Shannon Gunderman

COVID-19 shut down access to most U.S. prisons, including the Arizona State Prison Complex – Yuma, where Shannon Gunderman volunteered with a group of Jehovah’s Witness ministers. Without warning, inmates were cut off from a robust Bible education program that included weekly Bible-based discourses, audience discussions, individual Bible studies, and video presentations.

Within weeks, Jehovah’s Witness volunteer ministers visited the prison facility on a weekly basis conducting small group meetings for worship within each prison unit, and occasionally baptizing someone into the faith. When the prison facility went into lockdown in March 2020, Gunderman was determined to continue providing spiritual encouragement to the inmates, realizing that an alternate program for regular spiritual support would be needed to tide the inmates over.

Through a carefully composed monthly letter, Gunderman and fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses shared Bible verses and related scriptural information to approximately 30-40 inmates who have shown interest in the Bible’s message. In addition to Bible-based information, the letter included personal comments from congregants.

Each month, congregants were notified that a letter was being sent to interested inmates, and if they would like to forward a comment to the inmates they could. The comments were then sanitized to comply with applicable guidelines, and became part of the letter so that it resulted in an “interchange of encouragement,” said Gunderman. The results were surprising.

“We thought we were encouraging them, but then we got all these letters back in return that encouraged us,” Gunderman said.

“One [inmate] . . . lost his three-year-old daughter,” related Gunderman, “so we sent him a letter just telling him how much we were feeling for his loss.”

Although confident in the positive power of the monthly correspondence, Gunderman eagerly anticipates the day he can visit inmates face-to-face again. In-person communication and contact are difficult to replace, so “we’re hoping to get back there soon,” stated Gunderman.

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