Simon Edwards tells Renée Davis about Walk Ministries
LIFE completely changed for Simon Edwards on the night in September 2009 when he became a Christian in his prison cell. Up until then, he had been in and out of prison, caught up in burglary, drug dealing and violence. He had received threats to his life from drug gangs. His crimes culminated in a life sentence, with a minimum of six years, for armed robbery. At his lowest point he attempted suicide, but then found himself locked up with a Christian cellmate, whose influence led Simon
Today, Simon runs Walk Ministries, a Christian organisation, based in Stoke-on-Trent, which helps released prisoners to develop a new life.
‘Four years ago, I walked out of prison with £46,’ Simon tells me. ‘Today, I run a ministry that has two houses, seven flats and a rehab centre – the only one in the city.’
One of its programmes, called the Walk Project, assists men as they leave prison, providing supported housing, a mentoring scheme and Christian teaching. Walk Ministries also owns a building and scaffolding company, Cornerstone Builders, which often employs men who have linked up with the Walk Project.
The organisation identifies nine areas where it believes that ex-offenders need support, including accommodation, training andemployment, breaking a dependency on drugs and alcohol, money management and mental health.
‘Our first step is to get people off drugs, alcohol or whatever they’re addicted to,’ Simon says. ‘Once a person gets clean, they go to stay in our supported housing, which is a shared house. The guys go shopping and go to church together – it’s our way of instilling in them the idea of what family life looks like.
‘Another good thing about providing housing is that if one of our guys messes up at his job, he isn’t going to lose his home. In nearly five years, no matter what
the circumstance, we’ve never had anyone go homeless, because we always have an alternative plan for when someone makes a mistake.
‘We’re also a bridge into work and training placements,’ he continues. ‘A proportion of the lads who come to us aren’t ready for work, so we link up with other organisations which understand that while our lads might not be able to work an eight-hour day, they can do two. And we’ll still congratulate our lads on completing those two hours, knowing that they’ll eventually get up to eight.’
The Cornerstone Builders company is another key component in Walk Ministries’ efforts to help ex-offenders into work.
‘We’ll employ some of the lads in our company part-time. It’s not always good for guys to get a full-time job straight away, because they might not understand money
management. Each stage of what we do prepares them for the next.’ While those who go to Walk Ministries
for help don’t have to be Christians, they are required to engage with faith-based activities.
‘We don’t change who we are – we’re set up to be a discipleship programme and we help men lead a life that’s godly,’ Simon says. ‘We run Bible studies and a discipleship course. On a Sunday, we all go to church, includingthe lads from rehab. And, because of the Bible study, the worship music and the influence of
all the staff, who are Christian, the guys from rehab not only come to faith but also reach a point when they’re no longer addicted.’
At present, Walk Ministries’ 15 staff members – some full-time, others part-time or voluntary – help 22 men. Some of the staff were once on the Walk Ministries programmes themselves.
‘Walk Ministries also works behind the scenes to train other organisations in how to work with ex-offenders,’ says Simon. ‘And we advise church leaders on how to welcome men from prisons. We ask them to think about what kind of language their church uses. Is it understandable? The guy who is coming out of prison is going to use different language from them. ‘We believe that God has asked us to do this work, where we act as a bridge from one life to another. We help the men stay on that bridge and cross over to the other side.’
Next week: a former staff member reveals what he saw in an immigration removal centre
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