Welcome again to?Wednesday Workout. ?This week, Jennifer Cavanough interviews a guy who does volunteer work in a prison – another challenging context but one where creation, fall and redemption work are all evident.
Aus (pseudonym) has worked in the education part of a prison’s complex as a volunteer.? “I’ve done this over ten years. I work with individual inmates. I do educational assessments, have developed curriculum and small courses to be run as classes, run classes, some at an upper secondary level, and??have trained other staff and volunteers how to deliver education in the prison. I run exercise classes for some of the inmates. I also spend a lot of time allowing staff to debrief and bolstering them up. I fill in the cracks.”
Jennifer:?In a job that obviously presents many challenges, when do you get the deepest sense of satisfaction and joy?
When I see God in action giving me opportunities with staff and inmates to share about Him. When people give me open questions, which gives me an opportunity to share what God has done for me rather than giving them advice. I hope there is a light shining through me.
Jennifer:?Are there any other areas where you experience real satisfaction, where you feel that you are making a difference?
?When I’ve been able to have significant pastoral conversations and encourage both staff and inmates. I’m a bit of a dumping ground because I’ve been there so long. I get satisfaction when I can see that what I share has had a positive impact.?
The educational assessments often provide an opportunity to engage at a personal level with inmates and speak into their lives. When they say ‘that’s very wise’, I say ‘it’s God’s wisdom’. People are surprised at ‘my’ wisdom so I explain that it’s wisdom from the?Bible.? It doesn’t go out of date.
Sometimes there have been small windows of opportunity with the educational assessments, knowing that the inmate is unlikely to be accessing any education again, to teach small practical things. I taught one person how to tell the time, and another guy how to read the bus timetable.
Jennifer: Tell me about the times when you experience the result of the fall in your workplace.
?Most of the time! In this stressful environment lots can go wrong. Inmates can be very difficult to deal with. Often you just can’t get through to them because of the anger and raw hurt. However, they are accountable and are therefore easier to deal with than staff issues. Good staff often leave through burnout because they try to do too much. Other staff work out that the system can be taken for a ride because there’s no one to whom they are particularly accountable.
?At times we become hopeful as we see things going well, but then we lose the staff person making the positive difference, who may be replaced by someone who does very little. Then we start another cycle. In the end the inmates lose out because they may not be getting what the system presumes they are. I find this very?frustrating.
?Jennifer:?Finally, tell me about the ?redemption? work that you do.?
I see myself as an intercessor. I pray as I walk through the different sectors of the prison. I pray for various situations, staff and inmates.? Sometimes I am asked to pray for an individual. I try to encourage the Christians in Prison Fellowship there, and look out for other Christians who could be encouraged to take on ministry in the prison. I try to be truthful about working in the prison (need humility, flexibility and dependability) to those who are already working there and encourage them in those areas.
Jennifer:?Apart from the ways you have already described, how do you find your faith working out in this environment??
I have to keep turning and looking to God in all situations and thanking Him that He is in control. My faith keeps me accountable to Him. Where there’s injustice to me, I’m mostly able to swallow it and not react, in order to glorify Him.? Some staff have a lot of power and some use it inappropriately. I could become discouraged by their behaviour, but?
I contain my anger and do what I need to do to get my job done. I acknowledge that I’m there for the inmates, not to preserve my ego. Sometimes this has earned me respect, eventually.
Jennifer: Where can you have an influence for Jesus?
Primarily through prayer, invoking the presence of the Holy Spirit to come and do the work needed in people’s hearts and minds. It’s His work of conviction, not mine.
Being a trusted, dependable, flexible, committed, humble worker and hopefully bringing God’s wisdom and care into all interactions with staff and inmates. I?m aware that inmates and staff know that I?m a Christian, so I need to make sure in His strength that I am reflecting Jesus at all times.
Supporting and encouraging Christians and other interested staff and inmates who are open to the Christian faith.
Obedience to God in all matters, regardless of whether there’s injustice meted out to me regarding my work, trusting that God will vindicate me. I believe God has called me in?to?the prison. Currently I feel God is calling me to do something differently in there, so I’m praying and waiting on His confirmation into a new area that God may be calling me into.
Jennifer Cavanough, 30?