You Came Unto Me

A Training Manual For Jail And Prison Ministry
Jesus said, “I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” —Matthew 25:43


Individualized Guidelines

This manual provides general guidelines for ministry applicable to most jail and prison settings. This final section is reserved for insertion of specific guidelines unique to the institution in which you will be ministering.

Here are some suggested items to insert in this section of the manual:

            ∙          An organizational chart for your prison ministry and/or that of the institution in which you will be ministering. (An organizational chart shows who is part of your ministry and who you are responsible to within the institution.)

            ∙          Rules for dress and safety specific to your institution.

            ∙          Guidelines on what you as a volunteer--or your ministry team--may bring or send into the institution where you minister: Bibles? Bible studies? Tracts? Cassette tapes? Videos?

            ∙          Specific guidelines for visiting inmates, including visitation days and hours and what can and cannot be brought or sent in.

            ∙          Guidelines for corresponding with inmates and items that can be sent through the mail.

            ∙          A map of the institution.

            ∙          Handouts from in-service training offered by the institution.

            ∙          Referral lists of local organizations or ministries that assist paroling inmates with housing, jobs, clothing, finances, etc.

            ∙          If you are a chaplain or a volunteer coordinator and have developed training materials unique to your institution, insert these materials in this section.

            ∙          If you are a Bible college instructor, insert your lecture notes and handouts in this section.



You do not need to know inmate slang to conduct jail and prison ministry, but some basic terminology used frequently in prisons is helpful. The following terms are common in prisons throughout the United States.

Note: If you are preparing this manual for use in another country, you may want to remove this section and substitute one more appropriate to your institution.

Ad Seg: Administrative Segregation. Placement in a controlled unit for the safety and security of the institution. Also called the “hole.”

All day: A life sentence, as in "He's doing all day . . ."

Badge: A guard, correctional officer.

Banger: A knife. Also called a burner or a shank.

Beef: A disciplinary charge, as to "catch a beef."

Big House: Prison.

Big Jab: Lethal injection. Also called the "needle."

Blanket party: Throwing a blanket over a despised prisoner, so he or she can't identify an attacker.

Blind: Area where correctional officers cannot see.

Books: Trust fund account. All money received by a prisoner is placed into a trust account and may be withdrawn for canteen purchases, special orders, postage, and other expenses.

Box: A carton of cigarettes.

Bull: Guard.

Bunkie: The person with whom a prisoner shares a double bunk bed.

C-file: The central file. The critical information maintained on each prisoner.

Call: Time for specified events -- e.g., mail call or sick call. May be known in some jurisdictions as a call out.

Camp: Minimum security facilities for firefighting and conservation work.

Cellie: Cell mate.

Chain: Used when an inmate is transferred to another unit. "He left out on the chain yesterday."

Chrono: Informational notes by prison officials documenting classification decisions, minor disciplinary offenses, medical orders, and just about everything else that might be recorded on a prisoner.

Commissary: Prison “store” for buying stamps, toiletries, cigarettes, and other items.

Count: The institutional count, repeated at different times in the day. Everything stops while prison staff make sure no one is missing.

Date: The release date.

Ducat: Prison passes for movement in the institution. Assignments for jobs, cell changes, sick-call, and other prison programs. Trust fund withdrawals for canteen draws.

Fish: A new inmate.

Fish Line: A line used to pull items from one cell to another.

Fog line: When the fog is too thick for staff to keep a close watch, “fog line” will be called and prisoners will be restricted to their cells or unit

Good Time: Credits earned toward one's sentence.

Hard Time: Serving a sentence the difficult way.

Hit: A planned murder or stabbing.

Hole: Solitary confinement, segregation, disciplinary detention cells.

Homeboy: Another prisoner from one's hometown or neighborhood.

Hooch: Homemade (or cell made) alcohol

Ink: Tattoos.

Inside: Behind the walls.

Jacket: An inmate’s prison record.

Jail: A county facility for pretrial detainees or prisoners serving short terms.

Jailhouse Lawyer: A prisoner who assist others in filing legal actions.

Kite: Notes or letters. Any message passed to a prisoner.

Lifer: A prisoner serving a life sentence.

Lock down: An individual inmate, a specific housing unit, or the entire prison may be locked down when there is a threat to security, count doesn’t clear, or someone is missing.

