THE PRISONER’S JOURNEY
Today, there are more than 10 million prisoners in 22,000 prisons around the world. Many of these men and women have never heard the Gospel or experienced the transforming power of God’s love, making them one of the least reached people groups in the world. Prison Fellowship International (PFI) partnered with Prison Fellowship Malawi to implement a well structured course that would center at the person and character of Jesus called The Prisoner’s Journey™.
As a PFI program it is implemented by its national affiliates throughout the world. Prison Fellowship Malawi (PFM) as one of its affiliates, started implementing the program in 2017 after the launch of the program worldwide in 2014. Initially, PFM launch the program in 7 prisons from the eastern region which are Zomba Central, Domasi, Mpyupyu, Mikuyu 1, Mikuyu 2, Mangochi and Ntcheu prisons. The program was expanded to 10 new more prisons in 2018 and 10 more in 2019. As of this year, the program is running in 28 prisons across the country.
The program is a course which is highly structured and adaptable within diverse religious and cultural contexts. Prison Fellowship provides systematic course material for the prisoners, an intensive manual for volunteers and a logistical guide for program coordinators. At all level, the program is highly organized and effective.
The Prisoner’s Journey® (TPJ), presents prisoners with an introduction to Jesus, who was also a prisoner, and is deeply relatable. It is designed to run three to four times per year in each prison and is delivered in three phases.
The first phase is called promotional which runs for about two months. The program is launched through a series of promotional activities designed to reach at least 50% of all prisoners in a prison.
The Course. This phase runs for two to three months. Based on the Book of Mark, The Course is highly-structured exploration of the person and teachings of Jesus, the prisoner, and culminates in a graduation event. It is structured, repeatable, interactive, and volunteer-led small group experience with a full range of adult learning methods. The prisoners are divided in small groups of 10-12. Each group has at least two volunteers who are also called facilitators or course leaders. Each course leader is equipped with a guide and copy of Gospel of Mark. While one is facilitating, the other observes the class and helps those who seem lost in the things happening. They use flip charts, markers, stickers and masking tapes to get the lesson going. There are a lot of activities that happen during the course. The inmates are presented with an opportunity to watch videos of transformation testimonies of other prisoners across the globe in the beginning and the end of the lesson. Prison Fellowship provides TV sets and flash discs to all prisons running the program for this purpose. Also, they enjoy a variety of interaction activities which involves volunteers and fellow inmates. They can make posters to depict a story, work in further small groups to come up with answers to some questions and sometimes answer on their own on stickers and paste them on the flip charts which are put in front of the class. It’s really fun! After 8 sessions (once a week for 8 weeks), those who attended at least six of the eight sessions are graduated from the program with a course certificate and a bible. Sometimes, they are given other symbolic gifts as well. After graduation, the next group of inmates is signed up and it continues in this manner.
The last phase is Discipleship which is an ongoing. When prisoners graduate from The Course, they are invited to continue the journey with Jesus by signing up for a discipleship program. Over 60% of the prisoners enroll. Many of these prisoners form relationships with volunteers who mentor them into the church and community thereby fostering successful reintegration into the society. Currently, Prison Fellowship Malawi is running a discipleship program called Public Reading of Scripture® (PRS). This is another program of Prison Fellowship International in partnership with Grace and Mercy Foundation. The program was launched in 2019 in three prisons but it is has grown over the years to 15. Those who graduate from TPJ are given an opportunity to sign up for PRS where they meet for 12 sessions while listening from audio bible and following through their own bibles for about an hour per session. They begin with singing a Psalm together, and then listen to 2 – 3 chapters in the Old Testament. They are then given time to discuss or share from the read chapters before moving on to 2 – 3 chapters of the New Testament. After listening to the chapters in the NT, they also discuss and sing together another Psalm as a closing prayer. Soon after dining at the Lord’s Table, they share a light meal together which is usually a drink and a snack which is provided by Prison Fellowship Malawi.
The benefits of these programs are quite numerous. They help break the cycle of crime as it is the beginning of restorative justice offering prisoners an opportunity to change how they perceive themselves, others and God. It engenders the opportunity to experience healing and forgiveness by learning to take responsibility for their decisions. The programs have helped reduce in-prison violence among the inmates and with prison staff. It has greatly reduced recidivism as it serves as a pre-cursor to successful re-integration to society.
So far, the program has graduated 27,684 prisoners since its inception.