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Setting the captives free

In several parts of the UK local volunteers are working with sex offenders to minimise alienation and support reintegration through an innovative scheme called Circles of Support and Accountability. The scheme reduces the risk of reoffending, and has received Government backing. A Circles volunteer who attends a Baptist church explains the impact of being involved.


Circles450Can you explain why you became a Circle volunteer? 
That is interesting; in fact a prisoner recommended Circles to me. I was a prison visitor and one prisoner I was seeing was near his release date. He had investigated Circles and felt I would be good at it.
Did you have any doubts, and if so what were they? How did you resolve this? 
Personally I did not have any doubts about this sort of work. Jesus came to break our chains and free us from imprisonment. Of course Jesus was talking about sin, not physical prison.

When an ex-offender leaves prison, although he might technically be free there are many restraints still on him and indeed many inhibitions and pain he still carries within him. You could say he carries his prison around with him and he needs to learn to be free of that too.
How has it gone? 
I am about to start my third Circle, the other two have both finished. The experience for me has been overwhelmingly positive.

There are inevitably times of trial and challenge. On one occasion I spent five hours of one night at a police station, and other core members have spent time visiting in a psychiatric ward!! Remember though a Circle is a shared responsibility, so we all share the burden.

However both the Circles have been successfully concluded; society is safer and the two individuals both in a much better place than they would have been. Very rewarding.
What's been the impact on the person you meet? And what's been the impact on you? 
Without a doubt both our Core members think the Circle has been positive for them. They have grown in confidence and are better able to deal with what society throws at them.

From a personal perspective... well, I’ve just signed up for another one haven’t I? One thing it has brought home to me though is that the simple thing of just being a friend to someone can be such a powerful thing.
Have they become a member of your church? If so, how has that been received? 

Circles is not an organisation with a religious position so it is important to respect this, especially as some fellow Circle members may have very different spiritual values to the oneself. Nonetheless if a Core Member does show a spiritual tendency or need it is often encouraged as part of their healing path.

What is important is not to exert any pressure, as a core volunteer you are in a position of authority over the core member and that member is, by definition, vulnerable.
Would you recommend doing it? What type of person would it suit? 
Without a doubt I would recommend it. I have met volunteers in their late teens, and in their eighties so age is not the issue. Circle volunteers come from all walks of life. You need patience and have enough sense to realise that not everything you are told is the truth.

You need to be able to work as part of a team, become involved but at the same time keep a certain level of separateness.

Could you be a Circles volunteer? Circles projects are run throughout the country - contact Circles UK on 01189 500068 to find out where the nearest Circles project is, or visit the wesbite http://www.circles-uk.org.uk/ for more on how to become a volunteer.

Circles also offers counselling to perpetrators and survivors of sexual abuse/violence, and would welcome contact from qualified counsellors interested in getting involved.

Baptist Times, 30/07/2014
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