Lock Up Unit: Segregated unit; the adjustment center; disciplinary detention.

L.W.O.P.: Life Without Possibility of Parole.

Mainline: Also called “general population”--as distinct from those housed on death row or in special housing units.

Make Paper: Make parole.

Man: Guard or authority -- "The Man."

Man Walking: A signal that a guard is coming.

MTA: Medical technician.

Packing: A prisoner who is carrying a weapon or drugs for sale.

PC: Protective custody.

PHU: Protective Housing Unit. Unit assigned to prisoners who cannot program anywhere else in the system and meet certain criteria.

PIA: Prison Industry Authority.

Priors: Previous prison terms, enhancing one's sentence or affecting the classification score.

Seg: Segregation (isolated or disciplinary unit).

Shakedown: A search of a cell or work area.

Shank: Handmade prison weapon -- generally a stabbing instrument. Also called a shiv or a piece.

Short-timer: An inmate who will soon be released.

SHU: Security Housing Unit. Segregation, the Hole.

Snitch: An informant. One who has given up names or activities.

Stinger: Appliance used to heat water, which may be created by attaching live electrical wires to a metal plate. Permitted in some prisons.

Street: The outside world, as in "on the street."

Yard: The exercise area. In segregation, the yard may be nothing more than a concrete "dog run" with no equipment. Other units may have a basketball court, recreation equipment, or grassy areas.


Scriptures Related To Prisoners

Genesis 39:11-41:14

Joseph falsely accused of attempted rape and his experience in prison.

Genesis 42:15-20 Joseph imprisons his brothers.
Genesis 45:4-8 Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.
Numbers 21:1 King of Arad imprisons some of the Israelites.
Judges 16:21-25 Samson blinded and imprisoned.
1st Kings 22:27 Micaiah imprisoned because of his prophecy.
2nd Kings 17:4 Hoshea, king of Israel imprisoned by the king of Assyria for being a traitor.
2nd Kings 24:10-12 Jehoiachin, king of Israel, taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar.
2nd Kings 25:27-30 Jehoiachin released from prison by Evil-Merodach, new king of Babylon.
2nd Chronicles 16:7-10 Hanani the seer imprisoned by Asa King of Judah for giving a bad prophesy.

2nd Chronicles 18:26

 Micaiah imprisoned by Ahab, king of Israel, because of his prophecy.

