COVID-19 has impacted everyone to a degree, and that is as true for prisoners as the rest of us. Some prisoners are finding solace in War Cry, The Salvation Army’s weekly magazine. Demand for War Cry has increased by 16.5 per cent in the six weeks since lockdown and social-isolation began. Not only does the magazine provide food for the soul but the puzzles, including crosswords and Sudoku, provide important mental stimulation.
The difference War Cry makes is significant
Commenting on the increase in demand (over 15, 000 copies distributed so far), Prison Ministries Officer, Major Paul Johnson said, “Some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society are in prison. Mental health struggles, self-harm, and addiction are all prevalent, so this time during social distancing will be particularly difficult in prisons … Supplying the War Cry often helps start a relationship with a prisoner and we have seen salvation come into many peoples’ lives in prison.”
All you have to do to see the difference the magazine makes is look at a snippet of a letter from a prisoner in the North East of England:
“I wanted to let you know the positive impact you have on prisons in the UK. I have only recently returned to faith in the last three years and I feel a connection to God stronger than I ever have had. This has been greatly helped by the War Cry.”
According to the editor of the War Cry, Major Andrew Stone, both prison chaplains and prisoners themselves often express their appreciation for the magazine.
“We value all the readers of the Way Cry, but there is something special when we hear stories of how the magazine is helping people in prison who are trying to turn their lives around after previously making some bad decisions,” said the Major.
Something for everyone
While the War Cry is a Christian magazine with a Christian perspective, the style and variety of content engage all people, regardless of faith. The increase in popularity is partly due to this diversity.
This is borne out by Rev. Jo Honour, Managing lead Chaplain at HMP Stafford, who said, “We have asked The Salvation Army for more copies of their War Cry publication as prisoners are spending more time in their cells at the moment and need visual and relevant content to look at. The content connects with prisoners as it references current TV programmes and discusses issues of the day, together with word searches, crosswords, and Sudoku.”
Before COVID-19 prisoners would have to visit the chapel to get their copy of the magazine, but since movement is restricted due to self-isolation, the War Cry is delivered directly to cells. This direct system really highlights the magazine’s popularity as more and more prisoners ask for their own copy.
Major Andrew Stone said, “Helping people in jail cope with self-isolating is just one of the ways The Salvation Army is helping people cope with the impact of the coronavirus. We are reaching deep into communities in countless ways, whether helping the homeless self-isolate or delivering food parcels to out of work families.”
Of relevance to prisoners is the pastoral and emotional support provided that is designed to prepare them for life when they are released. Importantly, The Salvation Army helps those who have nowhere to go upon release by putting them up in Lifehouses (hostels), where they not only benefit from a safe environment but are also given help finding a job or getting the skills required to gain employment.
So far, four prisons in Wales and the UK have requested additional copies of the War Cry; HMPs Berwyn (Wrexham), Bronzefield (Middlesex), Pentonville, and Stafford.
Adapting to the times
The 140-year-old magazine is usually sold on the streets by ‘heralds’, but since COVID-19 necessitated restricted movements and self-isolation, The Salvation Army has posted the War Cry on its website, alongside The Salvationist and the children’s magazine, Kids Alive.
On average, annual magazine sales raise £1.6 million to keep The Salvation Army running and keep its various programmes, including food banks, lunch clubs, and hot meals for rough sleepers, going.