I feel God is calling me into some type of prison ministry. How do I get started?

Most national prison ministries have directories on their website listing staff on the national as well as local level. You can generally find some ministry in your area through this type of search. Or, you might contact the chaplain or volunteer coordinator of an area facility and ask them what ministries are involved on a regular basis in that particular facility. Contact those ministries directly asking for information about becoming a volunteer. You generally will have to submit to a background screening as well as some training. It is best to begin your ministry with a seasoned individual who can teach and mentor you through the process.

What about training?

Training is essential to effective prison ministry, whether you are going in as a volunteer or as a professional. Most prison ministries offer some type of training for their volunteers, either formally or on an informal mentoring basis. IPM offers volunteer and transition coach (mentor) training at minimal cost to ministries who desire assistance in training their volunteers. The School for Correctional Ministries is also an exciting initiative to offer college-level training for volunteers and professionals.

I know of a family/individual impacted by incarceration. What resources are available for them?

Incarceration is a shock and impacts not only the offender but family members, friends, and the community at large. The IPM Library addresses some of the typical questions these individuals are faced with from the initial arrest through the trial, sentencing, incarceration and then re-entry. Additionally, we list multiple resources for ministries and families as well as a ministry directory (nationally and on the state level). We also have links for all of the state Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice for your convenience. I am the victim of a crime. What is available for me?
As a victim, you have probably felt that your voice is not heard or that you are forgotten by the judicial system. Your life has been impacted in a huge way and you probably feel overwhelmed by many powerful emotions. There is hope and help! It is important for you to connect with people who understand what you have been through and the fallout you are currently experiencing–a support group for victims of crime, your pastor, a good therapist, friends and family. Additionally, you may want to check out the resources available for Victims. Let us know how you are doing–we have not forgotten you!

One of my church members was recently the victim of a crime. How do I help in the healing process?

As a pastor, you are intimately involved with people in crisis. Helping someone who is the victim of a crime is similar to many of the other crisis situations you are experienced with. The victim may question his faith and be angry at God. You will have to be patient, accepting and kind in order to minister effectively. Be sure to check out the resources we have listed for you under the “Mass Incarceration” tab at the top of the page.

What is the current research on the impact of incarceration on children?

Several new research studies have recently been completed that address this question. There are also a variety of resources available to help children understand incarceration, visitation, etc.

My loved one is being released from prison soon and needs transitional placement. What is available in my community?

As exciting as the prospect of release from incarceration is for the inmate and family members, it is also frightening and can pose a significant challenge when it comes to finding transitional placement. Our re-entry resources may provide some direction in the search for resources for inmate and family. Family re-integration is an emerging opportunity for churches to demonstrate God’s love and grace in a tangible way. If your church is interested in more information about how to get involved, contact us at ipm@wheaton.edu.

How can I obtain educational resources for my incarcerated loved one?

Study is a very productive way to “do time.” Unfortunately, access to institutions of higher learning is challenging from prison due to limitations placed on internet usage and the lack of financial aid to pay for the coursework. However, there are some college-level correspondence courses still available. A number of ministries offer free Bible studies to inmates. Additionally, the Charles W. Colson scholarship for ex-offenders enables recipients to attend Wheaton College after their release from incarceration. For more information contact us at ipm@Wheaton.edu

My incarcerated loved one needs spiritual counsel. How can I find out what is available in his/her institution or community?

The quickest way to find out what resources for spiritual counsel is available in the facility where your loved one is housed is by calling the Chaplain or Volunteer Coordinator and asking what local ministries regularly volunteer in the facility. You may then contact the ministry directly and request that they visit with your loved one. You could also check our Ministry Directory to see what national or state-level ministries are available in your area and contact them directly. Another option is for your loved to request a visit from the facility chaplain.

My loved one needs a Bible. How can I get one to him/her?

Most correctional institutions do not allow books to be sent directly to an inmate unless they are coming from a publisher. So, it will probably not be possible for you to send your loved one a Bible, however, chaplains often have a supply of Bibles available for inmates who request one.

Should children visit their parent who is incarcerated?

The answer to this question will depend on many factors but there are some definite advantages to allowing children to visit their incarcerated parent, chief of which is to maintain the parental bond. Additional benefits include correcting the child’s image of what the incarcerated parent’s condition is (children tend to imagine that circumstances are worse than they really are); being able to talk face to face with their parent; being reminded that they are not alone–that their parent has not abandoned them; preparing for their parent’s eventual release; preventing the termination of parental rights (for children placed in foster care, visits may be an important part of avoiding permanent placement); and helping to heal the grief and loss the child feels. Look through our directory of organizations and ministries that help families and our family resources that include developmental guidelines and suggestions for preparing children for visiting their incarcerated parent.

What are some of the questions children have about their parent’s incarceration?

Typical questions that children need answers for are:
Where are you? Frequently caregivers try to protect children from the truth of their parent’s incarceration by telling them that their parent is away at school, working far away, in the military or in the hospital. Eventually, however, the child discovers the truth and the fallout from the falsehood can be even more devastating.
Why are you there? Children tend to understand the notion of being punished for breaking rules. Avoid graphic details of the offense–keep it simple and age-appropriate.
When are you coming home? Honest answers enable children to process the uncertainty that an incarcerated parent introduces to his/her life.
Are you okay? The child is seeking reassurance that their parent is safe, secure and able to manage the difficulty of incarceration.
But beyond these surface questions lurk more serious ones such as:
Do you blame me? Do you love me? Children do not ask these questions directly but they feel them. The goal of open communication is to insure that the child feels loved even though the parent is not physically present. Children often blame themselves for things that are outside of their control so reassurance is essential to the child’s mental health.

Have a question we didn’t answer? Let us know!