunteers to help facilitate this. I’m very passionate about the world of prison being part of the wider community, not to be seen as silent where we just lock people up so the public feel that 

We need to work with the men, women and the young people in prison to help them to become fully functioning and participating members of our society. One of my biggest challenges is to get church leaders to come into prison. Many of the churches that I know, in fact all of the churches have some kind of missions policy or statement of ministry yet there aren’t many churches who have an active prisons ministry, yet the bible is very clear, we need to remember those in prison. My challenge to church leaders is, have you been in to remember the people in prison? So for me, even with a very busy schedule, I will always prioritise time to bring a church leader into prison because I find that then changes their perspective as they begin to appreciate what it’s like to be in prison and to visit it. I’ve got a great passion for breaking down those barriers and that is driven by my faith, my faith is everything.

If you’re thinking about getting involved in Prison Ministry the first thing I’d say is you need to pray. I wouldn’t be in prison unless I felt a real sense of call from God to be there. Clearly there is not space in all the prisons for everyone to come in so we need people praying for us and supporting us. Certainly there are moments when we all feel like saying that’s it, I’m going to walk away, it’s too tough, but I’m there and I remain there because I feel that its where God has called me to be. I’m privileged to have friends that are praying for me on a regular basis and without the support of praying friends then I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Most prison chaplaincies are seeking volunteers, we couldn’t to half of what we do in prison without some very good and capable volunteers who work with us. So make an approach, find your nearest prison, contact the chaplain, and say 'Hey, how can I come and be part of what you’re doing.'

Ali & Mike's Story

Ali & Mike's Story

God spoke to Elijah, not in a fire but in a gentle whisper — 1 Kings 19:11-13

In true 21st Century style, our ‘gentle whisper’ came in the form of an email. An email that could have very early got lost in a torrent of admin, actually turned out to be an answer to prayer... an invitation to come and run Alpha in prisons!  

As part of our church, King’s Arms Bedford, we have always passionately believed in reaching the poor, the disadvantaged and those on the fringes of society. We were originally involved with the homeless, and after praying about what to do in terms of Alpha leadership, our answer literally popped into our inbox.  

Now, as Alpha Leaders working with prisoners, we endeavour to create safe space for our guests on the course. On a day to day basis, this looks like setting up a room, creating an informal, comfortable environment, praying, and then the guys come and join us. For us, it’s all about relationships, so we really try to communicate respect and belief to everyone who walks through the door. Therefore we feel it’s important to make it really relaxed for the first 10 minutes so we can hang out and just get to know each other. Once people know they’re genuinely accepted and respected, they feel safe to then explore their beliefs and be honest. We drop our vulnerabilities and are honest and open about our beliefs and then they are more likely to reciprocate.  

In a prison context especially, loving and accepting people regardless of their past is vital to them opening up and being honest in conversation when exploring faith and talking about really personal topics. I think this is what enables us to help people open up; often these guys don’t have anyone who loves them unconditionally and respects them no matter what they say, so to offer that is so different to what they’ve experienced before, and therefore provokes a different reaction in them.  

The most positive aspect of being part of an Alpha team in prison is seeing lives changed in a genuine way. Our role is not without challenges. With it being a short course you might meet someone one week, over the next week they’ve got caught, or they’re at the gym, or something happens and they get privileges taken away and you don’t see them again. Despite all of these potential setbacks we have had the privilege of seeing God work in their lives: we have literally seen lives changed - people coming in and being completely changed by the time they go. 

One guy did three courses with us, and when we first met him he was always in trouble for being violent, for the way he reacted to things which often led to his privileges being taken away. By the end of the third course and because of his new relationship with God, he was on the least secure wing with the highest level of benefits, by the time he left he was completely changed. We get to be a part of life change, but we also get to witness how God is moving amongst these individuals in ways we could never imagine or conceive. There’s this amazing story of one guy who came to Alpha because he had been reading his cellmate’s Bible. He’d put it on his chest and had suddenly experienced the Holy Spirit, and so he came to Alpha because he wanted to know what had happened and what it was all about. We are not on our own, God is doing incredible things around the country and we are so pleased that we can play a part in this great adventure. 

