Posted by Michael Duffield in Organizations Edit

President of Prison Fellowship International, Ron Nikkel

Nepal: As president of Prison Fellowship International, Ron Nikkel treks to towns accessible only by foot. Outside one prison, he says, “I saw an inmate reaching his hands through the bars, and either giving or receiving something from a little girl in the streets. I thought, gee, that was odd, and I thought probably it was a kid bringing food to an inmate. But once I got inside I was approached by an inmate begging for help: ‘My daughters are in the street, I have been in prison for two years. My wife has left me, my two daughters are living in the street.’ He was giving his daughter a handful of rice to keep her alive.” Today, PFI runs a program offering housing and education to homeless children of prisoners in Nepal.

Australia: Nikkel met with sex offenders and victims who had participated in a PFI reconciliation program in which they told each other their stories. The victims told him of healing obtained from hearing the prisoners’ stories. The effect was even more profound for the offenders. Nikkel relates that one said, “Before, I’d get up in the morning, look in the mirror, feeling sorry for myself, and all I could see in the mirror was myself. Now when I get up in the morning and look in the mirror, I see my victim, and I weep.” He no longer saw his victim as a source of gratification, but as a living, breathing, feeling human being. Even the prisoner saw this as a change for the better.

Zimbabwe: Here, prisoners rely on their families to supplement their rations even in the best of times. These are far from the best of times, and with famine enveloping the country, families have no food to bring. Nikkel says that every day prisoners die of starvation in Zimbabwe’s prisons. PFI has begun supplying food to keep hundreds of prisoners alive in Zimbabwe.

Rwanda: Ex-prisoners who were involved in 1994’s genocidal massacres participated in PFI’s The Umuvumu Tree Project to meet with surviving victims of the slaughter. The ex-prisoners listened to the victims’ stories, and the victims in turn heard the stories of those caught up in the madness that fueled the massacres. In this most extreme of reconciliation meetings, offenders gained a human connection with the victims, and began to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing,” and to tell the truth about their involvement. Some former prisoners are now volunteering in a PFI program to build houses for the victims.

Prison Fellowship International is the world’s largest criminal justice ministry. Its component national organizations are indigenous, volunteer-based and transdenominational groups which work “for the spiritual, moral, social and physical wellbeing of prisoners, ex-prisoners, their families and victims of crime.” PFI does this with a range of programs; all its members extend caring and respect to prisoners, showing them that they have dignity and human value.

There are good reasons for doing this, Nikkel says: “If [prisoners] have done undignified things, if they have done violent things, they are still human beings, and they are not outside the scope of God’s mercy and grace.” We should extend human kindness to prisoners because they are human, and “crime is a problem of the community, and the community needs to be part of the solution.” With the vast numbers of people passing through prison today, if we do not engage prisoners and show them they can be good and valuable members of the community, “we as a society will be in deep trouble.”

Prison Fellowship International: www.pfi.org.

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