I served four years of a six-year sentence in prison for a
drug-related offence. I was released in 2001. From an early age my
life was only crime. While in prison I did the Alpha course
introduction to Christianity. Since becoming a Christian I have
been working to help others in a similar position.
Men and women coming out of prison are faced with fear, uncertainty
and anxiety. We need people to care for us. I meet people who are
where I used to be – have paid for the crime but have ended up on
the street because there is nowhere for them to go.
I got into crime at an early age, went into prison and finished my
education in crime there. You go in knowing how to nick one car and
come out knowing how to nick hundreds. That is where I got into
drugs. Before I went into prison I hadn’t taken drugs, but had
always been surrounded by them in secure units.
I discovered there was a better way when I did the Alpha course –
it wasn’t the prison system that changed me, it was God that
changed me in the prison system. When people come on the course
they have all sorts of worries – even tough men get scared.
The best way to encourage and build up people inside is through
letters, by befriending them. Relationships are what it is all
about, and visits. Probation officers are overworked – we need the
public sector, we need people to care, not to be afraid.
Coming out of prison can be an opportunity to start again, to try
and make our lives better and be all that we can be. Ex-offenders
are all too aware of how hard it is to leave the past behind when
it is all you know, when the only support structures that you have
in place are those of your “partners in crime”.
I was loved and supported by the church. They took me in, helped me
find a job and mentored me. It wasn’t just me getting to know the
church but the church getting to know me. They helped me with
somewhere to live but more than that, helped me find the right
direction to get my life back on track. I have become involved in
their programme working with ex-offenders, and now work full-time
in a drug rehabilitation unit.
I was met at the gate and driven to a house where I had a roof,
food and clothes provided for me. I didn’t have to steal for food.
I know of guys whose lives have been radically changed because
they’ve been accepted and welcomed in this way, like Neil when he
came out of prison. He now has a steady job and has just been
offered a promotion. He’s re-established his relationship with his
family, who he hadn’t seen for years, and he feels like he has
something to offer back to society, that he can make a difference
in the lives of men and women who are in the same place he’s been
We definitely need practical support but it’s much more than that.
It is being accepted and loved for who we are with all our past and
not having to apologise for that.
Finny Finlinson is a member of Holy Trinity Brompton in
west London and works full-time at the Nehemiah Project.