For more than 40 years, Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy has been providing emotional and spiritual support to people in prison – and helping them to begin their journey of transformation.
Sometimes the chaplains’ work supporting others is part of their own personal transformation.
A different life path could have seen two Inside Out Prison Chaplaincy prison chaplains end up behind bars themselves.
Jonathan Stubbs, also known as Jona, was a rebellious teenager, into heavy drug and alcohol use. Hadley Toweel was also a heavy user of alcohol and marijuana and ended up in court charged with a serious crime.
“I definitely did enough things in my life as a juvenile delinquent and young adult that could have landed me in prison. In fact, I believe there are men in prison today who have done far less than what I did,” Hadley says.
“No matter how hard I tried to steer myself away from the life I was living, I just couldn’t do it. I did get into trouble with the law and ended up in court charged with assault.
“Throughout my years as a juvenile delinquent Christians preached the gospel to me. God convicted me of my sin and granted me repentance and deliverance. My life changed drastically.”
Jona was brought up in a Christian home but was “very rebellious as a teenager and young man”.
“I had issues with drugs and alcohol and it took me nearly 18 months to get clean. I did my best to function within society but the lure of that lifestyle was always hard to resist. I could definitely have ended up in jail; it was always in the back of my mind,” Jona says.
“My story and my past helps inmates to see that there is hope for all of us. Some have said it’s easier to talk to someone who has been in that position before.
“I don’t know if it’s inspired them but they are always appear grateful to me for sharing.
“Whenever I briefly share my experiences with them I notice they let their guard down, just that bit, and it opens up a two-way conversation. They begin to ask questions which allows me to share about the power of God.”
Hadley also believes the negative experiences of his youth helps him better relate to the men he supports. He hopes his own story of rejuvenation through faith inspires others.
“I understand why many of them have done the things that they have done, without excusing their crimes. I share my story of God’s grace with prisoners,” Hadley says.
“It gives them hope to know that it is possible to change and be delivered from bondages and set free by the power of God.
“I am so grateful that God saved me and called me to this ministry as a prison chaplain.”
After coronavirus kept chaplains out of correctional centres for several months, they have returned ‘inside’. Their presence has been welcomed by prisoners.
“Most inmates have responded favourably and want to engage and talk. There is always positive affirmation from inmates and officers that they’re happy to see us back,” Jona says.