9 Ways To Do Prison Ministry

You might be surprised to learn that there are many ways to show compassion to prisoners. Look over this list and see if God is calling you to action.

Dr. Cleveland Houser is executive director of Don’t Follow Me and a prison ministry consultant and trainer for the North American Division

1. Visit. Matthew 25 gives a glowing affirmation to those who visit souls in prison. It’s not convenient. You will need to submit paperwork to the corrections department before you will be approved for visiting privileges. Then you have to show up at the facility during visiting hours—which may be severely limited. But the effort you make to visit someone in person will be rewarded with deep appreciation. Nothing breaks through prison isolation like a face-to-face meeting with someone who cares.

2. Write a letter. There are few things to look forward to in prison. Getting a letter is one of them. Prisoners press forward when they hear the words “Mail call!” “In prison, meaningful communication is everything,” says a former inmate. A letter is always welcome. It is physical evidence that they are not forgotten. Check the facility’s website to find the rules for what is not allowed in a letter. Usually, staples, tape, or glue will result in the letter being rejected. One more thing: Holidays are awful in prison. Inmates may never see a Christmas tree or a bit of red ribbon. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” says a former prisoner, “if a letter is 5, a Christmas card is a 10.” 

3. Start a van ministry. If there’s one action that is better than visiting a prisoner yourself, it is helping their family come to the institution for a visit. Many families of inmates don’t own a car and can’t afford taxi fares to prisons, which are often located a distance from residential areas. You can be a great blessing by driving one or more families for weekend visits.

4. Donate clothing. How do you dress for success when all you’ve worn for years is prison orange? In Wilmington, North Carolina, Jerri Holliday provides designer clothes for the recently released in a boutique setting. Her clients are dressed to impress on their next job interview. 

5. Contribute toiletries. There can be religion in a bar of soap. Some ministries provide critical toiletries for indigent inmates who have no cash to buy personal items such as soap and toothpaste. 

6. Join Angel Tree. The Angel Tree ministry provides gifts for the children of inmates at Christmastime. Local children are reached by nearby church congregations working with prison chaplains. Google “Angel Tree” to find out how you can get involved.

7. Support families. You can establish or help lead small groups that provide support for families of the incarcerated. This can be a Bible study for spouses or fiancés of inmates. Narcotics Anonymous and Al Anon groups also encourage family members and prepare them for life after their loved one’s release. 

8. Support released prisoners. It is often said that being outside is harder than being inside prison. Excons need help navigating social services, obtaining an ID, finding housing, and getting a job. Your skills on the computer or filling out paperwork could be a lifesaver. 

9. Send reading material. This year you can join church members who are reaching 100,000 prisoners with Message magazine. Other outreach magazines such as Vibrant Life or Glow Tracts can bring the gospel of peace to a hard place.

Dr. Cleveland Houser is executive director of Don’t Follow Me and a prison ministry consultant and trainer for the North American Division