Three days a week, every week, inmates at the “Women in Transition” (WIT) minimum-security prison in Salisbury have the opportunity to hear the gospel and learn about God’s love, plan and way for them.
Ladies arrive at WIT after having served most of their time at MCI-Framingham, Massachusetts’s primary women’s prison. Ninety-five percent of them are addicts – from alcohol to opiates – and most of them are serving time for offenses related to or fueled by their addictions: prostitution, DUI, drug use, theft, drug dealing, etc.
“Marie”, at age 19 loves her beautiful, 13 month old baby, Rosa. Marie gave birth to Rosa soon after her arrest a year ago and now only gets to see her once or twice a month for an hour or two. She is serving the longest sentence at WIT (2 years) and grieves at not being able to raise Rosa. However, Marie turned to Christ in prison and is the most faithful attendee at our Bible studies. She is also responsible for bringing many of her roommates to Bible Study and Alpha to hear the gospel!
“Nora” is a Spanish-speaking grandmother who is also in her second incarceration. She says she is a believer and loves to read the Bible. However, she doesn’t see how lying and stealing is wrong.
“Jane” is a lovely, 35-year old woman who has struggled for years with alcoholism. For the last 10 years she has had an affair with a married man – which she recently confessed in Bible Study – and that it was the shame of this that drove her to drink. After the Christmas Party she shared that she felt that God was telling her to completely let go of the immoral relationship because God’s love is what she needs to sustain her!
“Alita” was released from WIT one month ago. Within 2 weeks she was back on heroin and died of an overdose.
“Sara” has only just started coming to Bible Study, and has absolutely no religious background. This is her 2nd incarceration, and while having been out of jail for one year, she suffered 16 heroin overdoses – yet didn’t die. Sara has just started to be willing to consider Jesus.
Life in prison is often filled with shame, despair and hopelessness. Coming from rough backgrounds and/or slaves to wrong choices, women often arrive broken or hardened.
And yet…every week we hear prayers from the ladies, “Thank you, God, for sending us these faithful volunteers, who give us love and hope.” Nearly every week girls in this small facility open their hearts to Jesus. Many of the women confide to us that in actuality, they are grateful for their arrest. They believe that this stopped them when they were completely out of control. Many desperately want to no longer hurt themselves or others. But it is a long road.
Who are we, the volunteers? A small assortment of women from churches around the North Shore: First Presbyterian in Ipswich, First Congregational Church of Hamilton, Free Christian Church in Andover, West Church in Haverhill – and, myself, Katherine Horvath from NSCBC who serves as volunteer chaplain & coordinator. Surprisingly I sort of fell into this ministry, having been asked by the previous volunteer chaplain to come with her and to pray and consider taking over the role. Right away I was struck with the preciousness of these “criminals” and their amazing openness to the Bible and gratitude for the ministry. I’ve been chaplain now for three years.
A couple of the greatest days of the year are when we can bring holiday joy to the inmates. On Christmas we bring in a catered “feast” (prison food is notoriously awful), music, a relevant, biblical sermon, and provide gift bags for each woman, filled with prison-approved gifts collected from volunteers from our work and churches. On Easter morning we provide breakfast and a service. In the summer we sponsor a cookout in their supervised outdoor area. As a result of these expressions of joy and generosity, more women show up at our weekly Bible Studies willing to listen to the gospel and learn to walk with Jesus.
Most of the time we volunteers pay for our materials and supplies out of our own pockets, but thanks to a gift from NSCBC through the Outreach Ministries Fund this past year, the costs of the Christmas Party were completely covered. In this way NSCBC was able to help open the door for many women to hear the gospel – most of them for the first time.
How grateful we are to continue this ministry, every week, all year. What a privilege to sit with women who are on the verge of going back into life in Essex County, and to help them learn to face the future – and their eternity – with Christ rather than without Him! We really appreciate your prayers for us and this ongoing ministry!