We get to see that God is the one who is at work in the lives of all of us, and in the guys we are speaking to. In one sense, our job is just to be ourselves and see what the Holy Spirit does. It lifts off any need to perform or pressure to get it right. We simply get to go and see what God is doing. We have an awesome voluntary team working with us from King’s Arms, the guys on the course often ask why we do what we do and the volunteers have great opportunities to talk about their values and about the way God sees them. We get to talk to them about what we’ve experienced in terms of freedom  and what we believe is available for them.  

The dream is that the gospel gains momentum. We want to see guys come to faith and from there, raise up others. We want them to be so drastically changed by their encounter with God, that they start to lead others to him, so that the good news of Jesus spreads through the prison without us even having to talk to people. To some degree this is already happening, we’ve seen prisoners encouraging others to come along to Alpha, and starting to talk to their cellmates about God: but we know that God has more planned. We want to be a blessing to the whole prison and to positively impact the culture.  

We would greatly encourage churches to get involved in running Alpha in prison. If you are reading this and are thinking about getting involved, we would massively encourage you to respond to God’s whisper. We want to seek the lost in the dark places. Give it a go and see what happens.  

Jemma's Story

Jemma's Story

The beauty of my job is that every individual and their stories are different.

I come from a nursing background, working in the sector for about 20 years. I loved my job, but cuts started to crawl in and circumstances just started to shift. I felt that I was supposed to be moving on to something new but I always imagined it would be something I’m experienced in rather than anything dramatically different.  I prayed quite a bit about what it was God wanted me to do next. The more I got to know about what St Aldates were doing, the more my heart was stirred and so I resigned from my hospital job and started volunteering for ACT and have been there ever since.  

I’m a housing coordinator/support worker and essentially on a daily basis we go to the houses, and simply just spend time chatting with the tenants and building relationships with them. We also talk practicalities such as budgeting, shopping, cooking- and I support them in how to live in the most cost-effective and efficient way. We do that throughout the week and our doors are always open for our tenants to come and use us if they need to chat about something. We ensure that we create a safe space for them to come and feel valued, feel supported and feel loved. It’s just what we do. 

So the beauty of my job is that every individual and their stories are different, therefore we don't categories them. I have supported people who have pretty much been life-long institutionalised, people who have gone from children’s home to young offenders to prison for large percentage of their lives, and are just beginning to experience a new life on the outside. To people who have actually only just had a short spell in prison, perhaps only a year and that was their only taste of anything to do with prison and so actually it was a massive shock to have to deal with that. Some people come with mental health needs, addiction issues, it’s a real mixed bag but each one is an individual who’s life is broken.  

For me, the best part of my job is being part of a transformed life and seeing God do something amazing with somebody who has been so broken. I can’t imagine anything better than being part of someone’s journey. When something has been so dark, so broken, so lost, so hopeless, and then they come into the safety of a home and experience family. And through hard work of their own and through God’s grace and mercy, they have been able to live differently and to turn their life around. Thats why I love my job! But with every job, comes the aspects that I struggle with. My heart has been broken for these people. It’s so sad when you’ve worked with somebody, and seen them make steps forward, to then see them get tangled up in relapse that leads to a downward spiral and then they have to leave the houses.We try to offer as much support as possible in order to keep these people in the system, but in certain circumstances, there is no other option, and that is really hard- the hardest part of my job.  

My faith massively impacts the way that I work, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing, nor would I be able to do what I am doing without it. I always laugh that God has made this possible. In my previous career, I did it because I was fully trained and equipped to do the job. I’ve got no background in this, it can only be God. As they say, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.’ Every time I drive to a house I call out to God to help me, I depend on his Holy Spirit massively and I spend a huge amount of time listening to him for what these guys need. 

I love the fact you are doing ‘safe space’ as a theme this year. I think it’s massive, some of the people we are working with who are longing to turn their lives around have often mixed with the wrong crowd, but a safe space is key to keeping these people on the right track. I think the thing we have noticed within ACT is just the sense of family which has grown massively since we created the safe space. There’s much more laughter and camaraderie and guys looking out for one another. What community should look like. 

For anybody who is thinking about this area of work or maybe just wanting to dip their toe in, I would say find somebody who is already doing it and join in with them. Generally there are people out there doing some amazing stuff and they are always looking for people to be part of it. And I would say don’t wait for all the right boxes to be ticked, for you to be qualified, to be trained, to be called with an audible voice, don’t wait, this is God’s heart and he longs for us to step out in faith and just start doing, as opposed to waiting. Be pro-active, seek God, and be obedient to his calling, and you will see great things.