Psalm 69:33 The Lord does not despise prisoners.
Psalms 79:11 and 102:20 A request for the Lord to preserve those condemned to die.
Psalm 146:7 The Lord sets prisoners free.
Isaiah 14:17 Satan does not allow his captives to go home.
Isaiah 24:21-22 The kings of the earth are imprisoned.
Isaiah 42:7 The foretelling of Jesus’ coming to set free the captives in prison.
Isaiah 49:9 In the day of salvation the Lord will tell captives to come and those in darkness to be free.
Isaiah 53:8 Jesus’ imprisonment foretold.
Isaiah 61:1 The proclamation of the Lord’s anointed to announce freedom for prisoners.
Jeremiah 32:1-2 Jeremiah imprisoned in Judah.
Jeremiah 32:6-15 Jeremiah buys a field while in prison.
Jeremiah 33 The Lord speaks to Jeremiah while he is in prison.
Jeremiah 36:5 Jeremiah dictated the Lord’s Word to Baruch during his imprisonment.
Jeremiah 36:26 Jehoiakim tries to have Jeremiah arrested.
Jeremiah 37:4-38:13 Falsely accused of desertion, Jeremiah is beaten and imprisoned.
Jeremiah 38:28 Jeremiah continues his imprisonment until Jerusalem is captured.
Jeremiah 40:1-4 Jeremiah is freed by the imperial guard.
Jeremiah 52:11 Zedekiah king of Jerusalem, blinded and imprisoned for life by the king of Babylon.
Jeremiah 52:31-34 Jehoiachin, King of Judah, released from prison by the king of Babylon.
Lamentations 3:34 God does not willingly crush prisoners.
Lamentations 3:53-55 Jeremiah pleads with God during his imprisonment.
Daniel 3:1-28 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego imprisoned, thrown into the furnace and rescued by God.
Daniel 6:16-24 Daniel thrown into the lion's den and rescued by the Lord.
Zechariah 9:11-12 God's promise to deliver prisoners.
Matthew 4:12 John the Baptist imprisoned.
Matthew 5:25-26 Advice that it is best to make peace with an adversary who is taking you to court. Otherwise, a prison term may be forthcoming.
Matthew 11:2 John the Baptist, who is in prison, asks Jesus if He is the One who was to come.
Matthew 14:3,10 John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded.
Matthew 18:30 The unmerciful servant puts a man who owes him money into jail.
Matthew 25:35,39,44 Jesus states that people who minister to those in prison are ministering to Him and that people who do not minister to those who are in prison have not ministered to Him.
Matthew 27:15-21 Barabbas released by the crowds.
Mark 1:14; 6:17,27 John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded.
Mark 15:6 Barabbas released from prison.
Luke 3:20 John the Baptist imprisoned.
Luke 4:18 Jesus states His calling, the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-3.
Luke 12:58-59 Advice to reconcile yourself to your adversary so you might escape imprisonment.
Luke 21:12-13 Jesus tells His disciples that they will be imprisoned on account of His name and that this would result in their being witnesses.
Luke 22:33 Peter declares he is ready to follow Jesus to prison and death.
Luke 23:19,25 The release of Barabbas at the request of the people.
Acts 4:3 Peter and John imprisoned.
Acts 5:18-23 The apostles imprisoned then freed by an angel of the Lord.
Acts 5:40 The apostles beaten for preaching the name of Jesus.
Acts 7:54-60 Stephen stoned to death.
Acts 8:3; 9:2,14,21 Saul persecuting Christians, his conversion and his ministry.
Acts 12:1-2 James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword at the command of Herod.
Acts 12:3-17 Peter imprisoned and released by an angel of the Lord.
Acts 12:18-19 Herod puts to death the guards who had been watching Peter.
Acts 14:19 Paul stoned by the crowd and assumed dead.
Acts 16:25-39

Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned. An earthquake erupts, the prison doors fly open, the chains are loosed. The jailer accepts salvation and Paul and Silas are freed by the magistrates.

Acts 20:22-24 Paul predicts his imprisonment in Jerusalem.
Acts 21:11 Agabus, a prophet, confirms that Paul will be imprisoned in Jerusalem.
Acts 21:30-35 The crowd in Jerusalem seizes Paul with the intention to kill him. Paul is saved by Roman soldiers.
Acts 22:24-29 Paul testifies that he previously persecuted Christians.
Acts 23:1-35 Paul speaks before the Sanhedrin and is imprisoned.
Acts chapter 24 Paul’s trial before Felix and his appeal to Caesar.
Acts chapter 25 Paul’s trial before Festus.
Acts chapter 26 Paul’s trial before Agrippa.
Acts chapter 27:1-28:15 Paul’s trip to Rome while in custody of Roman soldiers.
Acts 28:16 Paul allowed to live in his own house with a guard to watch him.
Acts 28:17-20 Paul talks about his imprisonment.
2nd Corinthians 11:23 Paul talks about his imprisonments and hardships he has suffered for Christ.
Ephesians 3:1; 4:1 Paul states he is a prisoner of Christ.

Ephesians 6:20 Paul states he is an ambassador in chains.
Philippians 1:11-18 Paul states that his imprisonment has advanced the cause of Christ.
Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus is a fellow prisoner of Paul.
2nd Timothy 1:8 Paul asks that people not be ashamed of his bondage in Christ.
2nd Timothy 1:16-17 Paul blesses Onesiphorus for his ministry to him in prison
2nd Timothy 2:9 Paul says that although he is bound, the Word of God is not bound
2nd Timothy 4:16-17 The Lord stood by Paul's side when everyone else deserted him because of his imprisonment
Philemon 1:9-10 Paul requests mercy for Onesimus who was saved in prison.
Philemon 1:23 Epaphras, a fellow prisoner of Paul.
Hebrews 13:3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners.
1st Peter 3:19 Christ ministers to those in prison
2nd Peter 2:4 God imprisoned the angels who revolted against Him
Jude 1:6 God imprisoned the angels who revolted against Him.
Revelation 2:10 The devil will imprison some in order to test them.
Revelation 2:13 Antipas, God's faithful witness, put to death.
Revelation 20:7 Satan released from prison for a short time.


