In 2009, more than 38,700 adults and youth were in custody in Canada’s prisons and correction facilities. Alpha is running in nearly 50 of these institutions. Hundreds of prisoners have completed the course through a national network of churches and other faith-based organizations.
The first Alpha for prisons was started in 1995; today 42% of our prisons run the course. In Canada, the rate of re-offence drops significantly when released offenders have taken Alpha and connected with a local church community. For inmates, completing Alpha in prison not only helped transform their lives, but it also it renews their hope and helps prepare them to begin a new life outside prison doors.
Prison is just like our society, there are some people who are criminal-minded and don’t want to change, but there are others who have changed and found God. The difference between those who know Christ and don’t, is that, as believers, we always have something to fall back on; our own temptations and pressures can become too much.
Shane eventually got caught and was put in prison, but his incarceration did little to stem his rebellion. His hatred of authority saw him stab two prison officers with a broken glass after he wasn’t allowed to use the prison gym, sparking a riot.
His out-of-control behaviour quickly saw him transferred to a high security prison. Even then he needed further locking up and was placed within a close supervision system. Shane says, ‘They felt I was a danger to everybody. They had to feed me through a hatch in the door, because they couldn’t have physical contact with me.’
Then Shane met Robert Bull, who had been imprisoned for murder, but had since become a Christian. ‘He was saying a load of things that sounded mad to me’, says Shane, ‘but the one thing that stuck in my mind was when he said, “I’ve been in prison for fifteen years and am probably never getting out – but I’m free.” I used to think, “What’s he on about?”’
Shane felt an urge to start writing to Robert and began reading the Bible that was in his cell. He was then moved to another prison, where a minister invited him on Alpha. ‘I said, “Yeah, put my name down.” I was mostly interested in getting the chocolate biscuits and having debates.’
It was about half way through doing Alpha, on the Alpha day, that Shane experienced the presence of God for the first time. ‘I said, “Jesus Christ, I know you died on a cross for me. Please, I don’t like who I am, please forgive me.” I started to feel tears coming into my eyes. I tried to hold it back. But it rose up, until suddenly I began crying my eyes out. I hadn’t cried in years. I cried for about five minutes and I could feel a weight being lifted off me, ‘Shane remembers. ‘In that split second I knew it was real. I knew God existed, I knew Jesus had touched me and that I was going to live for him forever.’ “In that split second I knew it was real”
Shane’s behaviour changed so much that within weeks he went from being in permanent segregation to getting a trusted job in the prison chaplaincy. He no longer saw the prison officers as the enemy. ‘Not long after all this, I was lying on my bed in my cell. All the bad things I’d done to people flicked through my head and all the times I’d upset people – and I started crying. I realised that for many years I’d been aggressive towards people without even realising it.’
He started going to church where, seven months later, he met his future wife, Sam. The couple got married, in church, on 11 October 2008, with 100 family and friends witnessing their union. They now have two little girls, Angel and Grace.
‘Jesus has changed my life,’ Shane says. ‘Jesus has shown me how to love and how to forgive. Almost all the people I’ve upset, all the people I stabbed, all the people I hurt, have forgiven me and now we talk. I’m helping with Alpha in prisons. Now I’m able to tell other prisoners about Jesus – it’s amazing.’
Everyone was created with a purpose. Offenders are a very marginalized community. They've hurt our society and have victims and it's understandable to be mad. But God breathed life into them and they hold His image. They have a purpose that's divinely ordained, like you and I, and I work in light of this.