COVID challenges to those in prison

By Randy Alcorn
Eternal Perspectives Ministries, Sandy Oregon

Please visit his blog

COVID-19 has brought many challenges to all of us, but the challenges have been amplified for those in prison. WORLD News did a recent feature on this:

It’s been a long eight months for inmates since the coronavirus pandemic began—months without visitors, ministries, educational programs, addiction recovery meetings, or even chaplains in some cases. Some prisons had big COVID-19 outbreaks, while others fared better than the outside world. Now as a second wave of COVID-19 infections hits prisons, some that just began opening to visitors and programs are locking down again. That means more isolation for prisoners.

I encourage you to read the whole article, “COVID-19 Behind Bars.” Here’s an excerpt:

In New Jersey, South Woods State Prison canceled visits, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, classes, and worship services in March, according to inmate Jim Hyson. “Not having any worship services has been the hardest,” he said.

Hyson faced other hurdles: For 40 days he was quarantined to his cell for 23½ hours a day. The other half hour was for showers, phone calls, or JPay (an online service for inmates for things like visitation or sending and receiving money). He didn’t have exercise or fresh air for 40 days, and he struggled with “mental battles,” he said.

“Dealing with confinement within an already confined setting plays havoc on the mind. … I did get lots of Bible reading/studying in, but after a while everything began to become blurred,” he said. “While everything was said to be for our protection and well-being, it didn’t feel that way.”

What a reminder of the tough times these precious men and women are dealing with. May more of them than ever be drawn to Jesus, and may God’s people pray for them and look for creative ways to minister to them.

Though it was part of our ministry I never really envisioned when we began, over the years we’ve given away thousands of my books to prisoners. Those in prison are often forgotten by the rest of us, but by God’s grace, there are literally thousands of Christian brothers and sisters imprisoned in facilities across the U.S. Many of them found Christ in their desperation.

Our wonderful EPM staff member Amy Woodard, who oversees our ministry’s sending of the books, writes about the effects of COVID-19 on this part of our ministry: “I’ve talked to so many facilities that have had to adjust their mail rules and guidelines and some just plain refused books for a few months! Since opening things back up again, we’ve been able to send quite a few boxes of books to prison libraries as well as all the books we continue to send on a weekly basis. I sent emails to many facilities, and it’s like it reminded them we’re still here. It’s been encouraging to see all the new orders. Praying for inmates now as I begin today’s orders.”

We are convinced from many direct interactions with both prison chaplains and prisoners that books sent to prisoners are widely read and have a far-reaching impact. While books bought by people who aren’t in prison often go unread and may not be passed on to others that much, it is radically different for prisoners. They not only read books they have requested (and the great majority of my books are sent when prisoners themselves have requested them), but they also eagerly pass them on. It’s common to hear reports of books that have literally fallen apart, pages coming out, because they have been read and reread so many times, sometimes by dozens of prisoners.

Here are some notes EPM received from inmates this year:

“…I am a beginner in Christ. I have been studying the word of God now for a few months. I have been reading your books and they seem to be an easy way for me to understand. These materials and the book can be a way for me to hand down these lesson[s] to my kids later down the road. Thank you.”

“I would like to thank you. I received the Happiness Study guide earlier this week. I have already begun week one and look forward to working through this topic over the course of the next several weeks. I have been incarcerated for two years now. I have at times struggled to continue to grow in God’s Word. While I have always read daily, having guidance through Biblical topics helps me to focus and leaves me feeling as if my time here is serving a greater purpose. Thank God and this ministry for your assistance.”

“…I was a 50-year-old lost sinner, a real walking dead man. Life just beat me down. …I didn’t want to go on living. So I took my last $80 from my paycheck, went to a known drug area to buy something/anything that might fill my void. …Some 100 ft. away from the drug dealer I get jumped by undercover cops and arrested. They put me in the jail cell. I’m all alone—no hope, no will, and broken. Then I see your books in the corner (Deadline, Deception, and Dominion). I read all three books. With nothing to lose, I began to pray for the first time to a God I didn’t know of at all, until I read your three novels. …Then something happened! I felt God speak to me from my heart. God has given me life, hope, comfort, and joy! …God found me in a jail cell from your novels. …I’m now spreading God’s love to everyone at this jail. I read from a pocket Bible. I keep passing the three novels from cell to cell. I pray with all willing inmates and testify what God’s doing for me. God is awesome!!!”

If you’d like to partner with us in reaching these men and women for Christ, we’d be honored if you’d prayerfully consider supporting Eternal Perspective Ministries with a year-end gift. Financial gifts to our General Fund support our operating expenses and staff, and allow us to continue giving away the royalties from my books. (On our donation page, you can also give to our Books for Prisoners Project to directly support that part of our ministry)

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