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Alpha for Prisons FAQ's                     

1. Would you recommend doing the Alpha course with videos or with live speakers?
2. What about doing two talks in a week/night?
3. How do you encourage inmates not to drop out?
4. In the small group, do you mainly have a discussion or study the Bible?
5. What do you do if one person dominates the group?
6. What do you do if no one in the group will say anything?
7. What happens if someone in my small group has got a really serious problem?
8. Must people attend every session?

9. How much time is needed inside the prison to present an effective course?
10. What are other resources that I might refer concerning Alpha Courses in Prison?

1. Would you recommend doing the Alpha course with DVD's or with live speakers?
The key question is how much time do you have to present the course?  Now with the availability of the 20 minute short-talk DVD's, even with only an hour to conduct the course the DVD's can effectively be used.   We recognize that the ideal in the end is to have live speakers but we recommend that people start their courses with the videos for following reasons:

A. To prepare 15 talks in a term and to prepare them really well is extremely difficult.                                               
B. For the first Alpha course, there are a lot of things to organize apart from the talks.

C. If the course is small, it is an advantage to watch the talk on DVD as it makes the discussion easier since the speaker is not a group leader and the expression of differing opinions are less threatening.

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2. What about doing two talks in a week/night?
The whole feel of Alpha is process evangelism. It is about walking with people and what happens between sessions is just as important as what happens at Alpha. So if possible try not to merge the talks unless you feel it is right for your group.

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3. How do you encourage inmates to come the first night and not drop out as the course progresses?
The best thing you can do is to be organized, plan the course well, set the dates and provide a printed schedule. This will help inmates know what the course involves and to fit it into their schedule.

If this is your first course, you will not have a group of inmates inside the prison that can recruit other inmates for the course.  Therefore, the first meeting is critical in the overall success of your course.  We suggest that you show the video "The God Who Changes Lives" as a way for them to get a feel for what to expect on the course.

The inmates will be more impressed by your enthusiasm for the course and concern for them than they will be by the material you present.  This meeting sets the tone for the course and as such should be exciting.

Let them know that you and your group will be returning each week and that you expect they will be as well.  Attendance can be taken and for those who satisfactorily complete the course there will be a graduation ceremony along with presentations of Alpha Certificates of Completion. 

The following are suggestions for successful courses:

• Provide snacks.  Meals in prison are difficult but not impossible.  This may take some negotiations with officials.
• Praise and Worship should be uplifting.
• Have everyone wear nametags each session.
• Have time for prayer requests and praise reports each week.
• Have an inmate’s family member attend the graduation ceremony.
• Provide a Guest Manual for each inmate.
• Should an inmate miss an unacceptable number of sessions, leave early or is continually tardy, drop him from that course and inform him that he may attend the next one.
• Try to have another course such as A Life Worth Living planned upon the completion of Alpha and encourage inmates to become leaders in the next Alpha course.
• For those inmates who do not have Bibles you may consult the Chaplain concerning providing them one.
• Be creative, demonstrate your individual concern for them and build on each session in making the next one special.

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4. In the small group, do you mainly have a discussion or study the Bible?
We encourage guests to ask questions, make comments and observations, discuss and debate with each other. When or if the leader feels it is appropriate, it may then be possible to move on to Bible study. Remember the success of Alpha is often found in the small group discussion times.

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5. What do you do if one person dominates the group?
Here skill is required from the leader of the small group to draw out answers from other people and to include the whole group in the discussion. You may want to try sitting beside the dominating person.  Domination will reduce the effectiveness of the discussion and often leads to other guests dropping out.  Click here for a more thorough discussion on this and other small group scenarios.

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6. What do you do if no one in the group will say anything?

Two questions that normally get people talking in a group are:

• What did anyone think of the talk?
• What does anyone feel about the talk?

Following that, refer to the discussion questions in the Alpha Team Training Manual or Leader’s Guide. Do not be anxious if people are quiet for a little bit after you have asked them a question. Often it takes people time to think through what they want to say. Some groups have made a list of questions on the first session for easy reference.

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7. What happens if someone in my small group has got a really serious problem?

Each Alpha course should have a pastoral care structure in place whereby each inmate is looked after by a Leader or Helper and each Leader or Helper is looked after by the Prison Chaplain. As problems arise, they can go up this structure of pastoral care to the appropriate level.

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8. Must people attend every session?
Let them know that you and your group will be returning each week and that you have every hope that they will as well.  Communicate that the effectiveness of the course builds on the dynamics in the small group, and therefore, the inmates should be encouraged to make an effort to come each week.

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9. How much time is needed inside the prison to present an effective course?

The most effective courses are those in which there are 2 hours given for the entire evening.  This amount of time allows for fellowship and worship.  Less time dictates that portions of the course will be shortened or omitted entirely.  We do not recommend running a course with less than one hour.

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10. What are other resources that I might refer concerning Alpha Courses in Prison?
The Alpha For Prisons Training Manual is available from Alpha USA.  There are Alpha Advisors whose contact information may be obtained at www.alphausa.org/prisons including the contact information for the Alpha for Prisons and Re-Entry National Director who is also available to assist you in meeting your needs.

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Please contact the National Director, Alpha for Prisons & Re-Entry for more information.

(918) 231-8847 / (940) 692-1694 fax / Email Jack Cowley