Prison Alpha
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by Betty White

I am a member of the Maybole Ecumenical Prayer group and am also involved in the Alpha ministry which has taken off world wide in bringing the Good News to people.

I work with our local Maybole Alpha course which began in October and is in its second year. Perhaps more interestingly I am also involved in Prison Alpha, through my Church, which is very rewarding.

One of our curates was particularly keen to get an Alpha started in our local prison at Bowhouse, Kilmarnock and got a small team together. On average about 15 lads turn up for the course, some admittedly coming for the tea and biscuits after an afternoon in the sheds - that means work! But they usually drop out leaving those that are searching or have a touch of religion in their background. Of course we have the scoffers and cynics but if they survive the first few sessions, they usually respond to the fellowship, care and fun we all enjoy.

We've now done four complete courses at Bowhouse with, on the whole, positive feedback from the lads. I am amazed and delighted at the willingness of some to put their views on paper for this article. Here are a few samples .

"I feel I've got a few new friends who don't judge me or condemn me for anything. I surprise myself by how much I've come to look forward to Tuesday afternoons - just to get to a place where I can be myself - a normal man talking about everything from God to personal matters and everyday things. That's what I liked most about the Alpha course"

" I was in Children's homes and List D schools from an early age. Most of them were R.C. although I am Church of Scotland and looking back a few things did stick in my head. I have read the Bible a couple of times when I was in solitary - because it was the only thing to read, but I never took any of it in - or so I thought. I've been in and out of prison since I was 16 and I'm now 42.

When I got this sentence of 6 years 10 months, I changed my attitude, as I was sick of fighting the system. I feel happier at Kilmarnock, and I sometimes went to Sunday service where I heard about Alpha. "When I started going to Alpha, I felt a real peace in my heart and I knew I wanted this Jesus in my life. I knew the life I was leading was a road to misery and I wanted to change my life. On the night of November 12th, I did ask God into my life, for forgiveness for all the people I've hurt in my past. Almost immediately, I felt the peace inside. I asked to get baptised - and was on Sunday 19th November 2000."

"I always believed in God due to my upbringing but I never went to Church. Attending Alpha opened my eyes to some things about God and the Christians who ran Alpha. I thought people wanted to ram God down your throat and I was baffled how the Bible could help anyone. I know now how it could!

I would recommend Alpha because even if you don't want to know God the people running the course are kind and listen to what you have to say. Although I'm more aware of God now, I'm not ready for the next step. I don't think I could stick to God's word because I'm more aware of the dangers around me. And I know fine well I'd act on impulse instead of turning the other cheek. Although I took everything in at the Alpha course, the situation I'm in makes me feel I'm between a rock and a hard place and I've got to shove back.

The Alpha folk would not believe this side of me. They think I'm a fun loving carefree man and I hold them in the highest regard for this alone. "

Being involved with Alpha encouraged some of us to become prison visitors. This means we are introduced to a prisoner whom we visit regularly, which is a very good experience for both of us. Prison involvement has been a tremendous experience for me and has changed so much of my thinking in relation to prison and prisoners. Most of us harbour prejudices of some kind due largely to ignorance - ignorance of people and of situation. Real involvement can change that.