When I took a bookstall to a Christian summer conference in 2019, the speaker prophesied that I’d be involved in prison chaplaincy. While his words didn’t resonate with me, I didn’t dare write them off completely. I remembered them when I read news from Speaking Volumes, an English charity with which I partner to place Christian books in libraries. They announced that they had secured special funding to place books in prisons.
Speaking Volumes was started over fifty years ago when the founder’s wife died, and he had difficulty finding Christian books to help him through his bereavement. The charity provides grants to supply Christian books for free to libraries through their partner bookshops worldwide. Their rationale is that books placed in lending libraries are read by many people, so maximising their impact.
I felt compelled by God to pursue this. But it didn’t prove easy to find a way in. I was surprised to find that prison librarians were unenthusiastic. That turned out to be because books that are donated to them are typically overstocks that didn’t sell. But then Alpha Ireland pointed me to Philip Larragy of Release Prison Partnership. Then Philip linked me up with Rev Alan Rufli, Interim Head Chaplain for the entire Irish Prison Service. Only God could have set this up, for I already knew Philip and Alan from when we were on Scripture Union Camps Committee together many years before.
After many negotiations, the time came to deliver the books. Paula Renouf of Speaking Volumes came over from England for some of the handovers. At each prison, when the boxes of books were opened, we were thrilled to see everyone’s eyes lit up, whether governor, officer, librarian or prisoner. Rachel Lacey, Senior Librarian for the Dublin area prisons was delighted, ‘When I saw the books I immediately recognised the thought and care that you had taken in selecting great quality titles suitable for the needs of our prisoners’. As in other libraries, books in prisons are classified by the Dewey system. But Rachel decided that these books should be given pride of place with special labels – INS for Inspirational.
That was at the beginning of March, and little did any of us know that within days the whole Irish Prison Service would be locked down early due to the threat of covid-19. God’s timing was perfect! Prisoners have been confined in their cells almost 24/7 to keep them safe from the virus. Along with Philip and Rev Alan and their teams, I’ve been praying that God would speak powerfully to the prisoners through these books, and change their lives. Some further titles have been requested, and I will process additional grant applications when Speaking Volumes re-opens.
Further great news is that the Irish Prison Service has remained covid-19 free, despite large numbers of people at close quarters, many with health issues. Prison Services in other countries have even asked for advice on how this has been achieved.
Philip gave really great assistance to me in setting up the book placements. But the books have in turn paved the way for new opportunities for Philip and the volunteers from Release Prison Partnership to minister in more prisons. You can find out about becoming a Release volunteer at release.ie.
Philip and I have also set up Books Behind Bars, a scheme whereby a Christian can purchase a book to bless an individual prisoner, and I make sure it reaches them via Philip’s team. You can click here to read more about Books Behind Bars.
If you would like to see Christian books donated to any library known to you, you can find the Speaking Volumes book list at speakingvolumes.org.uk. I would be delighted to guide you through the application process. You can contact me about Speaking Volumes or Books Behind Bars by clicking here.
The story didn’t end here, and I’ve since written a follow on Blog which you can read by clicking here.
At Shelton Abbey Open Prison with some of the books, L to R: Librarian/English Teacher Una Ward, Interim Irish Prison Service Head Chaplain Rev Alan Rufli, Speaking Volumes’ Paula Renouf, Governor Joe Donohue, ChristianBooks.ie’s Julie Carvill, Headmaster Brian Doyle, Release Prison Partnership’s Philip Larragy