John Gloster
Hope behind bars

Whilst preparing for Sunday lunch about 20 years ago, I had the words of the sermon I had just heard ringing in my ears. The challenge was to get up out of my church seat and do something practical for those who would never come near a church, to show God’s love and grace was not just for me but for them also. This was the start of my journey into prison.

I am very grateful that my route inside has been as a volunteer through the staff entrance and not in a secure van through the ‘other’ gate!

My journey has included being a member of the Independent Monitoring Board, leading small group Bible studies and involvement in Sunday services. To my surprise, after a few years my wife followed me behind bars.

Most of our time is taken up with tutoring the Prison Fellowship Sycamore Tree victim awareness programme, and meeting men and women as they process recent and past bereavements, as Cruse Bereavement Care volunteers.

We soon discovered the privilege of being able to go into places which few people have access to and spending time coming alongside those who society has rejected because of their actions. We believe that God is the God of the second chance and there is nobody who falls outside his loving care. Many prisoners are desperate for help and see little hope for the future. Others are in bad and dark places away from their friends and families. We know that Jesus has time and cares for prisoners, in fact his last counselling session was with two prisoners hanging alongside him on their crosses.

Whilst we are unable to give full details, here are a couple of stories from inside:

  • As part of the Sycamore Tree course we discuss forgiveness (a huge subject for those who have often been abused and neglected from childhood). One time we discovered that this was God’s perfect timing for one of the young men who was considering ending his life as a result of a relationship breakdown with his partner and children. A few weeks later in a chance conversation, he told us that this session had transformed his thinking and given him the courage to take the first step in mending the relationship, forgiving his partner for her actions whilst he was inside.
  • We have met many people who have used drugs, alcohol and addictive behaviour to distract from the pain of bereavement. One such was a woman who lost multiple members of her family to causes such as murder, suicide, road traffic accidents and cancer. In desperation she found herself defrauding her employer in order to pay bills. In prison she had the time and courage to process the huge emotion resulting from her losses, enabling her to understand the damage she had done to herself and her family. It was a privilege to walk this journey with her.

There’s much current media interest in the reintegration of ex-offenders back into the community. We are also part of the Making Connections one to one mentoring programme where volunteers come alongside prisoners in the final six months of their sentences as they prepare for release. Ideally the mentors link their mentees with mentoring organisations or churches who can continue to support them as they make the often difficult transition back into the community.

It has been and is a real privilege to work alongside others to bring the light of Jesus into dark places.


John and Gill Gloster are members of Welcome Church, Woking.

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