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Paul's Jail

We build a jail for Paul for VBS several years ago. We used large applicance boxes and cut a frame and then in the frame we cut spaces between the bars - then the "jail" was painted black. A large piece of black felt (or any dark material) placed across the top of the "jail" walls helps to make the place look darker. If you use a three sided jail, make the back wall out of an sheet painted to look like the inside of a cell - cracked walls, a light bulb hanging from the ceiling, a pan of moldy bread, some rats, etc. The more the merrier! Hang the cloth jail wall on the room wall to complete the jail. Colors used were shades of gray and some brown (the wooden parts of the cell.) If you can paint some bones on the floor of the scenery - great. Before the children entered the "jail" they were fingerprinted and a digital "mug" shot was taken of each child, complete with a prisoner number that changed for each child. Mean looking Romans guards kept the "prisoners" moving along in a "kindly manner!" The children loved it. When their jail term was over - they received their mug shot and finger prints as a souvenir!

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

UPDATE: I've done the Acts 16 story of Paul in Jail in two different churches.

Photos from Neil MacQueen. Below are some of the details of how we did each.

Neil also has also posted his lesson here at


How We Built Our Jails

Materials:  painter's reinforced paper dropcloths, lots of duct tape, large pins, black pvc for the bars, black lamp swag chain, one large dropcloth for the floor, some straw for the floor effect, one of those inexpensive Roman soldier costumes.

The First Jail

We lined the walls of a small room with brown paper drop cloth found at a paint supply store. The paper was taped or tacked to the wall.

We hung dropcloth all around but at one end we hung it away from the wall a bit and put a red lamp behind it to give them room a dark glow (turning off the main lights).

We put a little bit of straw (not hay) over the top of canvas drop cloths that were placed on the floor.

prison-front2We took the door off the hinges and substituted a stiff cardboard door we painted to look like a jail door. Cardboard bars and duct tape that looked like metal. Added someblack swag chain.

The BEST thing we did was have a Senior High dress as Timothy and another dress as a Roman guard. The guard was very brusque and we had him CHAIN all the kids together at their ankles and march them into prison. We used black cheap decorated swag-lamp chain. It makes a great clinking sound. After Paul "converted" the guard, the guard opened the chain links between the ankles --leaving the chain loop around each ankle as a reminder. The kids couldn't wait to show it around church.

Paul taught them about the dangers of being a follower. He taught them the secret symbol of the fish. He had each of them scratch out a message with charcoal to their families as a "letter from jail." The paper was made from crumpled torn pieces of grocery bags which looks really "old" and supple when you roll it a few times.

The guard caught one of the kids writing a subversive message and threatened him (gently so). It was quite memorable.

After the earthquake, the guard rushed in and was baptized. The kids helped. Then we ate grapes and talked about being willing to risk your freedom for God's Word. What risks do we take as Christians? etc.

For our Second Jailprison-back

A few years later in a different church we didn't have a small room to convert, so we used the corner two walls of fellowship hall, and made the other two walls out of TABLES we stood on their ends and covered with the paper drop cloths.

This time we also made the door out of black PVC.  Lots of duct-tape later it looked great.

Note: The guard has to tone it down for the little kids. They believe he was a little too real.

Two advantages to our makeshift jail in Fellowship Hall:

1. The tables moved really easy to make the earthquake (which was done by two teens on the outside).

2. The Jail was highly visible to all the adults who loved it.

Though the makeshift jail in fellowship hall wasn't as cool as the one we made in the small room years earlier, the kids didn't care. The guard really makes the whole thing, --chaining the kids together, being gruff, trumping up "charges" against the kids.

<>< Neil


Images (3)
  • prison-back
  • prison-front1
  • prison-front2
Last edited by Luanne Payne

Using Cardboard

This was a fun project to build and use for the earthquake and Paul's escape from jail.

