Richard Brownstein wrote that it is possible to give without loving but it is impossible to love without giving. We have come here because we love. Pope John XXIII was remarkably humble. One of his first acts upon election was to visit Regina Caeli, a large Roman Prison. He told them: “You could not come to me, so I have come to you.” He told them that as a boy he learnt how mysterious a jail sentence was explaining that his own cousin served term in the prison. When Vatican newspaper ‘L’Observatore Romano, reported pope’s visit, it omitted Pope’s comment about his cousin in order not to shock hits readers tha a papal relative had once been jailed. The Pope felt embarrassed by the attitude of the paper. Does our stay in prison embarrass us? Do we pretend to be more than we are to impress others?

Life is like a biscuit. It breaks where no one expects it. Every man has sinned and fallen short of God’s grace. Three things separate the inmates from the visitors here today: 1. The degree of our crime/sin. 2. You are bad lucky to have been caught. 3.  The level of our victimization. The inmates have lost freedom which is the greatest yearning of man. Yet, mere loss of freedom to commit crime may be the freedom to reform. That is why God has never abandoned man since Adam and Eve led humanity to prison.

The Birth of Christ is described as good news because it brought hope to humanity trapped in the prison of sin. That is why every sincere message of Christ must not avoid humanity at its worst. Solidarity with the suffering is the very essence of Christianity. The scriptural basis for the solidarity with prisoners is well known: “I was in the prison and you visited me.” (Mt24:41-43).

The life of Christ itself offers its own commentary. Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night on the word of a paid informant, his own aide; he was subjected to intimidating questioning, and remanded illegally in custody, after which he was subjected to police brutality, given a bogus trial and then condemned to die by a weak judge who was put under pressure by public opinion.

There is nothing one passes through as a prisoner that Jesus didn’t pass through. We are not told that he went back after resurrection to look for his betrayer, Judas. He never slapped Pilate when his Spirit was hovering after resurrection. Before he died most cruel death on the cross, he freely forgave his executioners and any who had hands in his death. When Jesus appeared after his resurrections, to his disciples he did so by passing through a closed door. He entered the Upper Room in which they were locked away from the outside world by fear. As he entered he brought peace and serenity to the hearts of everyone within.

OUR TASKS ARE TWOFOLD:  Christ’s example must shape the attitude of inmates after prison. 2. For those lucky offenders, our task is to do the same for those who have become the prisoners of crime, or fear of crime, and also for those who are locked away inside our prisons. Men and women are not redeemed unless all our relationships are also redeemed.  We must mediate between a society whose ends are not governed by the Gospel and a vision which is shaped by Christ and God’s salvific purpose for all human beings. Only by doing so will society find new ways out of the disarray, failure and moral neglect which constitute the life of our nation’s prisons.  It is up to us to ensure that the prison service offers the continuing opportunities for transformation when the moment comes that the prisoner is prepared to embark on the journey of change. That no matter how hopeless their situation may appear to be, we must never give up on anyone. And that every place can be a place of redemption.


The preposition of establishing prisons is that true justice must produce a positive outcome for the victim, for society and for the offender. It must give every opportunity for criminals to come to terms with what they have done, to recognize their own guilt, and to acknowledge the need for remorse and penitence. In atoning for their past they recognize the human dignity for their victims and they also help to redeem themselves. It must be possible, within such a system, for an offender to make different choices from those that they have hitherto made. And the system must be possible to make the transformation take place, and assisted, at every point during the offender’s sentence and life thereafter. As the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate once said: Nobody is strong than someone who came back. There is nothing you can do to such a person because whatever you could is less than what has already been done to him.

Unfortunately our prisons and ex-prisoners are long way from meeting such a description. The prison is stretched to breaking point. The terrible overcrowding only underscores the extent to which our penal system- though it pays lip-service to the need for the reform and rehabilitation- is, in practice, essentially punitive. If prison had worked, there would be work or education for every prisoner. If prison worked, we would be shutting prisons, not opening more. If prison worked, judges would not be seeing in the dock the same people over and over again. If prison worked, we would not be imprisoning more people than any other country except Turkey. If prison worked, fewer mothers would be in prison and fewer children would be in care.

