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To hell – and back

NB This article is about ministry with people who have committed sex offences

Julie knew she had a tough call, even as she was studying for her CMS Diploma. A call some many people may find hard to understand. Her work with registered sex offenders leaving prison sometimes means following Jesus to the very edge of hell and back.

Jack’s story

Jack was sexually abused by a family friend from age 9. At 15 he became involved with a controlling older woman who encouraged him to be sexually experimental. When this relationship ended, he was 20, isolated and depressed. He used drugs while exploring increasingly illegal pornography.

Through chatrooms he developed a friendship with a young teenage girl, which led to several contact sexual offences.

Jack served three and a half years in prison, during which he suffered further sexual abuse, which was not taken seriously by prison staff.

He was released on licence and his probation officer made an application for accommodation to C2C Social Action, where I am the men’s work manager.

A rabbit in headlights

Jack arrived like a ‘rabbit in headlights’, talking constantly about what he needed to get sorted. He was anxious, scared, struggling with change, and traumatised by his prison experience.

We drove him to the house, introduced his housemates and gave him his room which was clean, tidy and with a freshly made bed. We worked through his tenancy agreement and Code of Conduct, then drove him to the police station to sign the Sex Offenders Register. We provided a food parcel and left him to settle in.

Over the next week staff ensured Jack had sorted out a GP, medication, Universal Credit, a bank account and completed his Housing Benefit application. We encouraged him to attend our allotment session and our Hub (drop-in).

Walking the talk

Jack made immediate friends with my Labrador. We took him for walks in the park and talked. He started some counselling and sometimes shared with us the content of these sessions, occasionally with tears, often with anger and frustration. Jack’s story continues as we journey with him.

Throughout my CMS Diploma I knew I had a ministry with people with sexual offences, having received two very direct messages from God in early 2017.

As I worked through the modules and talked with many criminal justice professionals, the direction I was to take became very clear and I presented this proposal at Make Good in 2019 and began building a charity to establish a residential community for Registered Sex Offenders (RSOs) leaving prison. Along with some very experienced Trustees we took the plans to Northamptonshire Criminal Justice Partners in Spring 2021. They turned us down flat.

God in action

After spending a few days (weeks?) wondering what God was doing, I answered a request in a CMS blog for “a part time housing manager, to manage two properties in Northampton that house male sex offenders in the process of resettlement”. That’s what God had been doing – exactly what we had planned together, but with the support of an already long-established charity and awesome people to work with!

The C2C Housing Project provides short-term, supported accommodation currently for 12 men who pose some level of risk in the community and are being managed by the Probation Service and/or the police. 

People behind the pain

Residents often find it difficult to deal with their past actions. Embarrassed and ashamed, they feel they do not deserve to be treated well. Each one of them is someone’s son, brother, husband, father, grandfather who has made a mistake or a bad choice, and stepped over a line they should have stayed behind.

Our role is to show them that they are all God’s children. Just as God knows and loves the tiniest sparrow that falls in the street, God knows and loves them and wants the best for them.

We do this in many ways. We provide houses that are homes, environments that engender pride and self-respect. We provide activities to develop our residents’ skills and confidence, help them find work and ongoing accommodation. We listen.

Ever present at the edge

We are sometimes strict, we are sometimes kind, we laugh with them and cry with them. We walk alongside them – sometimes to the edge of hell and back. 

The journey has not been an easy one – God never promised it would be – but his guiding hand is ever present and recognisable.

Faced with wrongdoing, Jesus always acknowledged the whole person and their story. People who commit offences often also struggle with deep trauma and pain.

While everyone has a choice about their actions, until we have walked a mile in their shoes, can we be sure that in the same circumstances our own choices would be different? 

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