We used a large piece of cardboard for the front of the jail. We knew that we were going to prop it in the corner of a room with brick walls, so we didn't worry about side or back walls fo the jail. We cut a swinging door out of cardboard, and hinged it in place with duct tape. We also cut a large rectangular hole in the cardboard, similar to a window, but then found empty shoe boxes for bricks to fill the hole. (Note: on the inside of the jail, number the boxes in the order that they fit in the hole, so it will be easy to put them back in place.) In the weeks leading up to the presentation of the drama, the kids in the art workshop painted the jail, bricks, etc.

The most fun was making the shoe box bricks fall in the earthquake. To prepare for this, the teachers set up the jail and bricks, and tied pieces of yarn about 18 inches long to some of the bricks in the bottom row. The kids acted out a skit with the jailer, Paul, and Silas, and a narrator. At the appropriate time, another student played sound effects of an earthquake, and Paul and Silas (who were inside the prison at the time), pulled on the yarn to make the bricks fall in. After a pause for the audience to settle down, the skit continued with Paul and Silas converting the guard and his family.

It would be fun to video tape and replay the skit. Of course, the kids wanted to act out the skit again with different kids playing Paul and Silas, so they could make the walls fall down, too.

Credit for the design of this jail goes to our art leader Kathy Collins, aka the "Cardboard Queen."

(Edited for typo.)

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Moved from another area:

Posted by Neil MacQueen on 4/29/03:

To "Chain" Kids up with Paul ...

We bought "swag lamp" chain... black links that can easily be plied apart with a pair of pliers. (We discovered there is some swag chain that is too sturdy. You want the cheap/lightweight stuff). Don't use plastic swag chain. It doesn't 'clank' as well.

Lay out a long length of chain on a table(s), about 30" per kid. Have the kids lay their wrist on the chain. Pull the chain up around both sides of their wrist and LINK with a spare link of chain. Don't link too tight or too loose.

This is a great time to have the Roman guard really give it to them (you fools, following a man we Romans killed, better keep your mouth shut about worshipping him, Caesar is our god, etc etc.) The younger children were a little bit scared by him, so tell the soldier/dad to go easy. Invite them to see him put on his armor and get into character. Have the kids practice being afraid (which they may indeed get a bit afraid when he starts yelling and chaining them together). A teen helper is a good idea for larger groups.

You can do their legs too if you have plenty of chain and a helper.

For the "break the chain during the earthquake bit"... instead of using spare links to bind Paul, use a black twist-tie that can easily be broken when the kids are distracted.

Neil the Jailer

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Using Brown Wrapping Paper

We built our jail in a corner of the room we use for openings. We used brown wrapping paper from the dollar store to cover the walls like wrapping paper. Then we used one of those large sponges for washing cars dipped in black paint to make bricks on the brown paper. That corner of the room happened to have a rectangular opening used for puppets that we put cardboard wrapping paper tubes in (painted black) for bars. In a window on the facing wall, we put carpet tubes painted black as really large bars. We had some plywood castle "walls" from a VBS that we used mixed with the brown paper brick walls. We hung black chain from a hook on the wall, and put small pieces of carpet tubes covered with black duct tape on the ends of the chain to look like shackles. The kids really love this jail. And the best part is we can take the bars down and turn it into a Bibletimes home interior for our next rotation in the Fall.
Robbin Trumble

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Using Brown Paper

That is supposed to read "like wall paper" in my July 7 post. We used brown paper like the stuff people used to use for wrapping packages for mailing. I found 10ft long rolls at the Dollar Tree (some of the rolls had animal print or dragon flies on one side but I used the plain side). We used some black paint we got for $5.00 at Home Depot, a messed up mix that was supposed to be dark green I think. And a big yellow sponge, the kind used for washing cars from Walmart. The paper goes up fast, the spongeing goes very fast and it looks so cool. We made another jail in the Drama room using this technique, and hung black crepe streamers for bars. Then we made the jailer's home with the same technique but added windows (squares, arches, painted dark blue). The whole effect is very cool and the kids are having a great time. I really need to figure out how to post the digital photos.

