What is Bridgecare?
Bridgecare is a core program of Prison Fellowship Canada (PFC) which seeks to fill a gap and support prisoners as they leave correctional institutions and re-enter communities in a safe and respectful manner for all. PFC’s Bridgecare strategy is to equip and mobilize PFC volunteer teams to walk alongside an individual for a period of 3-18 months to provide spiritual mentorship and practical assistance.
Spiritual Mentorship: For spiritual mentoring, PFC volunteers meet regularly as a team with the individual to complete PFC’s The Re-Entry Journey program. This is biblically-based material that provides an opportunity for a former prisoner to learn life skills and apply these new skills to build life-giving habits and values. It is lived out in real-time with an opportunity for mentoring and direction. Once the local church and the individual are ready, the goal for PFC is to move the former prisoner from PFC-supported Bridgecare to ongoing aftercare and discipleship as part of the local church.
Practical Assistance: These teams have access to PFC’s extensive resource directories to help connect the former prisoner to practical support within the community. Examples of these resources include information about affordable food and housing, mental health resources, employment, legal advice, recreation and more.
Community reintegration can be a daunting and complex task particularly when an individual struggles with mental health issues, addiction, and/ or broken relationships. Having poor or no support in place can make this nearly impossible. PFC recognizes that stable housing, stable employment and stable community is essential to ensuring the success of both program participants and the communities to which they are returning.
Who Are Bridgecare Candidates?
Candidates for the Bridgecare program are those who have shown an interest in faith-based transformation and ideally have attended Christian programming while in the institution. They have expressed a desire to continue earnestly seeking positive life changes and wanting to learn more about Jesus Christ and what it means to follow Him. Candidates for the program are typically identified by chaplaincy or other institutional staff.
Once a candidate is identified for Bridgecare, PFC works directly with institutional staff to determine a prisoner’s suitability for the program. For those who have been recommended by the institutional staff, trained PFC volunteers conduct an in-prison assessment to determine the needs of the prisoner upon his or her release and whether PFC is able to provide Bridgecare support and other connections. All information recorded in this assessment is verified by the institutional staff and is kept confidential and secure in accordance with Canadian privacy guidelines.
How do we communicate with Bridgecare Candidates: PFC assumed the responsibility of an authorized toll-free number in March of 2020, which can be made available to prisoners who are approved for PFC Bridgecare both prior to and upon their release. This phone line is answered by PFC staff and trained volunteers and serves as the primary vehicle of communication between PFC and potential and approved Bridgecare participants in preparation for the prisoner’s release.
Bridgecare Volunteers & Training:
Bridgecare relies on volunteers in communities across Canada to provide support, spiritual mentorship and practical assistance to Bridgecare clients.
All PFC volunteers go through an interview and screening process which includes a detailed application, reference checks, and criminal background check. This process is initiated when each individual completes the online application at www.prisonfellowship.ca/volunteer.
Approved volunteers are then trained by PFC in correctional system orientation, mental health first aid, boundaries, active listening and communication, and core Biblical program materials. All staff and volunteers are required to report regularly to a PFC staff team.
Church Involvement In Bridgecare:
Why should prisoners matter to churches? It’s far easier to forget about or to judge prisoners than it is to truly care about them. Ultimately, prisoners matter because they matter to Jesus. When Jesus said in Matthew 25, “I was in prison and you visited me,” He reminded us that how we treat and serve those who are most marginalized, including those who have been in prison, is a direct reflection of the genuineness of our response to Him. Like every single one of us, if left on our own, prisoners are “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36) who need God’s grace. They need the opportunity to be introduced to the Shepherd who can give hope and has the power to truly transform their lives. A committed Christ-centered community around them is essential for transformation to occur.
For any local church interested in learning more, a church representative can contact PFC’s national office at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll-free at 1-844-618-5867.