. . . but the Word of God is not bound. (2nd Timothy 2:9)

Jesus is in your local jail. He is doing time in prison . . .

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, `Lord, when did we see You. . . in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, `Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:39-40)

From a spiritual standpoint, there is no value that can be placed on the soul of a man, woman, or young person:

“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

From a purely financial standpoint, every person kept out of prison saves thousands of dollars a year in direct costs of incarceration. This doesn’t include the social service expenses for their families provided by some governments, nor does it calculate the tremendous human costs to the family or economic contributions the prisoner would make if gainfully employed.

By accepting the mandate for jail and prison ministries--by marching fearlessly past the rows of razor wire and armed guard posts--you are going into the very depths of hell to mine precious gems for the Lord.

Oh yes--there will be some who do not receive your message. There will be others who will profess, but not really possess. There will be some who return back to their old ways. But remember . . .

            ∙          God started with a man and woman with a perfect heritage who lived in a perfect environment, and both of them failed.

            ∙          When Jesus revealed that He must suffer, many disciples ceased to follow Him--they were not willing to pay the cost.

            ∙          In His final hours, His remaining disciples fled, one denied Him, and one betrayed Him--yet several of these men fulfilled the great challenge of taking the Gospel to the nations of the world.

Do not measure the worth of jail and prison ministries by your failures. Measure its worth by your successes. You are part of a world-wide network that is changing the world--One jail and prison at a time . . .one person at a time.

There are many challenges to jail and prison ministry, but there are also tremendous rewards. Volunteers often start working with inmates and ex-offenders thinking, “I’ll go into this dark place and take the love of God.” Very often, they come out testifying, “I got more than I gave.”

By accepting the mandate of jail and prison ministry you become part of an exciting team--a world-wide network of volunteers who are gathering up jewels for the Master.

“They shall be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. . .And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:17)

Continue to raise up spiritual sons and daughters until the Master returns:

            ∙          Don’t ever be discouraged.

            ∙          Don’t ever lose the vision.

            ∙          Don’t ever give up on an inmate.

            ∙          Don’t ever quit.

“Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side.” (Isaiah 60:3-4)

Life . . . In The Shadow Of Death

       It is Easter Sunday, and a bright sun breaks through the clouds illuminating our Central California valley town with its warmth. This is the day to celebrate life, but our Easter observance will take us into the very shadows of death. We invite you to come along--it is a celebration of life in Jesus that you won't soon forget.

We enter the Central California Women's Facility through multiple gates and check points. This prison houses close to 4,000 inmates at the present time, including high security, death row prisoners. The place where we celebrate the resurrection is in the very shadow of death, just as the empty tomb in Jerusalem is in the shadow of Golgotha's Hill. We are surrounded by two rows of razor wire with a deadly electrified fence running between them. Above us looms the armed guard towers and across the main yard in the distance rises the imposing image of California's death row for women.

Our service is not scheduled to begin until noon, but at 10: 30 a.m., women are already lining up. By 11 a.m., we open the chapel and we are immediately packed out. There are women lining the walls and the platform, standing at the back, and outside peering through the windows. Many of the women are tattooed, rather tough-looking, and some are overtly lesbian. Yet they have come here today to receive the message of life.

When we open the service, the room literally explodes with excitement. As we join together in praise and worship, one inmate plays the piano, another the bongo drums, a third maintains rhythm on a full set of drums. Add several tambourines and maracas to this, an integrated choir with a soul beat, and the most enthusiastic singing you can imagine!

As an inmate concludes the strains of a solo entitled "The Blood", a hush falls upon our rather diverse audience. We share a message regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ entitled "Four Gardens Of God." From the Garden of Eden where blood was shed for Adam and Eve, we travel through the pages of God's Word to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus sweat great drops of blood, on to the garden at the feet of Golgotha's Hill where the blood flowed from the cross. We then focus on the garden of our hearts, where the blood of Jesus must also flow for sin. As we call for commitments, hands are lifted all over the room and the miracle occurs: Spiritual life replaces spiritual death. You can literally feel the transformation and see it on the faces of the women.

As we look out over this packed room, we think of other inmates who have sat in these same seats over the years we have ministered at this prison and who are now paroled back to the free world. There is Debra, who received her B.A. in Christian education and is married and active in a local church. There is Irene, soon to receive her B.A., a member of the honor society and president of her school's business club. There is Rosie, now employed as a nurse, reunited with her children.

