Magazine article Anglican Journal

His Conviction Was Resoundingly Firm: `Even Though I Know the Lord Forgives Me, the Pain Is There'

Magazine article Anglican Journal

His Conviction Was Resoundingly Firm: `Even Though I Know the Lord Forgives Me, the Pain Is There'

Article excerpt

LEYHILL OPEN Prison sprawls like a modern university campus in the Gloucestershire countryside, due north of the English city of Bristol. Fronted only by a three-foot stone wall, the 400 category `D' (low risk) prisoners here know, however, they'd be back in a `bang up' prison if they slipped out for an unauthorized stroll.

In its Chapel of St. Michael and All Angels, Tony Swann, the full-time Anglican chaplain had, on request, arranged for a number of inmates to meet me. "There has been very dramatic evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in some English prisons recently," he told me in his office. "His work in this prison is very much active, but perhaps not always in such spectacular ways ..." I was nevertheless more than moved by what I later heard.

Bob, a 47-year-old coach driver from near Bristol, is serving a four-year sentence after pleading guilty in November 1993. "My offence was against my wife, for which I am deeply remorseful," he replied when I asked him why he was here, in a quiet room adjacent to the chapel. "We got into financial difficulties."

A warm man with dark swept-back hair and beard, his face bore the strains of a recent breakdown, and he spoke with fragility in his West Country accent.

"I'd been on remand for about a month, when I received my divorce papers. It knocked me so much that I decided to commit suicide: I tried to hang myself. This is when God came to me in a vivid vision. He showed me Jesus on the cross, and he said to me `My Son died for you; it doesn't matter what you've done or how alone you are, I love you and I want you.' It hit me so much that it brought me to my senses ..."

After ten months on remand at another prison, where he was confirmed by the Bishop of Malmesbury, he was sent to Leyhill. "I confessed all my sins to the chaplain at Horfield, and I felt as if someone had picked a big brick right off me..." he smiled.

Noel, a 57-year-old Jamaican, was brought up in a Christian home, and came to live in England in 1962. His father is a deacon in the Jamaican Methodist Church, and his grandfather ran a mission on the island. From boyhood he wanted to be a preacher.

"For the last ten years there's been pain in my heart for what I did; I'm not at ease in that respect," he told me. "Even though I know the Lord forgives me, the pain is there. …

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