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Paul's Jail Lesson Idea

This was probably the best lesson I did last year--we also transformed a classroom into a jail, "arrested" the kids (using older kids as guards so we didn't scare the little guys), and ate bread and water. The kids loved it.

However, after the "fun" part of the lesson, we then shifted gears a bit and I gave a brief age-appropriate presentation to the kids on Christians who are CURRENTLY imprisoned for their faith around the world. I found a great organization online called Release International (based in the UK). They provide you with a frequently-updated, downloadable info pack on specific Christians, with letter-writing materials giving names and prison addresses and information about what led to their arrest. They are very clear about which prisoners it is safe to write to (for the prisoners and their families) and which individuals should simply be prayed for because to write or contact them would endanger them.

Prior to the lesson, I had gone through and culled out several prisoners with interesting (and not too scary) stories that I thought were appropriate to share with our kids (who range in age from 4-10 years old). I presented the prisoners' stories to a completely spellbound audience--I have never seen the kids so focused on anything. Afterwards, we wrote letters (the writers) or drew pictures (the younger ones) to send to the prisoners. Two adults from the congregation with an interest in prison ministry volunteered to help the older kids with letter writing, spelling, etc. Kids who finished more quickly were put to work making a long paper chain out of grey construction paper.

We ended the morning by sitting in a circle and holding the paper chain. We went around the circle and each person got a chance to say a prayer for someone or something. As they prayed, they got to break the link they were holding. We went around the circle 3-4 times, and the kids were praying fast and furiously, with an attentiveness and intensity that I have rarely witnessed. The first round was rather predictable--lots of prayers for the prisoners and their families. But it quickly turned very personal with kids praying for their dead family members, their parents who are fighting, dead pets, etc.--clearly an unburdening of little hearts, and a true breaking of chains. One of the dads who was present teared up witnessing such an outpouring of prayer and emotion. But I should stress that it wasn't a sad time--the kids seemed to be finding great relief in their prayers.

What I took from the experience is that kids, even the littlest ones, can handle very serious topics (e.g. currently imprisoned Christians) if the lesson is presented in a non-scary way and they are given a chance to do something truly meaningful about it. We wound up posting copies of our letters (along with a map) on a bulletin board in our church hallway, and some adults were moved to take down the addresses of the prisoners and write their own letters. It turned out to be a ministry and education for the whole parish. Thank you all for the great ideas that helped spark the "Christians in prison" theme!

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Photo's from Janice Loeb of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Lindsay, ON Canada.

Jail Door

Jail Door

A gentleman in Janice's congregation made them a cool jail door out of wood, painted it black, with a chain to lock in place.

He attached it to the outer door frame, with hinges. This allowed both the regular door and the jail door to work independently of each other, the jail door swings out, the classroom door swings in.

It also allowed them to leave the jail door on permanently, if they wished, so it didn't need to be stored.

Leg Stocks

He also made two leg stocks out of wood, painted them light brown.  He cut two holes, large enough for the kids legs, then cut across. Keep the bottom piece the wider of the two for more weight, so it will stay in place. Lift top, insert legs, set top back on.

Leg Stocks

Jail Cell

Inside the jail (classroom) they set up a cell, using 2x2's lumber and E-Z Frame Connectors (Brackets) pictured below. But left out the three bottom floor boards, the front and two middle ones.

They covered the jail cell walls and floor in burlap and placed the two Leg Stocks inside.


Prison Leg Stocks

Rooms stations for the story of Paul

I remember she said either the parents or the whole congregation were invited downstairs and the kids where located in the different rooms, depicting Paul's life.

Two kids where in the jail sitting down, with their legs inside the wooden stocks, singing!


Images (4)
  • Jail Door
  • Prison Leg Stocks
  • FINLEY PRODUCTS Easy-Up Enclosure Kit
  • Leg Stocks
Last edited by Luanne Payne

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