Unless prison works, prisoners cannot be reformed. To make prison work I recommend few things.

  1. Punishment should contain retribution, in its best and most balanced sense, but more importantly it must be reformative and rehabilitative.
  2. A full working day- eight hours a day, five days a week- should be introduced in prison. The work should relate to the outside world, with prisoners learning the disciplines and skills and standards they will need for resettlement when they are returned to society.
  3. Pilot Scheme- developed in partnership between the prisoner service, private companies and charities- to make employment of ex-offenders more attractive to employers should be extended nationwide. We should not end up donating toiletries but must make them subject of their destiny by discouraging disabling.
  4. There is need for government to do more to improve education in prisons and in particular to address the issue of disruption to education programmes caused by constantly rising number of internal prisoner transfers. There is need to establish parity across the country’s prisons.
  5. Government should take steps to reduce the number of women in prison for comparatively trivial offences like motoring offences, crimes arising out of financial problems and debts and shoplifting.
  6. For the few prison workers who do not rise above the pressures to which the current overcrowded system exposes them, there should be more staff development to ensure a safe and dignified environment for prisoners. Where that fails it is important for the authorities to root out those elements within the prison staff whose vision had been corrupted or jaundiced to the extent that they constitute an impediment to change.
  7. All our political parties have a responsibility to guard against irresponsible exploitation of fears over law and order to gain electoral advantage.
  8. Politicians, newspaper editors and TV drama executives who promulgate punitive views, willful disregard of the evidence, to gain political or commercial advantages- or who seek to reinforce prejudices rather than convey the overall truth- do a great disservice to the cause of justice. They should be held accountable for their actions.


  1. OLD SOLDIER NEVER DIES: There is this story of an old farmer who wrote a letter to his only son in prison during planting season informing him that he would not be able to plant that year since he had no one to till the ground for him since the son bagged prison term. The son wrote his father warning him not even to till the land because that was where he buried all the money he stole. Upon receiving the letter, the police led by the IGP went out to till the entire land looking for the money. Later the boy wrote his father till him to go and plant his crop that he had sent people to till the land. he asked him to inform him during harvest so that he can send help. The father wrote back: my son, you are great, even in prison, you are still great. That you are here does not mean that you destiny is irrevocably sealed.
  2. A PRISON INMATE CAN STILL BE GREAT: On 6th of November 2015, a picture went viral. It was a picture of an 11 yrs old Chinese being taken to the theatre in honour guard. Liang Yaoyi, 11 wanted to be a great medical doctor he would grow up. Sadly, that dream died that infamous Friday as he died of brain tumor. But what is so remarkable was the sacrifice he was willing to make and which he told his parents before he died. He said; ‘There are many people in the world doing great things. I have wanted to be great and I want to be great too even though my dream may not come true.” He said that he would want to donate all his vital organs so that no other kid will die. As his body was being taken to the surgery to remove the organs, the doctors all bowed forming an honour guard to show their respect. Can you imagine how scary it could be for an 11 yr old trapped in terminal sickness and yet he thought out a new way of achieving his dream. As Prisoners, your dreams are alive. It depends on how you handle them.

Going back to the society after many years or months is challenging. Several months will pass before you will allow yourself the liberty to spend time with your family. There are many hurdles you will have to pass, you will learn the hurdle of trying to do again what you had perfected before like driving. You will have to immerse yourself in technology that didn’t exist before you prison term began. You will learn the internet, the social media, how to send email, or use an iphone. At the first stage of your release your priority will be trying to build a platform. Begin now to develop the picture of the platform you need. You will miss your friends, some might have got married etc.

To be in prison is not easy but not without lesson. It can be reformative if we want it to be. It is also an opportunity to develop talents. Joel Weldon is an expert in human potential development. He drew a lesson in Chinese bamboo to encourage people to approach life from the perspective of patience. Joel Weldon’s study shows that it takes five years for a Chinese bamboo seed to germinate after it is planted. However, when it spouts up, it takes only six weeks for the bamboo to grow to the height of 90 feet. In those five years, the bamboo seed develops elaborate roots that will enable it shoot high after it sprouts. Chinese farmers are always patient, watering, weeding, and guarding their bamboo seedbeds in those five years waiting in hope for the time they will begin to germinate.



