You Came Unto Me
A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them— those who are mistreated— since you yourselves are in the body also. (Hebrews 13:3)
∙ Explain why personal visitation is an important ministry.
∙ Explain how to get involved in one-on-one visitation with inmates.
∙ Summarize guidelines for visiting individually with an inmate.
Many inmates in jails and prisons have no one to visit them:
∙ Their family may live a great distance from where they are incarcerated or do not have the necessary transportation/finances to visit.
∙ Their family may have rejected them or they may have no family.
∙ Former friends may have rejected them.
Personal visits with an inmate is one of the most rewarding areas of jail and prison ministry. This chapter explains its importance, details how to get involved, and offers guidelines for visiting individually with inmates.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PERSONAL VISITATION
Visiting an inmate on a one-on-one basis is an important ministry for the following reasons:
∙ Every soul is valuable to God: “The Lord is not willing that any should perish” (2nd Peter 3:9). Jesus ministered to multitudes, but He always had time for the individual (for an example, see John 4).
∙ Many inmates will not attend religious services. Perhaps they have been “turned off” to the church by negative experiences. They may also be afraid going to prison services will be interpreted as weakness by other inmates and make them vulnerable.
∙ Many inmates have never experienced true, Godly, unconditional friendship. They have only known abusive or impure relationships.
∙ As for most of us--it is easier to open up in a personal rather than group setting. You can discuss many issues in a one-on-one visit that you cannot discuss in a group setting. The inmate can share personal needs with you, you can pray and study the Word together, and forge an intimate spiritual bond.
∙ You become a bridge back into society for the inmate. They will have a friend waiting when they are released from prison.
∙ One can’t have too many friends. You will not only be a blessing, but you will be blessed by a true friendship with an inmate.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Here are some guidelines for how to get involved in one-on-one visitation with inmates.
∙ Inquire about the visitation program at the jail or prison where you want to volunteer. Many have an organized program for matching inmates with volunteers who want to visit one-on-one.
∙ If the institution does not have an organized program for matching inmates and visitors, ask the chaplain to match you with an inmate. If there is no chaplain, consult the administrator in charge of visiting and ask for a match.
∙ People who are ministering inside the prison on a group basis in religious programs are also a good source. They often know of inmates who have no one to visit them or who would benefit from personal attention.
∙ If possible, exchange a few letters with the inmate prior to your first visit. You will already feel like friends when you meet for the first time.
Here are some visitation guidelines:
∙ Go through proper channels to be approved by the institution as a visitor. You may have to fill out certain forms, be pre-approved before your first visit, carry a specific type of identification, etc.
∙ Learn and abide by all rules for personal visitation in the institution where you are to visit. Rules may include issues like days and hours for visitation, appropriate dress, safety, and dress codes. They usually govern what can and cannot be taken into the institution with you. Many jails and prisons have their rules in writing. Ask for them. (For general guidelines, see Chapter Eleven of this manual on “Dress and Safety Codes.”)
∙ It is best to visit one-on-one with a person of your same sex. This avoids the pitfalls of improper romantic relationships.
∙ Normally, it is best not to give money to an inmate or their family. If you believe there is a legitimate need and you really believe God is directing you to do this, it is best to channel your help anonymously through the chaplain or another contact in the institution.
∙ If you forge a real friendship with an inmate it will be easier to discuss spiritual matters and share the Gospel with them.
∙ Don’t preach or lecture. Ask God to show you how to share His love and the Word of God in a way that will be accepted. After an inmate becomes a believer, continue to disciple him in the Word of God.
∙ If the institution permits, give a Bible and discipleship literature to your friend. Depending on institutional rules, you may be allowed to send these items through the mail, take them in yourself, or give materials to the chaplain to deliver.
∙ Unless you have had training or you are gifted by God in the area of personal counseling, don’t assume this role in the relationship. You are there as a friend. Don’t feel you must give an answer to every issue raised.
∙ As in any friendship, be a good confidant. Keep personal information shared by your special friend confidential.
∙ Prison is a very impersonal, dehumanizing place and an inmate doesn’t have much opportunity to receive individual attention. Make your friend feel special. Make your visits a positive, uplifting, fun time.
∙ Always remember you are there as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ--but don’t spend all your time on spiritual matters. Foster a balanced relationship just as you do with your own personal friends. Discuss current events, laugh together, have fun with your friend!
SELF-TEST FOR CHAPTER FIVE
1. Write the key verse from memory.
2. Why is personal visitation an important ministry?
3. List ways to get involved in one-on-one visitation with inmates.
4. Summarize the guidelines given in this chapter for visiting individually with an inmate.
(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)
PREVIOUS | CHAPTER SIX | TABLE OF CONTENTS