3 Things Prison Families Desire from the Church

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I never imagined I’d be the mother of a convicted felon. My aspiration was for my boys to do well in school, earn a college degree, find gainful employment, marry a godly woman, and have children.

To the best of my knowledge, I trained up my children in the way they should go so that when they grew up they would not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

We celebrated the love of Christ as a family both in church and home. At young ages, both boys professed Christ as their Savior.

I checked off the boxes on my good mother checklist:

  • Christian education
  • Regular church attendance
  • Sports activities
  • Family vacations

After my oldest son, Stephen, graduated from high school, his poor choices landed him in prison.

Prior to Stephen’s arrest, I never thought about prisoners and their families and to my knowledge, I didn’t know of anyone who had an incarcerated family member.

My husband served over 20 years as a federal law enforcement agent. In our circles of influence, we opposed those who committed crimes.

My perspective was that those who associated with criminals and supported prisoners were also to blame.

However, after my son’s arrest, my stance shifted.

Though I never condoned the behavior that led to my son’s incarceration, as a mother, my love for him remains unconditional. I realized my previous view was skewed.

With so many emotions overwhelming me at once—pain, grief, guilt, and shame—I turned to my church family for help.

I experienced disappointment on top of my shock when the overall church body did not know what to do.

Statistics show that there are 2.3 million Americans in the penal system.[1] Surely there was some type of Christian family support in place for those all those families who have incarcerated loved ones.

Yet, I found none.

After my shock progressed through the stages of grief and finally reaching the point of acceptance, the Lord led me to share my testimony openly. With fear and trepidation, I talked about my incarcerated son in small settings. In sharing, I found others who connected with me because of our similar experiences. I found myself engaging with more and more people.

As I reached out to others, I found three things that those in the church who have a family member in prison desire:

1. To be able to share their issues without judgment, criticism or condemnation.

In the early days of this tribulation a friend said, “Shonda, I don’t understand what you’re going through. But if you’ll explain it to me, I’ll process it with you.” 

When those in the church who don’t understand what a family of a prisoner goes through, but show an interest in walking through it with them, it releases them from the fear of judgment, criticism, condemnation.

2. To receive prayer support and encouraging words from others.

My local church agreed I should host a support group meeting for families of prisoners. Now we have a safe place to foster new personal relationships, pray for one another’s specific needs, and share encouraging words with each other. We seek the Lord and He shows us new things.

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV).

3. For the church to mail cards, notes, or books to their incarcerated family member.

When those in the church body mail a birthday card, holiday card, or send a book to an incarcerated family member, they are fulfilling Hebrews 13:3, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you are also in the body” (ESV).

When the family member on the inside receives encouragement from those on the outside, chances are greater for him to walk closely with the Lord. This reduces the risk of recidivism.

My life’s course took an unexpected journey.

Now it’s my heart’s desire is to walk alongside those whose lives have been impacted by incarceration. And to show them the hope we have in our Redeemer Christ Jesus who restores of broken lives.

Do you know someone who is incarcerated? How might you encourage and minister to that person and their family? How might your church better fulfill Hebrews 13:3?

For more inspirational posts for families of the incarcerated, visit Shonda’s author page and Fortress of Hope Ministries.

[1] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017.html (assessed July 28, 2017)

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