The Prison Service is turning to religion to help rehabilitate inmates at its two prisons.

Thirty-seven prisoners recently took part in a ceremony to mark their completion of a Prison Fellowship International programme, called ‘The Prisoner’s Journey’, that encourages them to review their lives in the context of their relationship with Christianity, according to a government press release.

Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers described The Prisoner’s Journey as a strong addition to the suite of rehabilitative programmes that the Prison Service offers to prisoners to prepare them to re-enter society and help them make better life choices upon release.

“The Prison Fellowship International programmes that have been implemented by the Prison Chaplaincy Service offer a great opportunity for prisoners to gain a better understanding of themselves, their actions and the impact that their crimes have on their families and the community,” Rivers said in a statement.

She added, “Initiatives like this form an important part of our strategy to reduce re-offending and promote strong family and community life, which are key priorities for this government. We will continue to support the efforts of the Prison Service to improve offender outcomes through the increased delivery of rehabilitative programmes.”

‘The Prisoner’s Journey’ is one of a growing number of PFI programmes that the local Prison Service is making available to inmates. Organisers describe the programme “as a journey through the gospel of Mark and seeks to answer three questions: Who is Jesus? Why did he come? What is that to me?”

The programme began at Northward and Fairbanks prisons in January this year. Prison Chaplain Cathy Gomez attended facilitator training in Trinidad in August 2018, and subsequently conducted course leader training with six volunteers to assist her with the delivery of the programme.

According to Gomez, as optimal class size is limited to 12 participants and two volunteers are required to teach each group, having six volunteers allowed the Prison Service to run several groups simultaneously. Three groups ran at Northward and one at Fairbanks, resulting in the graduation of 27 men and 10 women.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. P.J. Lawrence, who assisted in the delivery of the programme at Northward, said, “The experience was great. The participants were honest, open to learn, and committed to the journey. They have taken the journey seriously and followed through till the end.”

Chaplain Gomez noted that she has a mandate to engage at least 60 percent of the prison population in the programme by June 2020, so she will be seeking additional volunteers.

Gomez said, “Once prisoners have completed the course, they may also assist with the facilitation of future groups, and this opportunity enhances both the impact of the programme and their motivation to participate. Following The Prisoner’s Journey, there is also a one-year discipleship programme that they may engage in, and … follow-up studies in other countries have shown that 60 percent of participants will continue into discipleship.”

Some of the inmates who recently completed The Prisoner’s Journey.

As part of the programme, Director of Prisons Steven Barrett and Prison Fellowship Cayman Islands Chairman Pastor Alson Ebanks visited with the volunteers.

Pastor Ebanks noted, “There are many people who are sceptical about prisoners, and what they would call ‘jailhouse religion’, apparently believing that the only reason inmates sign up and participate in such courses as The Prisoner’s Journey is to have another positive point when they come up for parole.

“Having attended the graduation ceremonies on Monday and Tuesday at both Northward and Fairbanks, and hearing the various reflections of the course participants, I was moved by what I saw and heard. I believe that this programme has made a real, genuine impact on the lives of the participants, and I want to congratulate every one of them, as well as thank Chaplain Gomez and the facilitators for their great work in running the programme with this first cohort.

“I believe it will make a real difference in the lives of the men and women who completed it.”

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.