Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

Archive for the tag “Pollsmoor Prison”

Step by Step – Pollsmoor Prayer Walks

A group from one of the prayer walks with Michael and his wife on the far left.

Every month, a group of Common Grounders pray their way around Pollsmoor Prison. Michael Elston shares how these walks have impacted him. 

My wife and I first started going to the monthly Pollsmoor prayer walk over a year ago. Initially, we both thought it may be a bit “hectic” and a bit “out there” for us. Since then we’ve been regulars and have also got most of our small group involved. All of us just keep wanting to go back! I guess it’s because we get to see God at work in such a vivid way. It’s such a privilege to partner with others in faith to see radical change in the prisons and our country. Each time we come away reminded of how little separates us from those we pray for.

Monthly, we hear testimonies of lives that have been affected by prayer. We come away so encouraged! Our worship leader, John, gave his life to Christ while a prisoner, getting caught up in the gangs in prison. He heard the sounds of prayer and worship every month from the prayer walkers and his heart slowly softened to the calling God had for him. He entrusted his life to God while a prisoner and is now serving us and those behind bars gloriously.

Through the prayer walk, run by Hope Prison Ministry, we’ve heard of families wrecked by murder being reunited, run-away daughters seeking forgiveness from their parents, and gangsters publicly denouncing their allegiance to the prison gangs. The stories of God working among us abound, yet our hearts in prayer continue to cry out for more of Christ’s work.

Luke, who runs the prayer walk for Hope Prison Ministries, said:

“The faithfulness of the prayer walkers at Pollsmoor is not only a massive encouragement to those of us that work inside the prisons (wardens), but it is also a huge witness to the clients who are locked behind the bars. So often the response from the clients, is one of that they cannot believe that people would come out at night and pray for them. That people from outside who don’t even know them would love and care for them so much that they would give up an evening to pray for them to be freed from this life that they live. That they would pray for gangsterism to be gone and for our correctional facilities to turn from prisons into palaces of praise!

“The prayer walk reminds me of the story from Daniel, where Daniel sent his request to the Lord and it took three weeks to receive an answer because of the war that was going on in the heavens, and the fact that the angel Michael had to come and fight. For me this is what would summarise the prayer walk, we are fighting a battle in the spiritual realm– one that we often don’t see, but one that is being won because of the prayers going up from 60-80 saints every month. What a joy and what an experience it is to be on the front line for the Lord, fighting against the physical battle which is crime in this country and fighting the spiritual battle for souls to return to their maker. Praise God.”

I end with the words of one of the songs we sing as we walk the Pollsmoor grounds:

“If you believe and I believe… the Holy Spirit will come down, and Pollsmoor will revive!”

– The Prayer Walks take place on the first Thursday of every month from 7-9.30pm. Would you like to find out more? Email info@commongood.org.za

Breaking the cycle

Last month, 20 prisoners from Pollsmoor graduated from Network’s job readiness programme, equipping them with the skills they’ll need to find employment after their release. In this post, Deborah Cuthbert takes a  look at some of the obstacles ex-offenders face and how we can support them as a community.

On Freedom Day in March this year, the president caused quite a stir when he announced the early release of  approximately 14 651 prisoners from prisons across the country. I’m sure many a law-abiding citizens heart skipped a beat when they heard this news. But have you ever considered that the prisoners and their families are concerned about this as well?

Let’s take a look at the story of Jo*.  Jo is one of these prisoners considered for early release.  He has been socialised into the prison system where virtually all decision-making has been taken away from him. Imagine being told when you must wake up and when you must go to sleep, when you must eat and when you must exercise, when you can see your family and when you can speak to your friends.All of these decisions have been taken out of Jo’s hands.  He hasn’t had to make any decisions for himself. Instead, he’s learnt to constantly be on his guard, watching his back for attackers.

Read more…

Breaking chains

By Deborah Cuthbert

One of my favourite musicals is Les Misérables.  Jean Valjean, an ex-prisoner, faces rejection by society until he is taken in by Bishop Myriel.  During the night, however, he ransacks Myriel’s house and flees, but is caught and brought back.  Instead of condemning him, Myriel gives Valjean two silver candlesticks which he said Valjean “forgot” and tells him to “go and make an honest man of himself.”  As Monsieur Madeleine, Valjean makes good on this “promise” and prospers as a factory owner, upstanding citizen and mayor.  However, he is doggedly pursued by policeman Javert, who wants to unmask his true identity.  What a picture of the journey an ex-offender makes back into society– where he or she faces too many Javerts and too few Myriels!

While for some, an offender’s time in prison results in an individual turning from crime, this is not the norm.  An estimated 85% of the 6 000 people released monthly from prison in South Africa go on to reoffend.  The offender spends days of little activity in close proximity to seasoned criminals and prison gangs.  They also lose contact with law-abiding support structures such as employment, friends and family.  When they leave prison, their needs are great.  It’s not just about ensuring that they have accommodation, food and work – they need a lot of support and guidance.

What can individual Christians do?

There are a number of NGO’s and ministries involved in working with offenders, such as NICRO, Young in Prison, Prison Care and Support Network, Realistic, Prison Fellowship International, Andrew Murray Centre and Hillsong.  I will concentrate on some of the things done by Hope Prison Ministry, with whom Common Good partners.  Last year, I had my first opportunity to visit Pollsmoor Prison and sit in on a Hope course.  I had always been intimidated by the thought of going into prisons and speaking to prisoners, but found that I actually enjoy going and speaking to them.

What can I do?

A lot!  How about:

Praying  for those involved in working with ex-offenders; for the ex-offenders themselves and their families and victims?

Donating non-perishable items to the Hidden Treasures shop in Plumstead or volunteering a few hours a week there (they’re at 142 Main Road – tel 071 861 2283)?

Joining prayer walks at Pollsmoor on the first Thursday evening of every month? Email jennilee.hey@commongood.org.za to sign up for the next one – you’ll need to send through your full name and ID number.

Working with the prisoners themselves?  Hope Prison Ministry runs Bible studies, skills and arts programmes and restorative justice courses (which aim at enabling the perpetrator to seek forgiveness from the victim and/or his or her family).

Thank you to the following people for their input into this article:

Vanessa Padayachee (NICRO)

Adrian Strydom (Hope Prison Ministry)

About the author: Deborah Cuthbert is a relief librarian at the University of Cape Town.  She has just completed an honours degree in criminal justice.

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