  1. AVOID WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME because of the stigma of being ex-prisoner. There are many reasons why people go to prisons. Guilty or not guilty, you have got to move ahead. Caius Clay went to prison for refusing to go to Vietnam. In prison he was not visited by family friends and church members but only muslims. When he came out from prison, he changed his name to Mohammed Ali, the Heavyweight Champion. In one of his fights with Joe Frazer, he said: of all men born of women there is none stronger than Joe Frazer but Mohammed Ali is still the greatest.
  2. DON’T BE TOO REACTIVE, BE ACTIVELY IN-CHARGE OF YOUR DESTINY: if you must be reactive, it must be to produce something positive. Jemmy Clef and Bob Marley were conscripted into the army to fight in Vietnam and when they refused, they were thrown into prison. And when they came out and seeing the defeat of America in Vietnam, they released the album, Buffalo Soldiers.
  4. FIX THE PROBLEM AND NOT THE BLAME. AVOID BUCK PASSING. When his son, Christopher, took his own life with a gun, Forres Holocom of Peoria, along with his wife Betty, formed ‘Children for Peace’ because he wants the memory of his son to be a force in the lives of others who could be victims of gun violence. Since inceptions, Holocomb has helped initiate peace walks in some of the highest crime areas to christening a program to provide mentoring to children this summer.

Clara Feldman is one of the Jews who survived the Nazi Holocaust. Today she goes from school to school in New York to teach students about what happened to Jews in Germany during the war. She applies the lessons to our modern world making it clear to students that they cannot remain silent about the violation of human rights wherever it occurs.

Tommy Pigage was drunk when he hit and killed Ted Morris of Kentucky. Ted was the only son of Mrs Elizabeth Morris. The death of her only son left Elizabeth stunned and angry. Tommy pleaded guilty and was convicted, and was ordered to give high school students on behalf of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). One day Elizabeth went to hear Tommy speak. She heard him say with felt emotion that he ‘murdered Ted’ and should be behind bars for what he did. Elizabeth said, ‘I didn’t want my son’s death to be totally in vain. And in my heart, I knew that if he could, Ted would tell us to forgive Tommy’. Today, Elizabeth and Tommy are friends and they are preaching against drunk drivers because both are victims in different ways.


  2. He was at one point Britain’s most wanted man. His name was Frank Cook, a former armed robber and gangland enforcer in South Yorkshire. He was incarcerated for over half of his life, wreaking havoc in every prison in which he was locked up. It had begun with strings of convictions starting in his childhood, resulting in lengthy spells in children’s homes, approved schools, detention centre and juveniles. As a youth almost all his family and friends were thieves. The more he stole, the more he got patted on his shoulders by his peers. The only way that he had to be normal was to drink, use drugs to commit crime. He was sent to a youth detention centre but it did little to alter his behaviour; instead it provided what he called ‘the biggest launch’ in his career as a criminal. All he learned there was ‘that I could take pain- I came of there fit, thick, homeless and anti-social with no sense of direction.’ The pull of belonging meant that he inevitably went back into crime.

He was not a man, perversely, without ambition. ‘I wanted to be the best gangster. I worked hard in the gym and I challenged people to fight,’ he said. He progresses to more serious crimes involving guns, shooting at people and taking hostages. He served long periods in custody where he said: ‘I mixed with the worst. Brutality was rife. I shaved my head, went to the gym and thought that people wouldn’t hurt me if I was nasty. And that’s what I was-nasty, nasty, nasty.’ He was constantly disruptive which resulted in him spending long periods in solitary confinement.