We have often been asked, "Why do you go to that prison and waste time on those people? Don't you know that many of them will just return to the institution again and again? Do you really think you can change them?" Our answer is, "No, we cannot change them. But the program we run has a 100% success rate when students incorporate its truths into their lives. Our guarantee is recorded in Joshua 1:8:

"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall mediate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."


Ministry Resources

This appendix gives suggestions for resources for jail and prison ministry including Bible studies, tracts, Bibles, and videos. All literature must be cleared by prison officials before distribution and some institutions may require approval before showing videos. Most of this list are United States based organizations. If you are preparing this manual for use in another country, you may want to remove this section and substitute local resource lists.


American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway, New York, NY 10023

Gideons International: Contact your local chapter.

International Bible Society, P.O. Box 35700, Colorado Springs, CO 80935

International Prison Ministry, P.O. Box 63, Dallas, TX 75221

The Bible League, 16801 Van Dam Road, South Holland, IL 60473


American Bible Society, 1865 Broadway, New York, NY 10023

American Tract Society, P.O. Box 462008, Garland, TX 75046

Gospel Publishing House, 1445 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802

Gospel Tract Society, Box 1118, Independence, MO 64501


These are all prison-related videos. Contact your local Christian bookstore for ordering information:

Tex Watson:                           Testimony of former inmate.

The Hiding Place:                   The story of Corrie Ten Boone, incarcerated during World War II.

Born Again:                            The story of Chuck Colson, former U.S. government official who was incarcerated and now heads an international prison outreach.


A six part training series for jail and prison ministries is available through the Atlanta Chaplaincy Training School, P.O. Box 98368, Atlanta, GA 30359.

Volunteers in Corrections, a training video available through the Industrial and Institutional Chaplaincy, 1445 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802.

Note: Coalition of Prison Evangelists (COPE) is a cooperative organization of many prison ministries across America that help promote training, materials and coordination of ministry. The address for this organization is: COPE, P.O. Box 7404, Charlotte, NC 28241-7404


In giving Bible studies to prisoners, be sensitive to the fact that many inmates come from the lower social-economic level and may not be highly educated. For this reason, you should select materials that are simple, easy to read, with good-sized print.

There are many tremendous Bible study resources on the Internet free of charge. Enter a search using the words Christian resources or Bible studies. The following full-length Bible studies are produced by Harvestime International Network, publishers of this manual on jail and prison ministries. They are available on the Internet free of charge at:

Strategies For Spiritual Harvest

              Foundations Of Faith

              Kingdom Living

              Spiritual Strategies (Warfare)

              Ministry Of The Holy Spirit

              Knowing God's Voice

              Creative Bible Study Methods

              Basic Bible Survey: Old Testament

              Basic Bible Survey: New Testament

              Developing A Biblical World View

              Teaching Tactics

              Methodology Of Multiplication

              Power Principles

              Biblical Management Principles

              Principles of Environmental Analysis

              Management by Objectives

              Mobilization Methodologies

              Leaven-like Evangelism

              Women, A Biblical Profile

              Battle For The Body

              Intercessory Prayer

Other resources for free Bible studies:

Assembly of God Prison Ministries, 1445 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802

Emmaus Correspondence School, 401 MacArthur Blvd, San Leandro, CA 94577

Global Youth Evangelism, P.O. Box 1019, Orland, CA 95963

Haven of Rest Ministries, Box 2031, Hollywood, CA 90079

Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Prison Coordinator, Box 961010, Fort Worth, TX 76161

Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, Box 85277, San Diego, CA 92186

Prisoners of Hope, Box 171377, San Diego, CA 92174

Prison Fellowship, Box 17500, Washington, DC 20041

Set Free Prison Ministries, Box 5440, Riverside, CA 92517

Survival Manuals, Living Cross Prison Ministries, Box 1313, Peralta, NM 87042

Teen Challenge, 1525 N. Campbell Ave., Springfield, MO

Turning Point, Box 2430, Cleveland, TN 37320

Women’s Aglow, Box 1, Lynnwood, WA 98046

(Answers to self-tests are provided at the conclusion of the final chapter of this manual.)