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The angel of prisons

Author: Noel Amos, 16 February 2024

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Queen Victoria admired her, the King of Prussia travelled to London to see her impact in Newgate Prison, and politician Thomas Fowell Buxton, one of Bible Society’s early leaders, praised her work. Most importantly, thousands of prisoners in England had better lives because of her.

Elizabeth Fry was born on 21 May 1780 and raised in the Quaker tradition. Driven by her love for God, she became a social reformer, dedicating her life to the poor, homeless and imprisoned. She first became involved with Bible Society in 1811, when she preached and led the prayers at the inaugural meeting of the Norwich branch.

Loving the least of these

After seeing the overcrowded, brutal conditions in Newgate Prison in 1813, she began campaigning for prison reform, convinced that ‘punishment is not for revenge, but to lessen crime and reform the criminal’. She founded prison schools for children who were imprisoned with their mothers, worked to pass the Gaols Act 1823, which separated male and female inmates and improved their living conditions, and fought for the lives of those facing the death penalty, which at the time was widely used. 

Because of her colossal impact, she became known as the ‘angel of prisons’.

Her love permeated all of London, reaching beyond its prisons. Elizabeth campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade, fought for the rights of women, and provided Bibles, Christian resources, and necessities for the poor and homeless. Resolutely, she set out to do what she felt called to do at just 17, when she wrote, ‘While I live, may I be generous; it is in my nature, and I will not overcome so good a feeling.’

Elizabeth’s heart for ‘the least of these’ continues to inspire us. She fed the hungry, clothed the poor, looked after the sick and loved prisoners. And whatever she did for them, she was doing for Jesus (Matthew 25.35–40).

You can follow in the footsteps of the ‘angel of prisons’ by helping to provide Bibles and resources like The Bible Course to men and women serving sentences in England and Wales today. Elizabeth Fry believed that prisons should be places of reformation, and because of your support, that vision is becoming a reality as the light of Scripture is released in the darkest places. Carry on Elizabeth Fry’s legacy and provide lasting change in the lives of prisoners by giving them the Bible. 

Give the Bible to a prisoner today

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