The Long Game

Tim Abbey

Tim Abbey

Chaplain at Kirkconnell Correctional Centre

The Long Game - A story from Kirkconnell - Apr 2023

It’s easy as a prison Chaplain to get caught up in the quick fix. And that’s understandable. Inmate stories are usually desperately sad and you long for them to be pulled out of the mess by God ASAP. And it is a massive joy to see the pennies drop sometimes fairly quickly! But it’s also equally important to celebrate the long game that God works with too.

This last year has been a joy to work with an inmate who has done over 26 years for murder who is now within a year or so of release.

At first contact in the yard, he was openly but respectfully agnostic. His colourful language and rough exterior from a hard pre-gaol lifestyle and many years spent in max gaols belied a deeper thinking within. We had some good discussions. 

But when he heard about the Positive Lifestyle Program I run, a one-on-one Christian mentoring course on crucial life skills and attitudes dealing with things like depression, anxiety, self-esteem and anger, he was keen to sign up. For decades, this inmate had sought to work on these kind of things through secular gaol programs and interestingly was prepared to examine these from a Christian perspective, due largely to some positive interactions he’d had over the years with Christians in the system.  

“To be a part of God’s plan… was something that really hit home to be a precious privilege.”

He had witnessed the huge change in a custodial officer who became a Christian and then later left Corrective Services to become a Pastor, coincidentally in this inmate’s hometown. This Pastor recently passed away suddenly, leaving the inmate with a significant sense of loss.

He was also touched by the way a visiting Bishop took interest in a men’s program this inmate had helped establish in his gaol at the time, with the Bishop going out of his way to write to him later to encourage him in this, even though it was not a specifically Christian program. The inmate proudly showed me the letter he has kept all these years and coincidentally, I could vouch for this Bishop that his concern was genuine and reflected the difference Jesus makes, given the Bishop had actually lectured me a few decades before when I was training to become a Pastor at a Bible College.

There have also been a number of Christian Chaplains this inmate has interacted positively with over the years in gaol, even though he has yet to embrace the Gospel he can see in them.

So it was a joy to carry on this long term witness to this man, now in his early sixties, as we had the eight sessions together.

I could encourage him in the important thinking he had obviously already done over the years, much like my former lecturer had. It was heartening to see him recognise for himself areas of new growth in dealing with grief and assertiveness. And it was great to run past him the way Jesus can take all these areas of life to a whole new dimension. He genuinely gave me the time of day in this, even though he still maintained his agnostic position. To be a part of God’s plan, to keep knocking on this guy’s door, was something that really hit home to be a precious privilege.

At the end of our last session, he graciously thanked me for the course, but then stunned me when he said he thought he might actually pop in for one of the weekly Chapel Group Bible Discussion sessions. And lo and behold, the next week he was there and participated in a great discussion looking at our need to forgive others according to the Apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon, reflecting Jesus’ teaching of Matthew 6 and what forgiveness is really all about – what this inmate and all of us obviously need. He has now been coming for a few months. Maybe soon the door will open? Maybe it will be a Christian he comes across when released who will help the penny to finally drop? But either way, a great privilege to play a part in all of this.

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