It was while in solitary that he was interviewed by Dr Ray Gillett, the medical superintendent of Grendon Prison which had developed radical ideas on rehabilitation of prisoners through psychotherapeutic treatment. But when Cook was transferred there he continued to cause trouble. One day, after he assaulted some members of staff, he was summoned to see Dr Gillett. He assumed he would be told he would be sent back to the harsher regime of a conventional prison. Instead Dr Gillett put his arm around the recidivist’s shoulders. Frank Cook burst into tears…

When Frank Cook burst into tears he crossed a threshold of understanding which marks the beginning of real therapeutic activity. Frank Cook believes that the corrupted values of his friends and family set him into a criminal career, and that this deviancy was confirmed by his experiences of penal institutions before he went to Grendon. But in his autobiography he puts his finger on something more than simple deviancy amplification. He describes something deeper and far more resonant. “You can’t love yourself and go around hurting people. It doesn’t work like that,” he writes. “You hate yourself and that’s why you hate everything else”.

Love had been missing all his life. “I can’t remember kissing my mum or cuddling her. My father was evil and wicked, but she would have got us away from there” elsewhere he says: “I can safely say that I have never been in love in my whole life. Mums and dads give love-mine didn’t”. Significantly he comments that “the first person that I felt love from was Dr Gillett.”

That was the beginning of a process which led to the point where he says “the life of a gangster no longer held any appeal. I could make a difference and actually help people, which was a new and satisfying experience for me. Against all odds I had become a role model and that brought with it responsibility.” It was not exactly love, but it was the closest Frank was able to get at that point. He was released from jail in 1996 at the age of 43 having spent all but 16 years of his life in some form of institution. The years since then have been far from easy, but thankfully he has been crime free. He was, he says, “filled with the determination to succeed.” So far he has done precisely that.


  1. Bob Turney’s descent into a life of crime began at school where he was labeled stupid because of what was, many years later, diagnosed as profound dyslexia (impaired ability to understand written language, not caused by low intelligence or brain damage). His childhood had been difficult in other ways. His mother was deaf. And his manic depressive father killed himself it was Bob who found the body. And he was just 10 years old. From his early days in the school, bob was labeled a disruptive, uncooperative and lazy. He was treated accordingly and he behaved accordingly in response. When he left school at 15 he was barely able to write his own name and soon got involved in the first burglary. That eventually led to armed robbery, just as alcoholism led to drug addiction. He spent his next 18 years in and out of prison.

His behaviour inside was no better than outside. one fellow inmate ended up with a metal plate in his head after Bob hit him with an iron bar. He became, in his words, a career prisoner rather than a career criminal. “It offered me a strong sense of security- boundaries I have never had in the outside world,” he has said. “And although the attention I got was negative, at least it was attention.”Then, one day, 20 years ago, in one of his stints outside jail, Bob regained consciousness in a public toilet. His shirt was covered in blood and both of his wrist were slit. He had been drinking for four day straight. “I was admitted to a rehabilitation clinic after finally acknowledging I had a problem,” he recalls. It was only the start of a long slow road to recovery.” The psychiatrist said I was institutionalized and now using hospitals instead of prisons to hide in and unless I changed I would end my life as a long term inmate somewhere.”

Though he had the reading age of a 10 year old, he began to tinker with a computer in the office of a rehab charity. He started to write the story of his life. His spelling was so bad that when he put the spell-check on, the computer asked him what language he was using. But eventually after sobering up, Bob got an honorary degree in forensic social work from the University of Reading. He then became a Probation Officer and is now a consultant to the probation service. His book, ‘Going Straight’ written with prison right campaigner and author, Angela Devin, is now a core textbook for the BA in Community Justice Studies at the University of Birmingham.

Now an active member of his local church, Bob works as a consultant, writer and public speaker whose venues have included the Oxford Union, the House of Lords. He makes audiences laugh and cry, sometimes with the same sentence. A judge who heard him said that Bob’s was one the most moving talks he had heard in 30 years.

To each audience Bob Turney offers the same powerful message. No matter how despicable their crime, no one is beyond the power of Christ’s saving redemption.

Presented at Abakaliki Federal Prisons on Central Bank of Nigeria Social Responsibility Visit on December 10, 2015